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Art-ificial Intelligence: AI-Created Painting Sold for Half a Million Dollars

The Singularity (the theory that one day an artificial superintelligence will emerge and completely, irreversibly change humanity and the world itself) may be a while away yet, but signs and science show that it will get here one day.

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Updated:October 26, 2018, 2:45 PM IST
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Art-ificial Intelligence: AI-Created Painting Sold for Half a Million Dollars
Representational Image. (AFP)
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Artificial Intelligence and smartypants robots inspire some very real fears in people, mostly of them either them taking over the world or taking away our jobs. And while The Singularity (the theory that one day an artificial superintelligence will emerge and completely, irreversibly change humanity and the world itself) may be a while away yet, signs and science show that it will get here one day.

And for those who hoped smart machines will be taking over mostly tech, service and manufacturing jobs, while creative fields would still retain their human touch, here's some news you can use.

A portrait made by algorithm smashed new boundaries on Thursday, selling for $432,500 and becoming the first piece of Artificial Intelligence art sold at a major auction house, namely Christie's.

At first glance, "Edmond de Belamy," the portrait of a gentleman dressed in black and framed in gold, could be any standard painting from the 18th or 19th century. Up close, however, the image is more intriguing. The face is fuzzy and the picture seemingly unfinished. Instead of an artist's signature, it bears the stamp of a mathematical formula on the bottom right.




According to the Christie's website, the painting was created by an artificial intelligence, an algorithm defined by that algebraic formula with its many parentheses. And when it went under the hammer in the Prints & Multiples sale at Christie’s on October 23-25, Portrait of Edmond Belamy sold for an incredible $432,500, signalling the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage.

What's perhaps most astounding is that the painting was expected to fetch between 7,000 to 10,000 dollars, but instead ended up being sold at 45 times that amount.

This particular piece is one of a group of portraits of the fictional Belamy family created by Obvious, a Paris-based collective consisting of Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier. They are engaged in exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence, and their method goes by the acronym GAN, which stands for ‘generative adversarial network’.

‘The algorithm is composed of two parts,’ says Caselles-Dupré. ‘On one side is the Generator, on the other the Discriminator. We fed the system with a data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th century to the 20th. The Generator makes a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator tries to spot the difference between a human-made image and one created by the Generator. The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits. Then we have a result.’

Richard Lloyd, international head of prints and multiples at Christie's, persuaded the collective to put the print up for sale in order to foster a debate about artificial intelligence in art. "I know it's a debate that's going on quite widely, I thought that in a way this marked a watershed -- or slightly a tipping point," he told AFP.

Leaving aside the art debate, there are legal questions. Is the collective or the algorithm the artist? What are the copyright issues? For Lloyd, this is just the beginning of AI art.

"This is developing incredibly fast. Only in five or 10 years we will look back on this and it will look very different," he told AFP, adding, "Artists who are great adopters of technology, they will seize AI," he predicted. "Artists will use it to generate images which they will then modify ... It will be quite seamless."

(With AFP Relaxnews inputs)
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