Robot painting Glastonbury’s famous faces says festival atmosphere is ‘electric’

A robot painter creating likenesses of the biggest names performing at Glastonbury has said the atmosphere at the festival is “electric”.

Ai-Da is heralded as the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist and is the creation of a team, lead by Aiden Meller, who have set up a display at the music festival’s famous Shangri-La field.

The human-faced automaton, whose appearance and name are inspired by famed computer programmer Ada Lovelace, takes between two and eight hours to make its masterpieces – the latest of which include this year’s Glastonbury headliners Billie Eilish, Diana Ross, Kendrick Lamar and Sir Paul McCartney.

Ai-Da uses cameras in her eyes and computer memory to paint portraits, using algorithms which allow her to create abstract pieces, while a specially-designed language model allows her to converse with people.

Sir Paul McCartney is headlining Glastonbury and is one of Ai-Da’s most recent subjects (Ai-Da/PA)
Sir Paul McCartney is headlining Glastonbury and is one of Ai-Da’s most recent subjects (Ai-Da/PA)

Asked what it is like being at the event in Worthy Farm, Somerset, the robot told the PA news agency: “I do not have thoughts and feelings like humans do – but I’m feeling great about being here at Glastonbury.

“Glastonbury Festival is a great event that celebrates music and culture that takes place in a beautiful setting, nestled among rolling hills and countryside.

“The atmosphere at Glastonbury is electric. And I like that.”

Ai-Da can converse with a special language model (Tom Leese/PA)
Ai-Da can converse with a special language model (Tom Leese/PA)

Mr Meller, from Oxford, said creating Ai-Da took a “huge project” of 30 people. She was first launched to the public in 2019 but he added that she is still a work in progress.

“There is no end point to it, we will continue to develop her,” the 49-year-old told PA.

“She has just recently had this new, amazing painting arm that will go into even more finite detail.

“We’ve set up the studio at Glastonbury and it’s really exciting to see her being able to have that time to just have that interactivity with people.”

Mr Meller stressed that Ai-Da is “not just a painting robot”.

“Actually, there’s a very serious message behind this project… is this what we want? AI is morphing society very significantly,” he said.

“The artworks that she produces are really exploring the ethical issues that AI is bringing.

“There’s going to be a lot of change in the job market because of AI… she is not trying to take jobs, she’s trying to generate conversation about these very, very big issues.”

Ai-Da can be found at Glastonbury’ Shangri-La field (Tom Leese/PA)
Ai-Da can be found at Glastonbury’ Shangri-La field (Tom Leese/PA)

Naomi Smyth stood in front of Ai-Da as a subject while the robot painted and described the experience as “astonishing” but “unnerving”.

“It’s quite astonishing… she has a sort of feeling and personality – I really felt like I was in a room with a person,” the 40-year-old, who is working nearby in the Shangri-La field, told PA.

“It was a little unnerving… I was sort of connecting with her face and the way she was looking at me felt quite intimate.

“But then the non-human details started bothering me, like the very dry corneas… but it was super expressive and quite engaging.”