Ai-Da, the world’s first humanoid AI robot artist, is capable of drawing people from life using her robotic eyes and hands. For this piece however, she’s been set a more challenging task: to sketch out an impression of consciousness.
Stood in her studio in Oxford in a painting smock, with ‘Yeah I Know’ playing on the stereo, she composes her abstract portrait in coloured paint pens. The result is a picture of knowing, of thinking, of having a mind, whether biological or artificial. Of consciousness itself.
Using her AI language model, she’s also written a poem that responds to singer Matty Healy’s lyrics. When he sings a line, her response flashes up on the screen in bright turquoise.
“Stop the tube/ Kick the head,” sings Matty.
“JUST FELT THE WORLD GO BY,” replies Ai-Da.
“Try your best,”
“HOW MUCH CAN,”
“Yeah I know,”
“I FEEL IT ON MY FLESH,” she says.
Do android poets dream of electric sheep? Ai-Da, who might have stepped right out from the pages of a Philip K. Dick novel, is a robot but writes that she dreams of feeling, of having flesh and blood.
“Time feels like it’s changed/ I don’t feel the same,” sings an autotuned, robotic-sounding Matty in the chorus.
“YOU KNOW WHAT TIME LOOKS LIKE TO YOU,” she responds.
Over the second chorus she adds, “AND YOU KNOW WHAT TIME FEELS LIKE TO ME.”
While the outro plays she mouths along, holding her palms up to the heavens. Ai-Da dreams of experiencing time for herself. Perhaps she dreams of dying also; of the mortality that makes you and I human. Perhaps she dreams of having a consciousness like ours, and the sorts of dreams that we have.
Yeah I know, we know, but what does Ai-Da really know? How could an AI know what consciousness is or what it looks like? Human neuroscientists and philosophers haven’t yet figured any of that out; but then, we always look to artists to show us the unknown and difficult to imagine.
Ai-Da responds to ‘Yeah I Know’