2018 will be etched into the memory of artists around the world, as the year witnessed the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) capable of mimicking human-esque art. In October 2018, composer and producer Benoît Carré, along with musician and technology researcher François Pachet, collaborated with AI to develop and release the album “Hello World”. Now, advances in machine learning have enabled AI to draw portraits of such caliber that it titillates the senses of art-critics and is bought at an exorbitant price by bidders.
One such painting, called “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy”, has been created by a group of French business school students who also specializes in machine learning. Going by the name Obvious, they used an open-source program called GAN to feed around 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th century to a computer. The AI algorithm was able to create an optical common denominator from the data and print out a brand-new painting. This was the work of one part of the system called the “Generator”. The job of the other part, the “Discriminator”, was to differentiate between manmade and AI-generated works.
One of the students of Obvious states, “The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits, then we have a result.” The painting was akin to a typical computer-printed ink-on-canvass image. It was 100% generic – replicating any other painting visually, surface-wise, and scale-wise. It depicted a blurry portrait of a man dressed in all black with a stark white collar with an olden-style longish dark hair in a pageboy cut. The unfinished edges resemble 17th-century Dutch artistry, especially that of Rembrandt.
British auction company Christie’s got a hold of the painting and decided to set it up for auction. It was described as the “first portrait generated by an algorithm to come up for auction.” Estimated to go for a price of around $7,000 to $10,000, it was bought by an anonymous phone bidder in France at a price of $432,000.
It’s the inherent bias of human beings that makes us unique. We thrive on our ability to hold subjective beliefs, and it’s that bias that showcases on our art forms. Recent studies have shown that AI is slowly learning human biases, and it’s that ability that enables them to create a unique form of art. But the important question that remains is – where does this bias stop. Once AI is allowed to run free, it can develop a bias that can be detrimental to the human race.
The value of artists and their work might also diminish in a world where machine learning can churn out art at a faster rate than humans. Many believe that each piece of art, be it music or a painting, holds a part of the soul of the artist that makes it unique. Soul, however, is an abstract thought that hasn’t been translated into a mathematical equation. Under such circumstances, one might simply wonder about the beauty of such art that has been compiled by AI.