Artificial Intelligence and Art

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I work in in the field of Computer Science. I mainly play around with data warehouses but these days one can’t help to read and learn a little bit about Artificial Intelligence or AI for short. AI has been making headlines everywhere, I don’t need to give you examples, I am pretty certain that you can think of some examples yourself! This is the era that we live in now, though we don’t have flying cars just yet, we can see how advanced we have become (technology wise at least) compared to 100 years ago. Just a week ago, I was browsing through my Instagram search and saw an Instagram profile of a celebrity robot?!! The robot looks legit, I literally thought there was a new singer I didn’t know about, but NO it was a celebrity robot? Do I call it “it” or “she”? I was baffled to be honest (especially that the robot has waaaayyy more followers than the average human!).

So what does Artificial Intelligence has to do with art? Let’s just take a step back and see how technology has helped artists. Who use Procreate on a daily basis? Or perhaps do a little retouching here and there with Adobe Photoshop? We can conclude that technology has definitely helped artists in a lot of way. So now, what if we think big, bigger than our canvas and our manual art tools? Bigger than just the usual retouching or drawing via our iPad. What if we could change the course of the art world, by creating something new and completely novel, and even perhaps introduce a new art movement?

Before I write any further, let me just say that I am just an AI enthusiast, I am no expert at all. This post is based solely on my own fascination on creative AI. Now, let’s move on. AICAN (Artificial Intelligence Creative Adversarial Network) is a machine that can create original paintings with minimum human intervention. This machine was developed by Professor Ahmed Elgammal. When I first read an article about how a piece of art, generated by a machine, made its way into the art scene, and not just any art scene but a New York Art Gallery, I was blown away! Is this the future of art? When I saw the art work, it was a little abstract, and you could tell that it was computer generated, but it wasn’t bad at all!

Professor Elgammal explained in his TEDx presentation, that he created an algorithm where he “fed” the machine a humongous set of paintings from all different time range. The machine was then able to learn from this and created new paintings, original ones. And not only that, he tested these paintings, compared it with paintings made by human to a set of people. Apparently, the computer generated paintings were pretty believable! Have a look at the paintings yourself, AICAN has a virtual gallery tour that you can visit, do you like any of the paintings? Personally, I am interested in a few of them, but the rest didn’t really interest me. I am pretty sure, with time, these paintings will get better and better.

This got me all interested, and I am a geek after all, so I signed up for a two-weeks Creative Artificial Intelligence course at FutureLearn (this is NOT sponsored in anyway) during the first months of quarantine. At that time they were also giving away a free certificate for this course, so I just had to snatch it. The course is called Introduction to Creative AI and I learned a lot, more than I expected within those two weeks. One of my biggest takeaways from this course was that AI can be used in many medium, from music to paintings. This new field creates collaborations and new communities between computer scientists and artists. The art world is enriched by unique and crazy ideas when both worlds are combined. It really is an exciting time to be alive (apart from the pandemic, of course). However, I also learned that beneath all that, the issue of ownership is quite a big deal in this field. One of the most talked about case is a piece called Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, which was sold for $432,500. This was a computer generated piece of art, it became controversial because the maker took an algorithm which was made by someone else, and only tweaked it a little bit to create this piece. Can we say that the maker of this piece stole it? What is the ethic and rules here?

A few other artists that were mentioned in the course included Terence Broad, who claims to be an artist as well as a researcher in machine learning. One of his works, a piece title Being Foiled, is rather eerie, a set of weird looking faces. Another artist called Anna Ridler, worked together with the composer Ben Heim to create a series of sounds from her drawings. Amazing!

I am a person who has fascination in both worlds, so the fact that AI is this bridge that can connect the two really excites me. However, in my opinion there is still a need for old fashioned art. Those that are made by humans, we cannot deny the process of making art is one that is a unique experience to each person. Apart from that, when you buy art that speaks to you, you are also creating a communication and human understanding with the artist. This is something that a machine cannot replace.

On the other hand, AI seeping through the art world also creates infinite possibilities for both artists and scientists. I feel that it is also fair to say that we cannot solely say that a machine can act on its own. After all there has to be a mastermind, a human being, who made the algorithm. Without them, a machine is pretty much useless! These scientists are also artists (the art of coding, creating an algorithm is quite beautiful on its own, I think).

All in all, the point of art is communication. So if AI can create more communications between one human to another, create collaborations, then why not welcome it? If it can make our world richer with works of arts, then why not? There is still a long way to go for AI in art. There are many issues that should be discussed, boundaries that must be made, especially its ethical sides, but I think there is a future for creative AI. What do you think? Which AI art work do you like most?

Cover: Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

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