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The AI of the beholder

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WORLD Radio - The AI of the beholder

A new art gallery in the Netherlands raises questions about how creative artificial intelligence can become


The Dead End Gallery Courtesy of The Dead End Gallery

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Artificial intelligence in art.

As AI becomes better at imitating humans, artists are trying to figure out if AI is a helpful tool or a threat to genuine creativity.

WORLD Radio’s Mary Muncy has the story.

DEBORAH ANDERSON: These are some of the pieces here…

REPORTER, MARY MUNCY: Deborah Anderson’s art studio in Asheville, North Carolina is full of neon colors and vintage mannequins.

She decorates the mannequins with paint and other materials… Sometimes she also photographs them and alters the images.

ANDERSON: I’ll then occasionally run them through an AI generator to see what kind of strange and wonderful things will come out.

One of these pictures is a sepia-tone image with two women’s faces on top of each other. They have butterflies and flowers on them.

ANDERSON: She’s completely generated from AI. And this face came from a mannequin originally. So I just put two separate photos together and then I did a little extra stuff in the background, kind of superimposing more flowers and things like that.

Anderson also uses AI to help stimulate her creativity. She says it’s like scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration. But other artists aren’t so sure.

AARON FIELDS: I’m the brick wall, the red brick wall.

Across the street, Aaron Fields points out his painting in a booth with some other artists. It depicts a road going through a forest. It looks like the Blue Ridge Parkway in the summer.

Recently, Fields put a similar painting into an AI generator and told it to show him where the road goes. He said it fulfilled some of his childhood dreams of being a movie director, but he’s still skeptical.

AARON FIELDS: AI has the potential to do great things. And also not-so-great things.

Fields is concerned with giving a tool too much power, making it too human-like and then thinking we can control what it creates.

But what if humans aren’t creating at all. What if AI is driving the whole process from start to finish?

CONSTANT BRINKMAN: My name is Constant Brinkman, the co-founder of The Dead End Gallery in Amsterdam. And the Dead End Gallery is the world's first AI gallery.

That’s not a gallery where human artists create art using AI. Rather, Brinkman and his business partner ask AI to create art based on personalities the AI has created for itself.

BRINKMAN: We ask what art do they have in their homes? What art education they had, and they're all telling us this and at some point we have enough information so it's it's a real character for us.

With prompts from Brinkman and his business partner, the AI tells them about “experiences” like losing its parents or having a baby. Brinkman says those events tend to make the art better, just like a human artist having real experiences.

Brinkman wants his “artists” to be as close to human as possible because that’s how they create the best art. He says it might go too far to say he’s creating AI with souls…

BRINKMAN: But maybe in the end, we will have AI personalities that have a soul, and that ask us real questions based on their own experience, and they will learn from our answers.

That idea of AI souls raises red flags for some people, including Mississippi College graphic design and digital illustration professor Benjamin Ivey.

IVEY: We're not Gods ourselves. And so anything that we do create ultimately kind of becomes part of our own fall, it becomes something that can corrupt ourselves, because it itself is corrupted.

Ivey says the old adage that art imitates art is often true, and it’s especially true of AI. Just like a real person, it takes things it’s seen and puts them together in a new way. That has led to a lot of copyright questions that have yet to be resolved.

But it’s one thing to put images together in a new way, it’s another thing to create meaning out of something… and Ivey says he’s never seen AI do that.

IVEY: It is absolutely imitating other artwork. It's not really imitating real life or real experiences.

Ivey tells his students that AI can be a really useful tool, especially for some of those tedious tasks like cleaning up the background of a photo, but it’s not going to replace the people using those tools.

While AI can generate images on demand, only humans have God-given creativity. For Brinkman at the Dead End Gallery, that creativity is asking questions of AI. For Deborah Anderson and Aaron Fields, that creativity is using AI to try something they couldn’t do before.

But they are still the lower-case-c creators for better or worse.

FIELDS: As an artist, I appreciate it. And I respect it. and I don't want to abuse it and I don't want to take it for granted either.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy in Asheville, North Carolina.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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