Drawing without a Paintbrush: An Evolution of Artificial Intelligence

Drawing without a Paintbrush An Evolution of Artificial Intelligence

Will you buy an AI-generated painting and hang it on the wall?

Before the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), we might never have imagined what the technology could accomplish. But now, as most of us have got the chance to experience the power of AI—be it through talking to voice assistants, like Siri, or enjoying personalized shopping, seeing AI moving forward in the art space is expected.

The emergence of AI art makes us wonder if AI will eventually replace human artists. Should we be concerned? Or is AI art not threatening at all? Read on to find out.

Introducing robotic art

Before answering the questions above, let’s meet two famed AI artists with talents that are out of this world.

Ai-Da the robot artist

Jumpstart has previously presented the top five humanoid robots that came into our world. While most of them are social robots powered by AI, it doesn’t mean that the technology stops there. Named after pioneering mathematician and scientist Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da is the world’s first AI-powered ultra-realistic humanoid robot specializing in art.

Ai-Da started achieving fame when it debuted back in 2019. After publicly performing poetry at a recital last year, Ai-Da marked another achievement recently by painting an “algorithm Queen” to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee. According to BBC News, the “algorithm Queen” was layered and scaled to produce the final multidimensional portrait.

Ai-Da has a human-like appearance and is equipped with facial recognition technology backed by AI. With the cameras in her “eyes”, Ai-Da can analyze and focus on her painting’s subject. The data obtained from the analysis will be fed to the in-built AI algorithm that prompts Ai-Da’s robotic arm to sketch. Besides painting, Ai-Da can also write and perform poetry and create sculptures.

Dall-E mini

Creating artwork with robots is remarkable, but devising a robot artist as proficient as Ai-Da can be costly. Enter Dall-E mini. It is much more cost-effective because it’s entirely free to use. Put together by AI artist Boris Dayma, Dall-E mini is an AI artwork generation model that generates illustrations based on the prompts that users type in. The tool is similar to a search engine because they both generate results based on inquiries. But, while Google gives us search results in the formats of news, studies and images associated with the keywords, Dall-E mini is all about the fun because people typically use it to create memes! For example, if you type in “a pizza flying in the sky”, you’ll get something like this:

Dall-E mini
Dall-E mini presents: a pizza flying in the sky

Given that Dall-E mini can generate more absurd pictures, such as “astronauts cooking in the sea” and “a penguin taking a selfie with a polar bear” (as seen in the images below), people like to use it to create memes to bring their imagination to life. Even though the illustrations Dall-E mini generates are mostly blurry and deformed, the AI program does empower us to let our creativity go wild.

Dall-E mini 1
  Astronauts cooking in the sea              A penguin taking a selfie with a polar bear

AI art is impressive, but it isn’t “art”

To understand whether AI-generated artworks can be considered art, we must first understand what motivates us to create art. Generally speaking, we humans make art for four reasons— to evoke an emotional response, recall past events and emotions, communicate and educate. Humans are born to have feelings because we need them to respond to our ever-changing surroundings. Say, when a tiger is pacing beside us, we’ll be alert and our fear will drive us to run away or fight against the beast (not recommended). Fear is just one of our many feelings, but it helped our ancestors survive in the wild.

Our feelings are mostly inexpressible owing to their complexities. Other than making facial expressions, creating art is another ideal way for us to express the inexpressible because art is the projection of our emotions. With this conclusion, it’s safe to say that the greatest artists of all time are not only gifted for having excellent art skills but also having moving life stories to share. 

After meeting the two AI artists introduced above, there’s no doubt that AI can also make artwork, illustration and paintings. That said, machines can at most imitate human artists’ painting styles but not emotions because computers don’t have life experiences. Based on that, as long as we consider art as an expression of our emotions and feelings, it’s hard to say what AI can create is also art.

AI art is not copyright protected

This may be unfair to AI artists like Ai-Da but no, AI-generated art is ineligible for copyright protection. This February, a three-person board from the U.S. Copyright Office reviewed a 2019 ruling against Steven Thaler, a scientist and AI system creator who tried to seek copyright protection for an AI-created picture. The office rejected the application again after three years since copyright protection requires “human authorship” as per the committee. That is to say, human involvement during the creation process is a prerequisite in obtaining copyrights.

Paradoxically, AI is supposed to function with minimal human intervention. Insisting on human participation in AI art creation implies that there’s currently no chance for this type of art to be copyright protected. When more and more artists start using AI to create artworks, then perhaps AI-made art might be whitelisted. It might even get a separate mechanism to process copyright-related requests on a case-by-case basis.

AI art can be deceiving

In case you’re wondering how perfect AI art is, it’s good enough to fool our eyes and make us feel at sea while identifying them. After seeing the world’s first AI-generated portrait auctioned for US$432,500 at Christie’s, a researcher Harsha Gangadharbatla carried out an online survey to figure out how people perceive artwork. Like most other researchers, Gangadharbatla aims to find out if people can distinguish between human- and computer-made artworks.

Gangadharbatla recruited 211 subjects on Amazon and provided them with five landscapes created by human artists and AI algorithms. The subjects were asked to determine if those illustrations were human or machine-generated. At the end of the day, a majority of the respondents could only identify one out of five landscapes’ creators correctly. 

What does that imply? AI can produce quality artworks indistinguishable from those created by humans. With more people accepting machine-made artworks, the sales of conventional paintings may eventually drop. This may be why Gangadharbatla finds the result unsettling. “Already, the role of humans is shrinking every day and the role of big data is growing. So creativity is the last bastion, the line that humans hold in advertising,” he points out. When AI is equipped with creativity, machines may completely dominate the creative industry, leaving no space for human artists to survive. Thankfully, this hasn’t become the reality.

Returning to the question raised at the beginning: should we be concerned by AI art in replacing human artists? Not really. The claim that the gap between human and AI artists is narrowed to creativity may sound intimidating, but if we take a closer look, it’s in fact reassuring because machines haven’t been given creativity, and it remains our strength that makes us irreplaceable.

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Header image courtesy of Unsplash


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