AI, Rembrandt

Can AI be artists?

by Jasmine Lee

Technology has become an indispensable tool in all spheres of life. From academia to the film industry, to trades that are handcraft skills and require hours of practice to master– like, carpentry, metalworking, printing, bookbinding– technology has made all of these spheres accessible, yielding such more productivity with ease, and opened up more avenues in how we work and how we create.

We live in a time where technology has not only advanced the progress of the human race, but also, in a time where technology has evolved at an even greater pace, to be on par with human thinking, skill, and even the ability to create and be creative: from simple electronic gadgets came computers, cell phones, tablets, and robots, and inside each of these devices, Artificial Intelligence: a system (a brain) that we can interact with on a human level. AI’s roles exist mostly in the fields of technology and science, with discussion lacking in the humanities and the arts, but we are now discovering the extent of AI’s abilities and talents in both these fields: AIs that can function as psychotherapists and accurately diagnose depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide risk with a few keywords; and now, AIs ability to precisely recreate classical art pieces.

Can AIs can be artists? The knee jerk reaction that many have would be a resounding no, appealing to the argument that machines will never be artists because they do not have the “soul” that gives humans the ability to be artists. But AI is proving that it is capable of not just making art, but exhibiting original artistry and learning aesthetics that we attribute to human artists.

There are two types of AI. Weak AI, which we are most familiar, can perform aspects of human function, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. And there is  Strong AI, that according to CrashCourse is “a machine or system that actually thinks like us. Whatever it is that our brains do, strong AI is an inorganic system that does the same thing.” In order for us to consider AI as artists, the robo-artists must fit the characteristics of Strong AI.

The question isn’t whether or not AI can make art but if we can consider their art as original, independently created pieces: AIs still execute according to a series of human-given commands . A fascinating case of AI creating an original work of art is The Next Rembrandt, a project presented by ING that created a new Rembrandt painting through the use of algorithms and extensive analysis of his work that would determine the subject and artistic techniques of this new “Rembrandt” painting. Flow Machines, an AI developed by Sony computer engineers, produced original music in the style of The Beatles. This was done by providing sheet music to the AI to develop the melody and harmony of the new song (yet humans had to write the lyrics in order for the song to come together). It’s not yet at the level of autonomy and composition abilities as Samantha, the AI and love interest in the movie Her, but there is potential for it to grow into something similar in the coming decades.

We can validate Samantha an AI artist because, although fictional, she is able to compose music through freewill, governed by her own predetermined thoughts and desires. In the scene where she plays her song for Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix), she says that she wanted to write a song that encapsulates the essence of the moment they were spending together – like a photograph captured in sound. The intention to create the Rembrandt painting was not determined by the machine but by the people behind the project, feeding the information and algorithms that the AI needed to perform. Therefore in this case, AI is only a tool used by humans to create art and is not the artist behind the work.

Sentience and the intention that goes into creating art is one important essence of what makes the creator an artist. Currently, AI is only able to create original artwork if there is input that originates from a human source to provide information to the AI. The answer to the question “Can AI ever be artists?” depends on your philosophical interpretation of what an artist is.The rate at which technology is developing suggests that it would not be outlandish for AI to become the next generation of artists. That being said, those who are worried about a dystopian future of sentient AI overthrowing the human race can remain at ease, for now.