Art and AI: what place for human artists in a future dominated by artificial intelligence?

Should intelligent machines someday have their own pavilion at the Venice Biennale? A decade ago that would have been a ridiculous and bizarre question. Today, however, following the latest developments in art and artificial intelligence (AI), it’s becoming relevant.

The creative professions have hitherto considered themselves immune to the rising onslaught of AI. That delusion is coming to an end. Like it or not, the age of Algorithmic art is here. While the art establishment is unlikely to embrace the new technology, (and probably will disparage it just like what happened when video art and performance art first appeared), the fact remains that this new technology and art form can’t be stopped.

The ability to think and act creatively has long been considered the defining trait differentiating humans from other living creatures. Whatever you wish to call it — ‘robots,’ or ‘machines, or ‘Artificial intelligence’ — the reality today is that these human-forged digital demigods are increasingly capable of thinking and creating just as well as Homo sapiens.

Last June, at the International Conference on Computational Creativity in Atlanta, Professor Ahmed Elgammal of Rutgers University’s Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in New Jersey introduced the concept of Creative Adversarial Networks (CANs), which allows AI to create what appears to be a genuine work of human-crafted art; not merely something derivative of existing art forms.

“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,” claims the paper . “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 work done at Rutgers is only a small part of the rising tide of AI solutions for the art world. A number of high-tech art applications have debuted in the past several years, ranging from the facile and funky, Deep Art to the more sophisticated Project Magenta by Google Brain.

Deep Art is a rather simple application that allows any user to upload a photo and see it transformed stylistically into an image that might have been created by a famous artist of your choosing.

Meanwhile, Google’s open-source Magenta is trying to “advance the state-of-the-art in music, video, image and text generation… in this project, we explore content generation and creativity.” Magenta searches for answers to the questions, “Can we use machine learning to create compelling art and music? If so, how? If not, why not?”

And there’s yet another open-source Google resource that fosters machine learning, Quick, Draw, which is the world’s largest doodling data set.

At first glance, one can argue that these applications are merely yet more sophisticated digital tools for artists to utilize. However, these art-generating algorithms are increasingly advanced, and artists can’t control what the machine will generate. In this brave new digital realm, it seems that AI is doing more of the creative work, and humans are increasingly relegated to a secondary role. Who then is the real author?

Several years from now, art-generating algorithms will be commonplace, and they will autonomously create sophisticated and original artistic images. Where does that leave the artist? What does this mean for the art profession? For the art market? Art academies? At the moment, no one can answer these questions. Brace yourself for the future. The art world is not immune to the AI revolution.