Robot addresses British lawmakers; falls asleep while doing it

"Although not alive, I can still create art," a humanoid robot Ai-Da told the House of Lords committee before shutting down.

Ai-Da, named after British mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, was the first robot to ever speak at the upper house of the British parliament. It was called to give evidence to the Communications and Digital Committee as part of an inquiry into the effect of new technologies on creative industries.

"Technology has already had a huge impact on the way we create and consume art. For example, the camera and the advent of photography and film. And it is likely that this trend will continue with new technologies," Ai-Da told the peers.

It said there was no clear answer as to the broader impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on art, design, fashion, and music. Still, it observed that technology "can be both a threat and an opportunity" to artists, although its art still differed from human creations.

Ai-Da. Image by Roger Harris/House of Lords.

"How this differs to humans is consciousness. I do not have subjective experiences despite being able to talk about it. I am and depend on computer programs and algorithms," it said during a televised event.

Aidan Meller, its inventor, had to reset the robot at one point during the hearing – first putting dark sunglasses over its female-looking face. "When we reset her, she can sometimes pull quite interesting faces," he explained.

He has previously described Ai-Da as "the world's first ultra-realistic AI humanoid robot artist." The robot was conceived at the University of Oxford in 2019. It has since made headlines for its paintings, including a portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Despite some hiccups during her parliamentary appearance, Ai-Da seems to have left a positive impression on the British press. "I've seen a few robotic performances in Parliament, but this will take some beating," columnist Tim Stanley said in a commentary published by the Telegraph, a conservative daily.

Writing for the Guardian, pundit John Crace said the "dead-eyed" robot had set the bar high for the country's top politicians by giving "clarity and personality" he suggested they lacked.

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