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Sep 27, 2017

Who Needs Artists Now?

An algorithm's painting just sold for nearly a half million dollars, more than my whole lifetime's sales, I'm sure. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has learned to paint pictures viewers like even better than those made by human artists! The algorithms aren't really so complex: just feed the computer art images of the past, adjust the output between SURPRISE v.s. CONFORMITY and hit print. It's not that the AI knows how to stimulate the human soul, it only learns (very well indeed!) how to simulate the best human results. Since all the hard work of creating creative images to begin with is finished, an amalgamation of such images can be learned and re-formulated to come up with visual images that are pretty attractive. And there's no doubt that the results are very impressive. But the question is, just what are we experiencing?

Paintings created by an AI program called "CAN".
To me this points out one of the frightening invisible dangers inherent in all AI. The computer doesn't need to actually better the work of a human attempting a task, it only needs to be able to fool us about the results. This can be seen most clearly, I think, in the way we do relationships. My friend Steve Omohundro, an AI researcher in Silicon Valley, reports that when the Roomba vacuum first came out, people would insist on taking their machines on vacation with them, (ostensibly to keep their hotel rooms clean!) But really it was about how much they would otherwise miss what they refused to acknowledge was their new pet. Nobody calls their Roomba their "friend", but they insist on their company all the same. It's not that Roombas have replaced living creatures but that the human soul desperately seeks connection, and will find it even in places where there's none to be had. Humans can project our feelings so strongly on nearly anything else, that we will defend its projected autonomy to the bitter end. We can convince ourselves that a connection was made. Bad news? You tell me.

Part of my assessment of abstract art (which the AI is best at replicating) is that it is often intelligent, compelling, visually gripping, even emotional; but it (very arguably) struggles to be truly meaningful. This is where AI cannot really shine, I would submit. AI will never feel human emotion, but it will learn how to fool us all. And when it does happen, you can bet that we human viewers will defend the result to the bitter end. Connection? Maybe so. But with what?

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Tim Holmes Studio

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.