Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The AI Art Robot Invasion Is Coming

Hide your pencils and paint brushes. The art robots will be here soon to replace you!

Robots have replaced factory workers. Robots are now roaming hospital halls.  Robots are writing articles. Robots are now bartenders, pharmacists, farmers, cashiers, and even an entire McDonald's in Phoenix is run by robots. And naturally, there is the coming robot army that will enslave us all.

But what about art? Will robots ever create art? 

Art I made "using" the iPhone app Prisma. The first shot
on the top left is from my photo. I did the face painting too. 
The rest in the series is all Prisma.
The short answer is, yes. And I'm not just saying this to make a fuss and kick dirt in anyone's face. I am an artist myself. I went to an art high school and an art college. The gut reaction behind anything we humans do with our brains and hands is to state, with confidence, that a robot will never be able to generate what we can. It feels right to say that we are entirely unique. We are special. We can't be imitated. 

The truth is a bit harder to swallow. First off, robots are humanity's creations. Like the HAL 9000 in Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey they are an extension of us. As we figure out the mechanics of the universe more and more, often using mathematical algorithms to do just about anything, the computers and the software that runs on them work better and better.

In simple terms, an algorithm is a self-contained set of step-by-step instructions to be performed for a specific task. The math, programming, and junk can get awfully complicated. Once quantum computers become common it will progress even faster than they already are. 

"Bonnie and Corinne" by robot cloudPainter
from George Washington University.
The bottom line is that art is not immune to the coming robot takeover. As an artist myself I never much liked the highbrow snooty air of superiority that revolves around the profession. Sure, artists are cool. We're quirky. We make oddball life choices and spend years honing our skills. We're just people though, and what we do is not terribly complicated when you examine it like any other task humans perform. We would like to think it's special. 

So as the computers get better doing what they do,  all of what humanity does will eventually be imitated by the robot machines we make. And eventually the imitations will become indistinguishable from work done by a human's hand. If you don't think it's coming, I'd like to point to the naysayers who said film would never be replaced by digital. Kodak is gone. Digital cameras started out as entirely lacking the warm chaos of film.
We are now at a point where you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between film an digital. And you can accomplish this now with off-the-shelf cameras sold at Target and Best Buy.

And you'll always have people trying to define what is and is not art. Those are my least favorite
Google's AI neural networks created these images
and is blowing minds as it goes. This is just the start too. 
AI robot art is in its infancy. Imagine where it'll be 
in 30 years time?
kinds of people—self-appointed gatekeepers who try to narrow the spectrum of what is and is not allowed in the world. All the while, technology and creative people chug along, churning out new and innovative creations. 

If you are an artist, you can rest easy for now. But changes in technology happen fast, so I'd suggest embracing the future rather than fighting it. One day soon you might have a robot artist apprentice who might be able to churn out art done by imitating your unique style.

Try and imagine drawing from a photo or a live image and using a special pen that communicates your style to a computer. Now that computer has learned your style, perhaps, and can imitate it with new photos. If silly old me can conceptualize this, you can be sure there are already great minds at work on this somewhere. 

Creativity will always be relevant. Don't worry about that. We're not about to become the Eloi yet. 

Computer or robot-generated art will likely become much more common as time goes on—the same way photography has become entirely common because of cell phones. Professional photographers are still around. For the moment. :)

But rather than it just being you who can take pictures, paint, or draw really well, there might also be a robot who can create art. Maybe rich artists will be the first to own them. Or maybe it will just start slowly and innocuously like with the Prisma app that filters photos into lo-grade art styles. Apps get updated. They get better. And soon they are churning out high-quality results. 

This soon-to-be-available art robot might be something you can pick up at Target, like the kitchen mopping robot pictured above. You can buy this mopping robot right now. A robot that mops your floor. 

Keep your skills honed and sharp. You might one day be teaching not just your kids how to draw, but your phone too. Still not convinced? Here are a few articles to set you straight.

Google’s Artificial Brain Is Pumping Out Trippy—And Pricey—Art

Humanoid Robots Are Getting Really Good at Making Art

15 incredible pieces of art created by robots

Robot Art Raises Questions about Human Creativity

7 awesome ways quantum computers will change the world

Below is some art I did from a selfie and a few apps. What is possible with a few clicks is mind boggling.
Progression using a selfie photo, the Prisma art app, Google's online 
Deep Dream Generator, some back and forth between the two.
More back and forth, Photoshop, and Lightroom.

Close up

Final Abstract art from selfie.