Artificial intelligence is a divisive subject. Broach it and you will find two camps. Those who believe it is a technological innovation on the cusp of transforming the world, and those who believe it is a threat to economic growth, the manufacturing sector and ultimately the safety of humanity. With Google hosting the first ever AI Art show in February of 2016, and subsequently the historic sale of an AI generated painting this past February, we’re delving into the progression of artificial intelligence in the creative arts and the implications this has on the industry and the concept of “creativity” as a whole.
In an increasingly technology-centric society where manual labour industries are in decline, creativity and distinctly human pursuits are being lauded as the future of human labour and, at an elemental level, human purpose. As AI continues to evolve and broaden its scope, the consensus that creativity is a distinctly human quality is increasingly being called into question. If artificial intelligence can create artworks that rival those produced by humans, what differentiates human creativity from the algorithmic works created by artificial intelligence? Can creativity simply be reduced to algorithms within the human brain?
Ai In the art world
The art world in some senses seems to be warming up to the idea of artificial intelligence. Paris-based collector Nicolas Laugero-Lasserre who is known for his extensive collection of urban art by the likes of Shepard Fairey, Invader, Banksy, and Swoon recently made a novel acquisition of a work called Le Comte de Belamy, generated by AI for a sum of €10,000 ($12,000) this past February. The collector bought the piece directly from the French collective, Obvious, responsible for the technology used to create the work, and this they say, is only the beginning. The collective will soon offer a companion AI-generated piece, La Comtesse de Belamy, at auction at a starting price of 10,000 euros ($12,000), a sign of things to come for the AI art industry.
Creativity Vs. Algorithms
We are entering an era in which artisan craftsmanship, in some senses, is losing its designation as being intrinsically human. If artistic works indiscernible from those produced by humans can be made by algorithms, what inherently is creativity? The stroke of a brush no matter how detailed and skillful is after all just a combination of variables, vectors, angles, and pressures. Is creativity merely mathematics imbued with human experience?
This brings into question the concept of perception and the status and importance we attribute to works of art. If computers can create algorithmic works of art which still stimulate and provoke the mind, then, the inherent value of art arguably lies in the experience of attributing value to it through the senses. The production, however, inspired by human qualities such as memory and emotion, can always be traced back to its mathematical components.
Still, some take a different approach to AI art. Having helmed the first ever AI art show, held at the San Francisco Gray Area Foundation for the Arts in 2016, google graphics guru Blaise Agüera y Arcas described a different perspective on the technologies creative capabilities. During his keynote at the event, Agüera y Arcas gave the example of a nearly 500-year-old double portrait by German Renaissance painter Hans Holbein to illustrate how AI is simply a futuristic paintbrush. The portrait includes a strangely distorted image of a human skull, and as Agüera y Arcas explained, it’s unlikely that Holbein painted it by hand. He almost certainly used mirrors or lenses to project the image of a skull onto a canvas before tracing its outline. “He was using state-of-the-art technologies.”
His point illustrates the natural progression of technology within the artistic realm. First, there were rudimentary brushes and pigments, two-dimensional images and cave drawings, then came cartesian perspectivalism and the mirrors and lenses likely used by Holbein, now… there is artificial intelligence. At the basis of all of these tools is the intrinsic value of human creation and ingenuity. Artificial intelligence is after all produced by humans, and thus is imbued with a distinctly human perspective; its works of art are still, by extension, a product of human creativity. Agüera y Arcas is part of the camp that sees AI as an extension of ourselves, not as a threat to creativity, remarking during the keynote of the art show “This idea that technology is this grave ‘Other’ that is ready to spring on us is, I think, profoundly mistaken.”
THE CREATIVE Adversarial Network
A 2017 study from a team at the Art and Artificial Intelligence Lab at Rutgers University is attempting to explore this relationship between AI and human creativity. Their findings, published last June during the International Conference on Computational Creativity in Atlanta, are thought-provoking. “Since the dawn of Artificial Intelligence, scientists have been exploring the machine’s ability to generate human-level creative products such as poetry, stories, jokes, music, paintings, etc., as well as creative problem solving,” the paper notes. “The results [of our study] show that human subjects could not distinguish art generated by the proposed system from art generated by contemporary artists and shown in top art fairs.”
The study consisted of a laboratory modification of an AI system wherein neural networks were taught to imitate a number of artistic styles including Baroque, Colour Field, Fauvism, and Expressionism. Known as the Creative Adversarial Network (CAN), the modification was designed to generate pieces that do not fit the predetermined styles. The study included a survey asking people if they thought a human or a computer had produced a series of four groups of images: those generated by AI and those on display at Art Basel in 2016.
The Abstract Expressionist works rated the highest, with 85 percent of respondents correctly identifying them as the work of a human artist. When asked which images were made by AI, users believed that 88 percent of the generated images were made by humans. Interestingly, only 41 percent of the Art Basel set were identified as being created by people. Where things get interesting, however, is when respondents were asked to rate how intentional, visually structured, communicative, and inspiring the images were. They “rated the images generated by [the computer] higher than those created by real artists, whether in the Abstract Expressionism set or in the Art Basel set.”
The capabilities of AI in the creative realm are thus quite potent, and time will inevitably tell how these capabilities are harnessed. The contingency lies in the perspective we collectively take towards our insentient counterpart. Is AI a threat to humanity? An algorithmic villain stealing our creative purpose as it exponentially grows increasingly more talented and powerful? Or is it a tool, an instrument much like anything else created by humans by which we can prosper and evolve? One thing is for sure, AI’s contributions to the creative realm certainly raise some pertinent questions about artistic craftsmanship and what it means to be “human.”
Cody is a content creator at Glossi Mag.
He is a photography aficionado, theatre school alumni, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.