Artists have made use of new technologies throughout history. From stone carving, cave painting and clay moulding, up to the more recent contributions of digital illustration and 3D painting in virtual reality. In each case, the technology serves as a tool, allowing for new modes of expression or simply making the artists’ life a little easier.
Something feels different when it comes to artificial intelligence. Sophisticated computer algorithms are taking on roles that had previously been the domain of the human mind. This goes beyond streamlining processes that we’ve already figured out, like having a calculator to solve a math problem. In many cases, AI can find a solution with minimal human intervention.
Naturally, this has sparked concern. To what extent should artists worry themselves about the growing intellectual ability of computer algorithms?
The primary concern for many people is that AI will put them out of work. It wouldn’t be the first time a new technology has lead to job loss. During the industrial revolution, machines increasingly performed physical tasks with greater speed and precision than what people could achieve. Yet while some jobs were eliminated, other jobs were created.
Now AI is causing a similar debate to flare up, but this time it’s not just the physical jobs at stake. Again, it’s expected that while some jobs will cease to be done by people, there will be new roles for us to jump into. Predicting the numbers is a difficult proposition, and the variety of reports fielding attempts highlight the uncertainty.
Yet these reports also suggest that artistic and creative pursuits are at far less risk to be affected by AI, since what AI lacks is, arguably, what people are best at: creativity.
While computers creep in on cognitive tasks, they are doing so in the realm of data-processing and pattern recognition. There might be some solutions found that we would be surprised about, but creativity in the artistic field is more than a solution to a problem, and AI has yet to make inroads into combining aesthetics, emotion, novelty and meaning, with any great success—at least, not without a lot of human input.
While it’s hard to predict the extent to which AI will encroach on truly artistic work, for the time being, it seems more plausible that it will serve as a tool. When over 75 people working in creative roles were surveyed, most were unconcerned with AI taking their job, rather, they expressed interest in the possibility of it removing drudge work and letting them spend more time on the creative aspects.
In the film industry, AI has helped animators map facial features and movements to their characters. Adobe is using AI to make it easier to reframe videos for different platforms, and to select features and subjects within images. In the music world, AI has been used to merge different instruments and create entirely new sounds.
The combination of art, AI tools, and other technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing, will broaden the space that artists have to operate. For instance, Chris Milk designed a digital installation that responds to the movements of audience goers; the Dali Museum in Florida created a lifelike resemblance of Dali that also interacted with those in attendance; while artist Anna Zhilyaeva paints in virtual reality.
realise that AI is in much of the technology they’re already using, and it’s making things more intuitive than previously perceived.”
Perhaps we will soon be applying the title of artist to those who code and program AI algorithms. In 2018 Mario Klingemann designed a program that would display a never-ending cascade of faces, each one different from the next, generated by AI. Then there is the painting Portrait of Edmond Belamy, which was created by an algorithm that was itself designed by a trio of French coders under the name Obvious—the painting went to auction and sold for $432,500, over 40 times what it was valued at.
While AI plays more of a feature role in these last examples, it is still the case that a human is necessary to set the wheels in motion and then to judge and fine-tune the results. There is a lot of work involved in getting it right. Nonetheless, debate is bound to ensue regarding the value of art made with AI, whether or not we should consider it creative, and who actually owns the work.
A Wave of Art
Since 1965, leisure time has increased by about 4 to 8 hours per week. Some predict that this is going to grow larger as automation assumes time-consuming repetitive tasks. With these extra hours, people are likely to engage in more creative activities such as making art and composing music, while those that don’t produce art themselves will have more time to consume the works of those that do.
In a report by McKinsey, they look at what sectors will lose jobs to automation compared to those that will gain. Of those most likely to gain, the authors highlight creatives, “a small but growing category of artists, performers, and entertainers who will be in demand as rising incomes create more demand for leisure and recreation.”
Given that creativity is the main advantage we hold over artificial intelligence, it makes sense that more people will find themselves working in creative positions. This advantage, along with the increased leisure time, could make for a large influx of new art.
It is trending in this direction—software capable of producing music or editing photos or drawing illustrations has become inexpensive and accessible to anyone with a rudimentary computer. Now there are hobbyist musicians and artists the world over. Artificial intelligence seems set to push this even further. What’s more, AI can play another critical role in helping artists target and showcase their work, similar to how different entertainment platforms suggest movies or music to people based on their tastes.
It appears that, in the near future at least, AI is set to play a positive role for artists of all varieties. Perhaps we will soon find a world in which computers tackle all the number-crunching, data-processing, repetitive and boring jobs, leaving us to take things in different directions, to think outside the box, and do the unexpected.