But is it art?

I’m concerned about my job. There’s an A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) computer program that will write stories for you. Simply open the app, type in a subject, add some key details and in minutes the computer will generate a written article tailored to your specifications. You can even choose the name of an existing writer and the computer will emulate that writer’s style. The artificially generated story may be slightly incoherent and lack the human element, but readers are already used to that thanks to most things published on the internet.

I’m no Robot Apocalypse conspiracy theorist, but the writing is on the wall – or rather, the screen. I’m witnessing the insidious beginning of the next big crisis looming on the horizon. When the Roomba robot vacuum was introduced, it was a fun novelty at best. Now robots are flipping burgers and delivering pizzas. Drones are hovering through the air delivering Amazon packages to people’s front doors. Boston’s bomb-sniffing robotic dogs are dismantling explosive devices.

It was just a matter of time before robots came after my job. And now they have. When I learned anyone can type a few words into a computer application and the computer would create a piece of artwork, it sounded fun. I asked my computer to render a portrait of The Mona Lisa in Space. In two minutes I had my choice of nine images to choose from. The famous Mona Lisa pose was there, and the space background was sort of cool, but something went horribly wrong. Each of Mona Lisa’s faces were more hideous than the next. The computer had a hard time rendering a smiling human face. That’s what happens when you have no internal reference point.

When I read several internet posts about A.I. being used to render book covers and images for company reports, I went from skeptical to extremely nervous about future employment for artists. The A.I. programmers were doing their best to promote these industry-changing apps. Companies who would have hired graphic artists in the past were now targeted with the tag-line “No money, no budget, no talent? No problem! Just use our app to fulfill you artwork needs – instantly!” Sounds great until artists realized the graphics generated were based on algorithms of artwork that already existed. These new programs are stealing and plagiarizing bits and pieces from every artist who has ever had anything posted on the web. The app searches the internet for criteria and mixes it up in a virtual blender, then regurgitates something that passes as art. And some companies couldn’t be happier with the results.

A reporter from the British Sunday Times recently ignited a firestorm on Twitter after his article was published about A.I.’s achievements in creative fields. The headline reads, “A.I. spells trouble for creatives – about time too”. The article goes on to say, “Machines that can write and paint are a welcome rebuff to the prestige enjoyed by artistic types…”

As an “artistic type” I take offense to that line. Artists in my “artistic circle” would deny enjoying any “prestige” thrust upon them. If anything, they are humble and self-deprecating, and the last people who would acknowledge their talent places them above any other group. Whatever prestige is bestowed upon them comes from other people’s conception of who they are, not from the artists themselves. 

Unfortunately, technology can’t be stopped. I understand the world is changing, getting smaller and smaller every day. Soon the world will fit in the palm of your hand. Oh wait, it already does. It’s called a cell phone. Looks like the robots are winning. 


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