Art and artifice

Art and artifice
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Practitioners in the arts labour under the misapprehension that the human factor of creativity would shield them from the depredations of artificial intelligence. It is assumed that like machines freed us from physical labour, machine intelligence would rid us of intellectual chores. They would put production line workers, bookkeepers, bank tellers and inventory managers out of work, but novelists and artists, and the marketing networks which have developed around their products, would be unharmed.

Not so, it appears. A computer at Stanford which has digested the complete works of Shakespeare does almost passable knockoffs. In 2018, a neural network went on a journey across America and wrote a digital equivalent of Jack Kerouac’s Beat classic On the Road. The 1957 original was strange enough. But 1 the Road, written by a computer system, is stranger still, depending on literary devices that the human mind finds perplexing, like GPS data.

An AI developed in Vienna is now debuting in the art business, and will curate the Bucharest Biennale. Jarvis, named for the archetypal butler, will thematically select works from the databases of galleries and institutions, and display them in virtual reality. But an AI is only as good as the datasets it is fed . Let’s suppose Jarvis is looking for portraiture, selects Vermeer’s haunting Girl with a Pearl Earring, erroneously supposes that earrings are essential to the form, and unearths the awful portraits of bejewelled nobility lurking in the stately homes of Europe. At that point, like a god from the machine, a human must step in.

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