Do we want art by Artificial Intelligence?

Written by Nilesh

May 8, 2017

Sometimes it is practical for machines to take over

In a short series of articles, we have examined the potential of Artificial Intelligence as a powerful technology that can take over a number of tasks from us, including the creation of original art. We have also examined how specific mediums of art such as music or literature can be created by AI-powered computers. In this concluding article, we will consider some of the more practical questions: will it be worthwhile for us to create AI-powered artists? And will we truly accept such art as ‘real?’

When technology takes over a certain task from humans, there is invariably a clear economic reason for it: either the job is done faster or with greater consistency, or at a lower cost. Or sometimes it is simply more practical for machines to take over some tasks. When a machine takes over hard, dangerous labor from humans, for example, there is a clear advantage: safety.
Art, however, is a different domain. There is no mortal danger in painting on a canvas or composing a poem. The labour of art is almost always free of risk. Also, efficiency of production is never the main concern in the world of art. A painter is not really looking to streamline his process to produce the highest number of paintings per day.

What machines can do better
So would there be any incentives for us to create AI capable of producing original art? I can think of a few reasons:

Variety: We’ve heard about the infinite monkey theorem: given an infinite amount of time, a single monkey working at a typewriter will eventually write a Shakespearean play. We may not want faster art production itself, but we may still appreciate the variety such fast production offers us. Imagine a machine capable of writing a whole new novel in a matter of minutes or hours. And able to quickly churn out novels of a wide variety, from romantic novels to murder mysteries to comedies. And also, using data-based intelligence, capable of writing comic novels targeted at specific audiences such as medical students, government employees, cricket fans, or cycling hobbyists. Some of you might wonder whether we need that much variety. But art is rarely about needs in the first place. Moreover, if you think about it, we already have an overabundance of art: we have invented whole new art forms such as film and photography, new forms of dance, new musical instruments, and more. So we already strive towards greater—possibly limitless—variety in art. AI will simply allow us to get there faster.

 How often do you read a book, enjoy it, but come away feeling that what happened to that one character wasn’t quite right, or the way the story ended was somehow not satisfying? Today, a work or art is a finished product, that acquires its permanent final form as soon as it is completed. But if we have the ability, would we want to prioritize experiences of art over works of art? Imagine you start reading a novel created by AI. You read the first chapter or two, and, based on your reaction to the characters and the storyline, the subsequent chapters are changed slightly or rewritten entirely. This type of customization may not work for art forms that can be experienced all at once, such as paintings or sculpture, but for art that is consumed over time, such as fiction, film, or music, AI can certainly offer unique experiences for each individual. And again, if this seems far-fetched or outrageous, consider the fact that much of our art is already produced in this way. TV shows, for example, often change their storyline as they go along based on viewer response. Machine-produced art will simply be able to do at a much different scale, and customize at each new instance of consumption.

 We have created is a wealth of literature that explores the possibility of AI existing. And these stories invariably show AI machines wanting to become human. Steven Spielberg’s film Artificial Intelligence, released in 2001, explores the same question, chronicling the journey of a robot child. Another great example is Asimov’s epic work The Bicentennial Man, which chronicles the ‘life’ of an intelligent robot, and its quest to become human.
In our quest to make machines that are human-like in intelligence, it is perhaps essential that, along the way, machines engage in quintessentially human activities such as the creation of art.


*This article was originally published on May 8, 2017 in Telangana Today, and can be accessed at Do we want art by Artificial Intelligence


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