'The future is data driven': Meet Ai-Da, the humanoid robot challenging our ideas of intelligence

Ai-Da: Eyes shut [Aiden Miller]
5 min read
03 February, 2022
As we continue to tumble into the age of AI, new innovations pose new questions about our place in the world, our purpose and what have to offer. The New Arab speaks with the founder of Ai-Da, a humanoid robot, about how to navigate these futures.

Not knowing if the invention of an artist robot could even be possible, Aidan Meller, an independent designer and art director, owes the existence of Ai-Da – the world’s first ultra-realistic robot named after computing pioneer Ada Lovelace – to the science of speed. 

In collaboration with a group of ground-breaking art and technology experts, Meller takes pride in Ai-Da’s variety of talents. The robot’s arms, for example, have been created in collaboration with University of Leeds undergraduate students Salaheldin Al Abd and Ziad Abbas. Both students created Ai-Da’s drawing arm and developed AI algorithms used by Ai-Da to create human drawings.

"By 2025, significant sections of society will change due to AI. People will no longer be going to a doctor, but to an app instead. Thanks to AI, apps will be more accurate than a doctor’s medical advice. Similarly, people will no longer be going to lawyers"

Complimenting Ai-Da’s ability to draw is the robot’s language capabilities. According to Meller, Ai-Da can generate unique replies far more complex than the Amazon Alexa device.

Ai-Da’s realistic features are further brought to life via the incorporation of a silicone face. Designed by researcher Lucy Seal, digital artist Alex Kafoussias, and 3D designer Tim Milward, the features, movement and gestures that Ai-Da is intended to perform, bring up questions about human identity in a digital age.

“By 2025, significant sections of society will change due to AI. People will no longer be going to a doctor, but to an app instead. Thanks to AI, apps will be more accurate than a doctor’s medical advice," Aiden Meller tells The New Arab when asked what the future holds for humanoid robots.

"Similarly, people will no longer be going to lawyers. The future is data-driven and, in my opinion, such dependence will be better in terms of accuracy. How does Ai-Da fit into all of these future considerations? She will simply become more relevant in time because technology will be more pervasive,” he adds.

So far, Ai-Da has been showcased in a number of exhibitions, including the recent Dante – Invention of Celebrity at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. At the time of the exhibition’s opening in September 2021, Ai-Da recited poetry in response to Dante’s Divine Comedy, an Italian narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, known to be one of the most gifted writers of ancient European medieval times.

Ai-Da 7.jpg
Thanks to the science of speed and the remarkable evolution of technology, Ai-Da has learnt inimitable human skills [Aiden Meller]

Looking towards the future, Ai-Da has entered a relatively new phenomenon: the Metaverse. Described as an online space where people can socialise, work and play as avatars, Ai-Da has contributed towards the Metaverse by helping gild a 24ct gold fossilised wooden Metaverse egg, also known as the Imperious Egg.

An additional appearance in the Metaverse has included Ai-Da wearing an ultra-futuristic custom gown made by Auroboros, the first fashion house to fuse science and technology with physical couture, as well as digital-only ready to wear.

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A portrait Ai-Da, with her internal wiring, exposed [Victor Frankowski]

Despite Ai-Da’s creators viewing their invention as the world’s first ultra-realistic robot, others have argued otherwise. Prior to an exhibition to be held at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Ai-Da was held by customs for 10 days, due to suspicions about possessing covert spy tools.

Following her release on 21 October 2021, Ai-Da successfully managed to present a self-portrait titled ‘Immortal Riddle’ at Art D’Egypte’s Forever Is Now exhibition. The portrait addresses the ancient Egyptian topics of the spirit world, combined with the modern-day fascination with attaining immortality via the use of biotechnology in the 21st century.

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Ai-Da pictured here at the Great Pyramids of Giza, a juxtaposition of mankind's ancient and modern achievement [Aiden Meller]

Accusations of espionage are not a new occurrence in Egypt. In September 2013, Egyptian authorities arrested a migratory stork that had landed in Egypt after travelling from Hungary via, among other countries, Israel.

Allegedly caught by a fisherman who viewed the bird with suspicion after spotting an electronic device connected to it, the unlucky stork was passed over to the local police station in Qena, a city located on the east bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt.

Following further research, it occurred that the “camera device” was, in fact, an operational tracking tool attached by Hungarian scientists who were investigating avian migratory habits.

Through a mediation by Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE), the stork, also known as Menes, was freed into a nature reserve. According to Haitham Mossad, an ornithologist and member of NCE, Menes eventually flew to an island on the Nile where he was allegedly captured and eaten.

Elsewhere in the MENA region, there have been other cases of espionage recorded. This list is lengthy and includes: fourteen squirrels seized in Iran in 2007 while seemingly trying to infiltrate the country with “spy gear”; two pigeons, allegedly wandering with intent around a uranium enrichment plant, again in Iran, in 2008; a delinquent vulture imprisoned in 2011 by Saudi authorities on suspicion that it was flying missions for Israel; a bird seized in Sudan in 2012, also accused of spying for Israel; and a vulture identified for tracking by Tel Aviv University and imprisoned in 2016 in Lebanon when its GPS transmitter sparked anxieties that it was an agent for Mossad, the Israeli national intelligence agency.

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Such anxieties are comprehensible when referring to post-2011 changes in the MENA region, especially after the Arab Spring. Focusing on Egypt in particular, the country was in the grip of significant transformation in terms of its social, economic, cultural and political conditions.

Without a doubt, the story of Menes can best be understood as an all too important remembrance of the mental state of a country, if not a region, that constantly lives in an increased state of apprehension when it comes to external forces and, certainly, inner machinations.   

Ai-Da’s involvement in espionage allegations has been an interesting occurrence. In a world where AI is progressively taking over, important questions must be asked. Do we want to depend on Artificial Intelligence to take on the roles specifically assigned to humans? Will such an occurrence be a good turn for humanity? Will this transformation be good for the environment and our mental health?  

Zainab Mehdi is a Researcher and Freelance Journalist specialising in governance, development, and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Follow her on Twitter: @zaiamehdi