What is Art?

a robot artist

As a developer, the one thing that I’m most uncomfortable with is producing graphical content.

However, I have good news: AI is progressing in leaps and bounds. It’s able to do stuff that just 2 or 3 years ago I would have loudly declared as being totally impossible. And now that is being made available to the public. New initiatives from Google and OpenAI and MidJourney are pushing the boundaries of what art AI can produce.

But that raises a few questions…

The test for whether a computer is self-aware, or can think, was formulated by Alan Turing in 1950. That test is basically: "Can you tell by chatting with it, whether the answers are provided by a human or by a computer?"

Can we apply the same thing to art? If we show the images to people, can they tell the difference between what is created by humans, and what is generated by computers? Could that answer the question of whether computers can create art?

Or should the question be more basic: does a given image convey or produce an emotion?

peaceful, serene, calm by MidJourney

Is the new technology coming out of Google, OpenAI, and MidJourney able to meet either test? I’ll let you be the judge of where you stand, but I know I’ve been seriously impressed by what I’ve seen.

I’m curious as to what you think about all this. Is it art? The images I’ve generated are from MidJourney (because it is what I have easy access to) but OpenAI’s Dall-E 2, and Google’s Imagen models show a lot of promise.

But Google’s systems are not available to the general public. Why? For two reasons.

The first is that because with great power comes great responsibility. The models are producing images that have the potential to be at least as credible as those produced by the generative adversarial networks (GANs), and require a lot less technical know-how to use.

The other problem is that these models contain and encapsulate our society’s biases. If all the images that the model has seen of CEOs are photos of white men in suits… well, the model will equate being a CEO with being white and male.

And that underlines AI’s main difficulty: it is only ever as good as the data it has been provided with. Garbage in, garbage out. Correcting those biases first means identifying them.

And that is probably the greatest challenge facing AI today.

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