Can computers create art?


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

As technology increases in its capacity, one of the arguments I’ve heard is that humans are able to be creative, but machines and computers are able to be efficient. Perhaps a computer program can crunch numbers in a spreadsheet faster than a human can add them in their head, but no computer can create a masterpiece of art.

However, I wonder if this argument for human uniqueness may be waning as technology continues to advance. For instance, consider this video (produced by ING Bank as a promotional piece for their innovative approach to technology and data):

In this case study, undisputedly, the creative genius at the center of the story is Rembrandt. The derivative work is the algorithmic analysis and duplication of something that looks (to some degree) like another Rembrandt painting.

However, there is a level of creative genius in conceptualizing and painting a new Rembrandt painting! (Surely we give this much credit to the original artist). This is especially the case because there was no subject to be painted - the portrait is, interestingly, a portrait of no one in particular.

Second, this increases the likelihood that an algorithm could one day be trained, not only to duplicate an existing set of artistic work with small modifications, but to create a piece of art that is more substantially new.

A parallel example would be AlphaGo. The first AlphaGo learned how to play Go at a superhuman level by studying an incredible number of Go games played at an expert level. Then, AlphaGo Zero learned how to play Go even better than AlphaGo by starting from scratch. They simply let one copy of Zero play another copy of Zero and the resulting approach to the game of Go was dominant over the original AlphaGo.

As the researchers for AlphaGo put it, “This technique is more powerful than previous versions of AlphaGo because it is no longer constrained by the limits of human knowledge. Instead, it is able to learn tabula rasa from the strongest player in the world: AlphaGo itself.”

This example makes me think that a new master artist AI program might be around the corner. The first version duplicates Rembrandt, just like the first AlphaGo duplicated Go players. But the second version may go beyond what Rembrandt was capable of doing. And the third version may go beyond what any human artist can achieve.

What do you think?

  1. Is it possible - or even likely - that computers will produce superhuman quality artwork in the next decade?
  2. What implications will this have for the social perception of AI? For our self-perception of human value and uniqueness?
  3. In what ways do these AI programs fit into the redemption of the world? Or work against God’s plan for humanity?

(Jennifer Judson) #2

Great topic. Thanks for sharing the video. I’ve spent my life in graphic design, I have a B.F.A. from a university, and had about 20 hours of art history, including the Dutch and Flemish masters, so this was especially interesting to me.

My first reactions are the differences between the computer-generated (CG) painting and a Rembrandt.

  1. Rembrandt painted from a human subject, the CG was a composite. (Would have been more impressed if they had captured a 3-D real life person as the subject of the algorithm doing the “painting.”)
  2. The computer program did not choose the subject matter, nor was any act of will involved.
  3. The CG version is astounding mimicry, but it is essentially an image mapped on a textured surface. Even highly skilled artists today would not truly be able to recapture the extraordinary translucency of the layers of paint of a Rembrandt or Vermeer because some of their techniques have been lost to the ages.

All that being said, wow, what an amazing outcome. Still the creativity (and technology) involved is of human origin.

All kinds of incredible images are being created today by computers (see fractal art). They probably already do fall into the category of “superhuman quality artwork.” But even those are created out of a randomness within the programming, the computer is not choosing the subject nor choosing how to depict the subject before executing the work. Also, it is the human that is choosing when the image is a stage to capture the image–the fractals can change pretty much infinitely–so the computer is not aware when the art is “finished.” And let me tell you that’s a key part of any piece of artwork–when is it done? As an artist I can tell you that’s a constant struggle. When you go past “done” sometimes you’ve ruined the work.

Of course we can debate what is art all day long, so I’ll concentrate my comments on creativity. God is in his essence creative–we are created and a product of that creativity. In sharing a reflection of his essence with us, he created us to be creative beings–and he created us with a will. Creativity drove ingenuity and we looked at the raw elements of the earth and we created tools and structures that aided our survival…and ultimately our comfort. When we were comfortable enough we creatively embellished those structures. Those embellishments led to the creating of art simply for the sake of beauty. Although AI may take a similar route with humans as the “first cause,” the question seems to me to be whether we can create machines with a “will”? And what about a conscience?

If we cannot, then we will have made a tremendous case for why God created humans with free will, allowing our fickle and sinful little hearts to wreak havoc in his creation.

If we can, then I wonder if we will not have, in a sense, finally built our Tower of Babel. I think the accomplishment will highly inflate our sense of value and uniqueness–look Ma, no hands! We are after all, creatures of great hubris. AND if we can, will we choose in our will to create them without the capacity to do evil…or will they be an instrument of war and domination. Science fiction has certainly illustrated a variety of paths.

I guess I see this as yet another example of our desire to be like God. How little has changed since the fall. I doubt there was an iota of ill will against God when Eve chose to eat the fruit, she was an innocent seduced with no idea of the consequences that the knowledge of good and evil would bring. Still she was aware she was trespassing against the limits set by God–it was disobedience. Will AI bring with it unintended consequences, like so many of man’s creative innovations have wrought? I think so. I don’t think the story has, or will, change that much. Only God will be able to redeem us. Only He can save us from ourselves.

(SeanO) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer You know, much of the beauty we see in flowers, snowflakes and sea shells is based in mathematics.

The following article discusses the fibonacci numbers in nature.

What computers are good at doing is math - number crunching - and then displaying the results of that math on some type of output - LCD Screen - or to an image file - png, jpg…

So saying that computers ‘create’ art is no different than saying that nature ‘creates’ beauty. God created nature which creates beauty - God put the information into the DNA and fundamental interactions of the universe that generate a glorious spectacle. So why can’t humans put mathematics in machines that can output beautiful art?

In the end, people create at a lower level than God because they were made by a Creator and people as creatures can create machines that are capable at creating - albeit at a lower level than humans (assuming one believes in the soul).

(david payne) #4

I really like this topic! Here’s my quick responses to your questions:

  1. It does seem possible to me, given what we’ve seen to this point and the rapid progress of technology and the human desire to achieve this kind of goal. But here’s the start of my questions: would it take another superhuman AI to really affirm that what the first one did is great art? What if only the AI’s appreciate what the other AI’s produce and humans do not? That is, we’ve created a being with free will.

  2. Without a right understanding of the true source of imagination and creativity come from (i.e. God) I think it will just be fodder for those who already are inclined to say “see, I do not need God”. Is there someone out there who is waintin gfo rhtis kind of scientific evidence to abandon their trust in God?

  3. Yet another idol. God has dealt with idols before and will continue to do so in the hearts of those who love him.

(Jose Cosa) #5

I had imagined a scenario where a guest is visiting an art gallery and is captivated by one of the paintings, the exhibitor notices and engages in a conversation. The exhibitor goes into all the technical details of the painting explaining color, light, brush strokes, etc. then adds that the painter is personal friend, explains the challenges, happiness and suffering that this painter has gone thru and how is reflected in the paintings. Furthermore mentions that the artist loves people an asks if the guest would like to meet the artist.
Now, on the other hand, if the guest asks about the artist, the exhibitor says that there really isn’t an artist, the painting is the result of an art supply van that was involved in an accident on the way to deliver supplies to an art studio.
Same painting, but now here is something missing, the human factor. God is a triune god in perfect unity and harmony. We are created in His image and something in us longs for that unity and harmony, it take a personal relationship to satisfy our longings and be able to truly appreciate life.