Is artificial intelligence the future of art?

Sofia Crespo, who created the works using artificial intelligence, is part of the “generative art” movement, where people create rules for computers that then use algorithms to generate new shapes, ideas and patterns.

For many, they are the next great thing of art: sirbptial images of jellyfish pulsating and fading in a dark pink sea, or dozens of butterflies merging into a single organism.

Argentine artist Sofia Crespo, who created the works using artificial intelligence, is part of the “generative art” movement, where people create rules for computers that then use algorithms to generate new shapes, ideas and patterns.

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The field is starting to spark huge interest among art collectors — and even bigger price tags at auctions.

American artist and programmer Robbie Barrat — a child prodigy just 22 years old — sold a work called “Nude Portrait#7Frame#64” at Sotheby’s in March for £630,000 ($821,000).

That came nearly four years after the French collective Obvious sold a work at Christie’s entitled “Edmond de Belamy” — based largely on Barrat’s code — for $432,500.

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A ballet with machines

Collector Jason Bailey told AFP that generative art was “like a ballet between man and machine”.

But the burgeoning scene could already be on the brink of a major uproar as tech companies begin to release AI tools that can create photo-realistic images in seconds.

Artists in Germany and the United States paved a path in computer-generated art in the 1960s.

The V&A Museum in London has a collection dating back more than half a century. One of the most important works is a 1968 piece by the German artist Georg Nees, called “Plastic 1”.

Nees used a random number generator to create a geometric design for his sculpture.

‘babysitting’ computers

Today, sirbptial artists work with supercomputers and systems known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to create images far more complex than anything Nees could have dreamed of.

GANs are sets of competing AIs – one generates an image based on the instructions it is given, the other acts as a gatekeeper and judges whether the output is accurate.

If it finds an error, it sends the image back for adjustments and the first AI goes back to work for a second attempt at defeating the gamekeeper.

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But artists like Crespo and Barrat insist that the artist remains at the center of the process, even if their approach is not traditional.

“When I work like this, I’m not creating an image. I’m creating a system that can create images,” Barrat told AFP.

Crespo said she thought her AI machine would be a real “employee”, but in reality it’s incredibly difficult to get even a single line of code to generate satisfactory results.

She said it was more like ‘watching out’ on the machine.

Tech companies now hope to bring some of this tenuous action to ordinary consumers.

Google and Open AI both praise the merits of new tools that they believe bring photorealism and creativity without the need for coding skills.

Fill in the ‘transformers’

They have replaced GANs with more user-friendly AI models called “transformers” that are adept at turning everyday speech into images.

Google Imagen’s webpage is full of absurdist images generated by instructions such as, “A little cactus in a straw hat and neon sunglasses in the Sahara desert.”

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Open AI claims that its Dalle-2 tool can provide any scenario in any artistic style, from the Flemish masters to Andy Warhol.

While the advent of AI has led to fears that humans will be replaced by machines in fields from customer care to journalism, artists see the developments as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Crespo tried Dalle-2 and said it was “a new level in terms of image generation in general” – although she prefers her GANs.

“Very often I don’t need a model that is very accurate to generate my work because I really like it when things look indeterminate and aren’t easy to spot,” she said.

Camille Lenglois of the Center Pompidou in Paris, Europe’s largest collection of contemporary art, also downplayed the idea that artists were about to be replaced by machines.

She told AFP that machines did not yet have the “critical and innovative capacity”, adding: “The ability to generate realistic images does not make one an artist.”

Arun Agarwal
I am Arun Agarwal, a passionate blogger and gamer. I love to share my thoughts on games and technology through blog posts. I’m also an avid reader of books about history, philosophy, science-fiction, and other genres as well as an anime fan. I like reading books that give me new perspectives or help me think differently about the world around us.