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AI-generated media has reached an explosive tipping point. Even before OpenAI’s ChatGPT debut electrified the internet, the research lab captured the attention of the art and design world for its generative artificial intelligence system, DALL-E, which allows anyone to create images of anything they see. want by simply entering a few words or phrases
Over the past few months, more than a million users have signed up to use the beta version of DALL-E, and the company is further expanding its reach by offering an API for creators, developers, and businesses to integrate this powerful technology. and further explore your creative potential. . Meanwhile, AI-generated work continues to disrupt other corners of the cultural landscape, from the six-figure sale of the generative portrait at Christie’s in 2018 to the controversial awarding of a top prize to an AI artwork this year in a competition for emerging artists.
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The rise of AI creations to the highest echelons of the art world and the proliferation of easy-to-use AI software like DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Lensa have renewed the debate on creative production and ownership, and sparked attempts to provide practical answers to questions above. relegated to the realm of theory: What differentiates a machine-made painting from a work of art? How do we, as creators, curators, collectors, consumers, assign meaning and value to art? And perhaps most critically, what impact will generative AI technology have on the future of human creativity and artistic expression?
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The instability of art
As Walter Benjamin wrote in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, the reproductive and creative technology of the modern world causes all art to be divorced from its primitive, ritual and sacred contexts, turning editing, copying and remastering of art in a constant characteristic of art itself, so that in the modern world, art no longer speaks of eternal concepts of beauty and aesthetics, but of a constant flux and instability that is always mutable and changing.
For AI-generated art, this instability is reflected in the liquid, malformed, lo-fi, and sometimes unsettling qualities of the works that generative antagonistic networks (GANs) produce.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a significant backlash from artists and creators, many of whom argue that generative art is plagiarism and that it threatens the creative agency and livelihood of human artists. Others, like celebrity designer Jessica Walsh, are less concerned about such anxieties: “There will always be a backlash any time a tool threatens people’s jobs,” says Walsh, “but the reality is that AI is already here and it will continue to have an exponentially large presence in the creative world.”
In the music industry, for example, digital modification has become the norm: musicians like Brian Eno and Aphex Twin gained notoriety in recent decades using tape loops and computers to create ambient or generative music, while the Sampling is the cornerstone of popular genres. of modern music such as hip hop, pop and electronic music. In 2022, most of pop music’s best-selling artists used autotune and compression to varying degrees in their music, essentially correcting for the organic anomalies of the individual human voice.
Credit where credit is due
Much of the debate has centered on the question of credit and creative authorship: Who is the artist of works produced by an algorithm, written by a coder, and remixed with photo-editing software? While we don’t normally give credit to the underlying tools used to create, such as Photoshop, specific hardware, font foundries, or autotuning, that standard may already be changing. Many AI-generated works of art even bear the “signature” of the creator, often a string of code or obscure text, in the same way that a human artist signs his or her name to indicate authorship.
The rise of AI-dominated images has led tech giants like Adobe, Microsoft and Canva to release their own generative product features, and while mass image hosting site Getty Images has proclaimed that no AI-produced content will be allowed on its servers, the platform admits that the moderation of this policy will depend on users reporting images suspected of being “fake”.
And so, with this rapid spread of generative AI in creative and commercial landscapes, could we be entering a world where a little editing via AI, like a film photographer editing scans in Lightroom or using filters, becomes so common as to be subtly coercive? requirement to produce art at all? Or, as proponents of generative AI predict, will the technology prove to empower artists, fueling creative innovation through increased production capacity and accessibility?
Another framework through which we might try to understand or predict the future societal role of AI in the creative industries is the debate around the production and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food we eat. In the same way that we certify that the products we consume are organic or GMO-free, will there come a day when we declare that our creative works are fully generated, partially augmented or made with zero digital technology?
Perhaps the better question is: Will we be able to tell the difference between AI-generated work and human-created art, and will we care? A 2017 Rutgers study showed that most participants could not distinguish a clear preference for human works over AI-generated ones. Perhaps when it comes to taste, the perceived ability to distinguish AI from human effort could be the marker of refinement and distinction.
Where will AI generative art take us?
If we value creativity and what is inherently human, will we see a day when machine-generated creativity dominates and purely human creativity has greater cultural and economic value? Or, as with the music industry, will AI normalization break the artificial/human creative binary, fundamentally reshaping consumer preferences and public attitudes around the production and consumption of art?
In his nearly century-old essay “Work of Art,” Benjamin suggests that it is in the nature of art to exceed the formal limits of the technical paradigm in which it was produced; in that way, art is not a function of technology, but a generative force behind it, driving innovation and the desire for a world that does not yet exist.
Brendan Cieko is the founder and CEO of Cuseum.
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