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15 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Revolutionizing The Arts

Robots have feelings too, you know. Photo courtesy Burak Kostak


If artificial intelligence is destined to put us all out of work, then creative types might believe themselves to have the professional upper hand for the first time since, well, ever. But painters, poets, comedians, and musicians need remain cautious in their optimism, as AI is primed to revolutionize creative fields, both as a tool for artists to use and as an artistic competitor. Here are 15 ways that AI is breaking into the world of arts and culture and challenging the definition of what it means to be creative.

(Need a primer on AI? Check out our Beginner’s Guide To Artificial Intelligence.)

Paint By Numbers

When leading auction house Christie’s sold its first AI portrait for a cool $432,500, one might’ve expected a celebration within AI art circles. French collective Obvious created the print, Portrait of Edmund Belamy, using Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), a much-lauded technique pioneered in 2014 by a doctoral student named Ian Goodfellow, which pits two neural networks against each other until one is able to produce an image that the other interprets as “real.”

As it turned out, Obvious created Belamy using open-source code borrowed heavily from prominent teenage AI artist Robbie Barrat, who was none too pleased. Barrat’s frustration raises fundamental questions about who gets to claim AI art as their own and who gets to profit off of it. It also highlights an interesting tension between the collaborative culture of coding and the thorny politics of intellectual property — a tension that is certain to persist as GANs and similar techniques continue to penetrate the mainstream art world.

Bits, Rhymes, And Life

A year and a half before Robbie Barrat found himself engaged in that high-stakes public dispute, he was just your average high schooler in West Virginia who spent his free time orchestrating paradigm-shifting breakthroughs in AI art. Among his personal projects: a rapping AI trained on 6,000 Kanye West lines. The AI’s “flow”, as you might expect, leaves much to be desired.

For a (somewhat) more melodic example of AI vocals, see auxuman singer-songwriter Yona’s deeply terrifying “Oblivious”, premiered alongside an equally terrifying interview with Dazed Digital. Yona, whose vocals are performed in collaboration with living, breathing human beings, stands as an example of how AI vocals and production might intertwine with popular music in the near future. And with customizable composers like Amper Music hitting the market, artificial intelligence is primed to serve as a valuable tool for producers (if not a particularly fearsome opponent in a rap battle.)

Machine Yearning

AI vocals may be a ways away from passing a Turing test, but AI poetry is already fooling judges. An AI poet developed by Microsoft and Kyoto University researchers proved adept at writing inscrutable works that could’ve just as easily been written by your tortured artist dormmate. Not convinced? Play a game of bot or not to see if you can differentiate the poetic works of human and machine.

Larry The… Humor Algorithm?

If AI can master the subtleties of making a reader feel, can it also learn how to make us laugh? Improv comedian and artificial intelligence enthusiast Piotr Mirowski has taken to performing in tandem with his A.I. A.L.Ex, whom Mirowski has likened to a “completely drunk comedian” that’s only “accidentally funny.” A.L.Ex’s lack of narrative discipline and traditional comedic timing may be more at home in the more surrealist corners of alt-comedy, where the team behind Botnik have gained a following for their AI’s absolutely bonkers parodies of everything from Yelp reviews to Harry Potter to Boy Meets World.

Of Mice And Machines

Though Botnik’s Harry Potter chapter isn’t exactly intended to resemble the source material, artificial intelligence is still working its way into the domain of Very Serious Writers. Take novelist Robin Sloan for example: he’s writing his newest novel alongside AI software that completes his sentences when he’s in need of a creative spark. Writers like Sloan may want to keep their eyes peeled, though — at least one expert claims that AI is primed to soon start dominating best sellers lists.

So… Now What?

The role of artificial intelligence in creative fields is sure to be hotly debated as the technology’s reach — as well as the reach of the artistic works created with AI — continues to grow. From self-building “thinking sculptures” to AI-manipulated dance videos to fashion design to TED Talks and fortune cookies, there’s not a form of expression that isn’t taking a turn for the robotic. But will AI benefit creators like so many new tools have in the past? Will it put artists out of work? Is a machine even capable of creating art on its own? And most importantly, will any of us be able to sleep after listening to that Yona song? Yes, we linked to it again. And we’re very sorry about that.

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