Art in the Age of Algorithms: Navigating the Impact of AI

Art in the Age of Algorithms: Navigating the Impact of AI

Is Art at a Crossroads?  Exploring AI’s Influence on Creativity…

A Thought Piece By the Writers at Artburst Studios  |  December, 2023
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As we navigate an age where technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives, it’s interesting to ponder how emerging tech might bring about changes to the world of art. Artificial Intelligence or “AI” technologies, once confined to the realm of science fiction, are suddenly hitting the mainstream – and now they are seemingly “creating art”…and plenty of controversy.

This world-changing technology promises to open the door to an interesting new world of creativity, albeit one with a lot of questions and uncertainty about the future.

So What is All This “AI Stuff” About?

With all the sensationalism surrounding AI currently dominating the headlines, it’s important to realize that Artificial Intelligence is really just a field of computer science (sounds pretty boring when we put it this way, right?). At its core, AI is fundamentally about creating computer systems which can analyze and respond to huge amounts of data in a way that mimics human behavior within fairly limited contexts.

This technology has been with us longer than you may realize. As a field of study, AI has been around since the mid-20th century, with its formal inception generally marked by the Dartmouth Conference in 1956 where Alan Turing, a pioneering figure in computing, laid the groundwork for what he termed ‘Machine Intelligence’.

Obviously, a lot has changed since Turing’s early work. AI research, and the concept as a whole, have had decades to evolve. How these systems work today can vary greatly across applications, but generally, it involves what we call “machine learning” – where systems improve and “learn” from experience without being explicitly programmed to perform a specific action. Think of it as a huge pool of data that can be organized, parsed, and interpreted through the use of a very intelligent algorithm within a very powerful computer system.

With enough training, AI models can learn to quickly perform complex data processing and collation tasks that have historically required human intelligence.  One such popular example you can try for yourself is ChatGPT; an advanced AI language model developed by OpenAI, which is designed to process data and generate human-like responses based on the input it receives.

Typical AI algorithms can process and analyze vast amounts of data, recognize patterns, and make predictions. With the recent releases of services which can also handle image generation, AI tools are also increasingly being used to create digital art.

Chat GPT - Art in the Age of AI by Artburst Studios

What AI Isn’t (Hint- It’s no Techno-Picasso!)

With no shortage of dramatic headlines popping into our news and social media feeds about this topic, it’s important to note what AI isn’t. There is a fear that the human touch and emotional connection in art could somehow be diminished by AI. The reality is that AI is a tool, not an artist, and certainly not an imposing robot overlord of some kind. It has much more potential at the moment to enhance human creativity rather than to replace it.

AI is not some sort of awake, all-knowing entity. It isn’t (and most experts agree, can never be) a creative, fully autonomous, sentient presence. Computer algorithms are not living beings and as such, there is no essence of human experience, emotions, or the ability to draw inspiration from personal life stories. Since there is no conscious or organic being behind the curtain, there is no basis to understand the feelings behind human connectedness, cultural influences, or the intricate emotions that give rise to truly original artistic expression. In other words, AI can’t create art that would be infused with anything beyond the mere mimicry of humans, although it certainly does a great job at making us think otherwise. In the end, it’s “artistic creativity” is all, more or less, an illusion brought to life by some very clever technological advances.

In his 1962 book “Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible”, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated his famous Three Laws. The third law is the best-known and most widely cited: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This quote best sums up the current interest in AI as a cultural phenomenon. It’s certainly going to change the world, but that future belongs to all of us. As with with any other technology, how we choose to use AI is ultimately going to define whether it is a positive or negative force in the world.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” -Arthur C. Clarke

AI: Could it be the Ultimate Artist’s Assistant? Artburst Studios - Online Virtual Art Shows

AI: Ultimate Art Thief or a New Source of Inspiration?

For many artists, the emergence of AI generated images raises understandable concerns about originality and work being copied.

The process of AI image generation involves the use of large datasets of publicly available data (typically gathered from the internet) to train algorithms in interpreting and creating visual content. These datasets consist of vast arrays of images which enable the system to learn from or even “borrow” various artistic styles, patterns, and nuances from existing images.  Trained AI algorithms are able to interpret this visual data in many ways, identifying complex correlations, and learning how to generate new images that meet a specific artistic criterion as provided by the human user, who has provided the prompts.

While this process is technologically impressive, it still falls short in capturing the unique vision specific to an individual artist. The essence of true artistry, characterized by creative intuition and personal expression, remains beyond the current capabilities of AI, underscoring the distinct and irreplaceable nature of human-created art.

In some ways, the way AI works is similar to how the human brain sparks a new idea; we find inspiration in our surroundings, we might view the art of others, remember our favorite parts, and then combine those ideas in new ways to express ourselves in a completely original way.

Many artists are discovering that adding AI into their own creative process can offer a wealth of possibilities. AI design tools such as Midjourney or DALL·E can serve as a collaborative tool in generating images for inspiration, new ideas, or perspectives. AI can offer new and exciting ways to push human creativity further, enabling artists to explore new themes and break through creative blocks. Some artists would describe it as just another source of inspiration that helps them better communicate through their chosen medium.

Who Owns What? The Complex Ownership Battle Over AI-Generated Content

So, who then truly has ownership over AI-generated content, and what are the implications for those writers and artists whose original works form the backbone of these expansive AI datasets?  Even before the New York Times’ lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft over copyright infringement, many writers, performers, and artists were raising this critical questions about the use of their work in training AI technologies.

As AI technology evolves, new and complex questions around content ownership, copyright infringement, and ethical considerations are sure to surface.  For now, at least, we find ourselves in a landscape where clear answers to all these questions are elusive – so the discussion continues (comment below with your thoughts). The growing number of lawsuits and debates surrounding this topic seems to be just the beginning of our journey in reconciling the rapid progression of AI with the imperative to protect intellectual property and creativity, a balancing act that will undoubtedly continue into the coming years.

A New Golden Age of Art or Potential for Pitfalls?

Ultimately, the future of AI holds immense promise as well as the potential for pitfalls, not unlike other technologies which have preceded it. While AI undoubtedly could bring many new innovations to art, many artists feel anxious that AI generated art might diminish the perceived value of human artistic skill. There’s a worry that the unique, imperceptible qualities of human-made art could somehow be undervalued or overlooked.

There is a future where artists collaborate with these tools to unlock new dimensions of inspiration and creativity, where art may become more inclusive, immersive, connected, and personalized than ever before.  Maybe the value and appreciation for human created art will even increase – maybe this is a chance for us to remind ourselves of just how special art is, and how much it has done for us.

In all of human history, the very essence of art has endured and never been lost. Over the last few centuries, technology has profoundly transformed the landscape of art countless times!  The advent of photography in the 19th century challenged and redefined traditional artistic concepts, leading to new forms of expression like cinema. In the digital age, advancements such as computer graphics, digital painting, and 3D printing have further expanded the boundaries of art, enabling artists to create works that were once unimaginable, blending virtual and physical realities in innovative ways.

Regardless of what technological changes have come, art has endured. Art has been an integral part of human civilization since our beginning.  From the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux to the hieroglyphs of Egypt, and stretching into the modern age, art has chronicled human experiences, beliefs, and traveled with us across the millennia, keeping pace with the evolving tapestry of human culture and societies. Art is a reflection of our very essence, and in turn, we are embodiments of art’s limitless expressions.

AI has arrived. Art is here to stay.

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