creative AI

Playing Van Gogh(d): Will Creative AI Help Or Hurt Artists?

No matter how advanced artificial intelligence gets, humans will always be distinct in their ability to think creatively and produce impactful art. Right?

While there are many things that set humans apart from the intelligence we create, and other earth dwellers, the thesis that only humans can create and derive pleasure from art is not as strong as you’d think.

Animals like chimpanzees and elephants (and cats, according to some satire) sometimes paint, and creatures like the bowerbird acquire creative style and technique in their nest building that wow humans and animals like.

A glittery nest or paw-painted flower, however, does not a Picasso make. There’s no threat of Dumbo taking painting or design jobs, ever.

Computers, on the other hand, are a more dangerous animal metaphorically. You might think a machine can excel at problem solving and other mathematical feats alone; that not unlike monkeys, it lacks the jenesequa of human ingenuity. Or does it?

This is a complex question, the answer to which rests on how exactly we define creativity, art, and the motivations that drive them.

Creative computers: What they can do

With artificial intelligence getting more advanced, it’s no surprise that machines can create what at least looks and appears to be artistic work and innovations of quality.

Examples of this phenomenon include:

  • Music: With the right instructions, computers can algorithmically generate orchestral compositions within a matter of minutes, of any length and genre.
  • Cooking: IBM’s supercomputer Watson, fed volumes of food theory, suggested food combinations that inspired an entire book of recipes
  • Writing: Services like Automated Insights and Narrative Science produce stories and news articles algorithmically and accurately
  • Visual art: Robots like AARON, equipped with virtual imagination, paint beautiful portraits and abstract work
  • Architecture: Projects like Digital Grotesque algorithmically design highly sophisticated, geometric structures
  • Game design: The AI ANGELINA can intelligently design complex games based on simple prompts.

How good are they?

Art created by machines can, at times, be indistinguishable from that of humans.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”sjBJGxuBqp5gXnJ5SY4jjO5TP9w6LFVZ”]In terms of the written word, readers have found computer-generated stories more trustworthy than human ones, though less enjoyable. As for food, Watson’s data-driven recipe suggestions yields unique pairings arguably more creative than most chefs would think to consider.

Algorithmic designs can even exceed human art in sophistication and complexity.

But when you dig beyond the surface, there are some major differences between human and machine art. AI, for example, can generate art algorithmically, finding unique and unusual connections that delight human senses. Human work may appear similar, but the process behind the output is often motivated by and enrichened with emotion and personal experience.

Computers can mimic this, and maybe someday an AI will be sentient enough to get it right.

But if not, does it matter? Some theorists have argued that the process and intent matters much less than interpretation and perception of art. The fact that some of the most renowned work in history has been interpreted wrongly only supports this notion.

In other words, AI output is getting more delicious, enjoyable, intriguing, and advanced – processes be damned. Can we invalidate its genius just because it is not human?

Competition, or companion?

Computers, thus far, don’t get writer’s block. They don’t procrastinate, or forget to fact check, or chisel the nose off a sculpture by accident. They don’t need to sleep, or make wages that feed their families.

With machines replacing humans in manufacturing jobs, and poised to overtake much more, some naturally see this as a threat to those that live to innovate, to write, to paint, to build and dream.

Others don’t quite see it that way. As of today, computer-generated art is prompted only by data and code, as well as — you guessed it — real live people. That means humans are at the helm of algorithmic art; they are these machines’ creative puppet masters, so to speak.

Almost all of these creators imagine that creative AI will enhance the skills of human artists, rather than injure them. Automated creativity can inspire human creativity, and vice versa – meaning you could execute an AI’s idea, or have the AI execute yours. You can hand over your emotions and thoughts in exchange for precision and speed, resulting in a new class of art.

Of course, Dr. Frankenstein might have thought his monster would lend him a hand, too. Such is the danger of playing God – or in this case, playing Van Gogh(d).

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert