Expressive Algorithms: Can Computers be Artists?

Can computers create art? Can this art ever be valued for creativity? And, unavoidably, what is art?

Technology that brings computers increasingly closer to humanity: artificial intelligence. With the steady development of various programs that mimic human thought, the rise of artificial intelligence has lent much fear-driven inspiration to apocalyptic stories, in which humans are overpowered by robots in a crushing defeat— a crumbling Tower of Babel. The pop-culture archetypes are only reflections of an anxiety that is becoming very much real in society. But the fear that computers may someday steal one’s job seems to be limited to stereotypically formulaic careers, completely evading the realm of artists. After all, it is difficult to imagine how codes can replace the composer, painter, or poet. But scientists are already making progress in creating artistic robots, posing multiple questions that push the boundaries of contemporary thought: can computers create art? Can this art ever be valued for creativity? And, unavoidably, what is art?

For instance, take AARON, a computer program that produces paintings. With a human partner, it can experiment with colors and shapes, resulting in dynamic, large-scale works that would not seem out of place at a modern art gallery.

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A Painting by AARON

Or consider Google’s Deep Dream Generator, which allows the visualization of a computer’s “dream”- or, more accurately and less romantically, a visual depiction of patterns that the program pulls from a blank canvas of white noise, resulting in a fascinating, hallucinatory work of “art”.

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A Computer’s “Dream”

The diversity of creative programs stretches far beyond paintings, across the wider spectrum of the Arts- Magenta is a program by Google that can compose original art and music. Although the songs produced autonomously by the program do not hold much entertainment value without human intervention, the program is continuously being developed, lending unlimited potential to how original or enjoyable these songs could eventually become.

Language, considered to be a singular and exclusive gift of humanity, is no exception. The fickle rules and patterns of sentences are being coded into computers with increasing caliber, and machines have already gained the ability to replace generic sports article writers. This is why literature is far from evading the pursuit of technology. For example, a novel written autonomously by artificial intelligence after only being given selected sentences and parameters by the human developers made it past the first round of a Japanese literary prize. The lead developer, Hitoshi Matsubara, said: “so far, AI programs have often been used to solve problems that have answers, such as Go and Shogi. In the future, I’d like to expand AI’s potential [so it resembles] human creativity.”

However, we must question what gives art its value in order to evaluate whether these works, or even more advanced and autonomous works created by robots in the future, could qualify as art. Say technology advances to the point that a robot can make autonomous plot choices and create a novel that is indistinguishable from one written by a human, or can create a song or a painting in a similar manner. To the audience, the work may inspire the same feelings and even cause an original realization about the human condition- despite the irony of that situation. If that were to be, put very crudely, the purpose of art, it may even seem reasonable to state that machines can create art.

But there is a distinction between art and entertainment. It may be a fine line, but things that entertain cannot be considered art before it begins with the desire to express something. And this very idea of expression- of creativity- is something human by definition. As a rough analogy, we would not consider a chimpanzee’s painting worth artistic value unless it was the product of a conscious decision made by the chimpanzee to express an idea or emotion. It merely holds entertainment value in that the concept of a chimpanzee artist is interesting. Another way to think about it is a computer that can generate conversational responses based on mass data of human texts- it cannot be a conversation if the computer is not conversing with its own intent. A painting expressing sadness cannot be art until the computer can experience sadness. Art may very well be the only realm that computers cannot enter, not because they are not smart enough, but because they inherently fail to be human.

Computers can generate entertainment- they may one day produce ideal music, literature, and visual art that is even more pleasing to the senses than work created by humanity. But this, created purely in the aesthetic sense, would still not be art.

Let us return to the initial question- will the rise of artificial intelligence endanger the jobs of artists? It cannot ever undermine the value of true art, but it may invade part of the art industry that is fueled by the search for entertainment. In other words, a large portion of consumers of music, literature, and visual arts can be satisfied with entertainment. If it gives them the same experience, the intent of creation would not matter to them. This means the livelihood of many human creators are indeed at a great risk, jeopardized as the world of binary and digital encroaches upon the world of sentiment and analogue.

But the optimist would like to think that enough artists will remain in the world to value each other’s humanity and the endless will to create. That in a world where the definition of humanity is perpetually shifting from what humans can do to what computers cannot, art will remain standing to shine a light on the spontaneous, eccentric, and insane.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Sources:

Cover Image: image created by Magenta, Google’s artificial intelligence project

http://www.iflscience.com/technology/artificial-intelligence-dreams/

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33677271&sa=D&ust=1485009093776000&usg=AFQjCNFaGDhFrQlHJfh2nIDpY919dQ4Sgw

http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/japanese-ai-writes-novel-passes-first-round-nationanl-literary-prize/

 

The Finale of a Literary Icon: Harper Lee

“I think the South lost its literary queen,” claims Mr. Quirin (KIS English teacher)

On February 19, 2016, Harper Lee, the beloved author of the beautiful, classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, died in her sleep at the age of 89. Her death was confirmed last Friday in her hometown at Monroeville, Alabama.

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(harpercollins)

Lee’s family stated in the CNN news about her condition before her death: “Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested.”

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(AP Photo/Rob Carr, File)

 

Social media was also blazing with swift, sensational reactions by various celebrities who were moved by Harper Lee’s novel, including authors John Green and Stephen King, Oprah Winfrey, and even the Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who had been jailed in Iran.

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President of Harper Collins, Brian Murray

 

Moreover, the president of the publisher company HarperCollins expressed his feelings, “The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to- in private- surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”

 

 

Lee’s debut novel To Kill a Mockingbird has immortalized her name beyond American literature. Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird speaks to all ages upon the darker aspects of American history, exploring justice and racism in the Deep South during the Great Depression. Written in a steady, lyrical voice of a young, impulsive girl, Scout Finch, who is only five-years-old when she begins her long childhood tale, describes how her townspeople get involved with the controversial, corrupt case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape.

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(Amazon)

Becoming an immediate bestseller, the novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, honored by President Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and then by Obama with the National Medal of Arts for her literary contributions.

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“But what that one story did, more powerfully than one hundred speeches possibly could, was change the way we saw each other, and then the way we saw ourselves. Through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, she showed us the beautiful complexity of our common humanity, and the importance of striving for justice in our own lives, our communities, and our country.” – President Obama

Likewise, it is beyond doubt over the scope of influence Lee has brought about, touching the hearts of countless of readers.

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Her novel was also chosen to be turned into a movie, which is now known to be the “best-ever book-to-screen adaptation” according to various news webs like The Guardian, Telegraph, and Hollywood. The movie skillfully depicted the dilapidated setting of the 1930s with its battered homes, the county courthouse, and most importantly, the characters themselves.

Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout Finch and nominated for the Oscars in 1963, has known the author for more than 50 years.  Badham told the Daily News on Friday: “I think that we have all benefited from her work and her fight for social justice. I’m very sad at her loss. She will be very fondly remembered.”

However despite the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has maintained a low profile for decades, declining public interview requests and even the opportunity to address the audience at the Alabama Academy of Honor.  And until now, she has retained her own private life with her older sister Alice in a small-town Alabama.  

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(The Edge News)

Lee’s novel has been translated into more than forty languages, sold over thirty million copies to be studied and read by students all over the world to this day, including our school KIS. Though Harper Lee is not here with us anymore, she will nonetheless remain as our widely renowned, literary icon for generations.  

– Sammie Kim (18′)