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So is art dead now?

If you've ventured out onto the web as of recent, you might've come across some of the occasionally peculiar but typically astonishing 'paintings' drawn by artificial intelligence programs. The most well-known ones at the present point in time are called Dall-e and Midjourney respectively. Both use the same kinds of technology - specifically, large neural nets drawing upon even larger databases of paintings and images. The difference between the two is in the specifics of the generated imagery - Midjourney focuses more on 'painterly' images, whereas Dall-e is more generic. Both have the ability to, given a textual prompt such as 'an orangutan eating an apple in the style of Picasso', generate artwork without the prompter themselves needing any technical or artistic skill.

You might think as a result of this, well art's obviously dead now, so why would we need artists? But these are not magic boxes. They only create images based on the data-sets they have, and those data-sets are comprised of human-made original artworks and photos. Artificial intelligence at this point lacks the imaginative qualities of it's human counterpart, and is only capable of interpolating existing works and styles (albiet with fantastic results). The small deviations, inherent quirks of persona and ability are what make individual human artists unique, together with the 'happy accidents' or mistakes which often result in superior or more strongly differentiated work.

However, the effect that these technological leaps are having on the artistic community is severe. Recently a Midjourney 'artist' (text prompter) entered their generated work into a digital art competition in the USA and won 1st prize. Whether the judges knew that the work was AI-generated is at this point uncertain, but unlikely. And therein lies the rub: there is no way to distinguish between genuine artistic work, and an AI-generated image based on the interpolation of genuine artistic works. The forgeries are too unique - there is no calling card, no specific trait that would tip off the defrauded as to the origin of the work.

What direction the conversation around this technology will take in a wider sense, is at this point, anyone's guess. But the art world is experiencing the first results of artificial intelligence competing with human intelligence - a battle that will likely continue well into the end of this century. If nothing else, it will force mediocre and derivative artists out of their fields - as their AI counterparts will probably do a better job of copycat'ing other's work. It remains to be seen whether similar feats can be achieved in the worlds of music, writing and science, but there is strong likelihood that given time, they will.

Whether one views this as a renaissance in computing, or a fall from grace and an impoverishment of the human spirit, largely depends on how much one stands to benefit or suffer from it. Personally, I'm going to use Midjourney to generate an album cover for my band since I'm rubbish at drawing, and in the meantime hope like hell that the tech never gets good enough to replicate the music (and do it better).

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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