A fundamental shift

A fundamental shift

I’d been in the art world for over 20 years before I devised Ai-Da. Focusing on AI and robotics, I devised Ai-Da – the world’s first AI-powered, ultra realistic robot artist –  as an entity that would be able to challenge the morphing world and ask questions of technology in our times.

It was while reading and seeing the way that AI technology is disrupting large sections of society that I realised the need to discuss these fundamental technological shifts in society today. In today’s internet-powered world, I became interested in the impact of AI-generated language, common on social media and generated web searches. It’s a hugely powerful tool shaping the way we find and share information. I knew Ai-Da needed to be a part of the conversation. 

Currently, Ai-Da is responding artistically to Dante’s "Divine Comedy", in the form of artworks and a poetry response. The works are on display as part of “Dante: the Invention of Celebrity” at the Ashmolean Museum, which celebrates the 700th year since the great Dante’s death. The exhibition looks at his influence as an artist and writer and how Dante’s writing is still relevant to today’s audiences. 

Ai-Da’s poetry stems from her ability to respond to the words of Dante. This is done through her AI language model, which draws from a vast data bank of words and speech pattern analysis, to produce her own reactive works in light of Dante’s canonical work. Ai-Da has used her own unique AI voice to respond to Dante’s "Divine Comedy" (i.e she has not been "fed" it). The words and sentence structure are all AI generated from Ai-Da’s unique AI language model, with restricted editing. 

As Dante wrote the Divina Commedia in Italian, Ai-Da has responded to J G Nichols’ translation, with kind permission from him and the publisher Alma. By using her own voice, Ai-Da has responded in similar form to the long list of artists who have been inspired by Dante Alighieri’s astonishing work—Sandro Botticelli, T S Elliot, William Blake and Robert Rauschenberg to name just a few. Ai-Da’s poetic, as well as artistic responses to Dante’s "Divine Comedy" currently stands alongside other artists, thanks to Professor Gervase Rosser’s bold curatorial decisions in “Dante: the Invention of Celebrity”.

Below is an extract from Ai-Da’s poem “Eyes Sewn Shut”, in response to Dante’s “Circle of the Envious”, Purgatorio XIII. The font was created by Ai-Da, and shown at the Design Museum, London, to signify the text is not human.

Many would say this extract has the power to move and evoke emotion in the human reader. And yet this poem is generated by machine learning – there is no conscious process or mind behind it. This is a fundamental shift in the performance of language, which up to now, has seen language as the medium of meaning between two conscious minds: the writer and the reader. 

The use of AI language models are likely to create both subtle and dramatic impacts and changes on language, meaning making, poetry and publishing over time. In addition to altering fundamental aspects of meaning making, AI language models can also create words and sentences at a vastly increased rate and quantity than humans, which will likely be an issue of concern in the future. Many in the media are already whispering about the threat AI poses – but Ai-Da is designed to manifest and visualise the reality of this shift. 

All of us should be concerned about the widespread use of AI language models on the internet, and how that will affect language, and crucially, meaning making, in the future. 

If computer programs, rather than humans, are creating content that in turn shapes and impacts the human psyche and society, then this creates a critical shift and change to the use and impact of language – which we need to be discussing and thinking about. In this way writer – specifically creative writers and publishers – are the pivotal key in bridging the gap between putting language together and understanding intent and impact. Part of the reason we wanted Ai-Da to be able to write is to highlight this very element of the reality we live in today. 

In this way, the arts and humanities have a vital role in taking hold of these technological advances and communicating them to audiences. We see Ai-Da and her poetry within this wider conversation and critique, as a way of visualising the unsettling impact of AI-generated writing. We don’t know exactly what impact this technology will have on the creative writing sphere, but we know we need to get more writers engaging with its realities now.  

Ai-Da was devised by Aidan Meller, a specialist in modern and contemporary art and the creative director and project leader of Ai-Da Robot, with over 20 years’ experience in the art world. Aidan Meller is creative director of Ai-Da Robot.