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16th November 2022

Friend or Foe: How will technology continue to influence art?

Is art a purely humanist endeavour? The creators of Ai-Da don’t seem to think so
Friend or Foe: How will technology continue to influence art?
Ai-da Photo: Lennymur @ Wikimedia Commons

I want to introduce you to Ai-Da, a robot who draws and paints using cameras “in her eyes, her AI algorithms, and her robotic arm”.

And no, this isn’t the science section.

On the October 11, Ai-da gave evidence at a House of Lords committee inquiry regarding the future of technology and creativity. The committee investigated how much AI will influence the UK’s creative industries, and whether this influence will pose a threat to it. Known for her portraits of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Billie Eilish, Ai-Da has been described as the “new Picasso” by The i, and as being “…every bit as good as many of the abstract working artists today” by The Daily Telegraph.

With her dark brunette fringe, chin-length bob, and her deep brown eyes, Ai-Da has been created to resemble a life-size human. If you were to add a cigarette, you’d pretty much get the spitting image of Pulp Fiction‘s Mia Wallace (if it didn’t mess with her wiring). Oh, and she has built-in facial recognition, so her blank expression and glassy eyes really do stare into your soul.

That is where the human resemblance ends. No human arms are to be found on Ai-Da, only exposed wires and mechanics; a frightening reminder of who, or perhaps what she really is.

The most unnerving part of her testimony came in Ai-Da’s acknowledgment that “technology can be both a threat and an opportunity for artists creating art”. Ai-Da’s existence certainly begs the question of what technology holds in store for the future of human art and creativity. Should art be created solely for humans, by humans? And does digital art take away from the human authenticity of the discipline?

According to Professor Margret Boden, we are edging closer and closer to allowing machines and algorithms influence over our human agency. Ai-Da’s creators have already argued that we are at a point where human agency has been outsourced in a sense to the recommendations and decisions of algorithms and AI. It seems that we are moving past the idea that things should be done purely by humans, for the benefit of other humans.

It is true that art can no longer be understood to be an entirely human discipline. Artist Damien Hirst has already capitalised on the benefits of technological art by burning his own artwork – worth around £10 million – and making digital copies as a series of non-fungible tokens. Even outside the realm of technology, animals such as Congo the Chimpanzee painter are renowned for their artistic talent. Artistically speaking, there is no doubt that technology has the ability to enhance the efficiency of the arts, to bring new mediums, to lower the cost, and to expand its outreach.

What I perceive to be the most disturbing issue is that of going one step further, where technology becomes closer and closer to replicating human behaviour and activity. This idea, currently only seen in Sci-Fi films, will be potentially actualised in the fourth and final stage of AI which has not yet been reached: self-awareness.

There is no practical purpose to Ai-Da. She is, as I see it, the brainchild of Aidan Meller and his “Oxfordian research team”; a showcase creation encapsulating the epitome of their scientific research. Part of the purpose of Meller’s creation is to open a conversation surrounding the morality and ethics of AI. Essentially Ai-Da’s exists because the “Oxfordians” could, not necessarily because they should, create her.

It appears that there are currently no limits or boundaries set in place to address this, and Ai-Da’s existence is a startling reminder to the public where technology is heading. Most unsettling is the fact that the UK Government has not yet passed any legislation directly relating to AI, despite the EU passing various AI-related laws in April 2021.

Although Ai-da does not possess the trait of self-awareness, she is still replicating the art of human creativity. I think that this is an issue, as creativity embodies the meaning of humanity as it is a pure expression of consciousness. Creativity encapsulates awareness and responsiveness to one’s surroundings in a beautiful way. This makes Ai-Da’s ability unsettling. Whilst currently theoretical in AI, an expression of consciousness redefines these machines not as facilitators of human activity, but as potentially superior technological alternatives.

Yet as it stands, AI art cannot match the complexity, expression, and emotion of art born of human individuality. To me, AI art fails to incorporate all of art’s defining factors of inspiration, emotion, and soulfulness, as well as external notions of influence.

It’s quite possible that very soon, AI robots will overtake human intelligence. The former Google X chief business office, Mo Gawdat, himself predicted that, “by the year 2029…machine intelligence will break out of specific tasks and into general intelligence and that by 2049, AI will be a billion times smarter, in everything, than the smartest human.”

However, I believe that art and creativity is quintessential to human individuality and is something, unlike intelligence, which cannot be scientifically replicated with the same value. As Oscar Wilde once wrote: “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known”.

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