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

Should algorithmic machines some day have their own pavilion at the Venice Biennale? Two years ago that would have been a ridiculous and bizarre question. Today, however, if you’ve been following the latest developments in art and artificial intelligence (AI), then you know it’s becoming a relevant question.

The creative professions have hitherto considered themselves immune to the rising onslaught of artificial intelligence. 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 the genres of video art and performance art first appeared), the fact remains that this new technology and art form can’t be stop.

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 summer, experts at 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 works of human-crafted art; not merely something derivative of existing art forms.

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 programs are just sophisticated digital tools that an artist can 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 machines are 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.

By John Varoli, co-founder, V Startup Agency

Prepared for New Art Academy