On the 2nd December I be presented a keynote talk to artists and art market professionals on behalf of DACS. We looked at the role of AI in art, particularly where AI-generated art has been derived from existing works (this is in response to the UK Government’s consultation on AI and Intellectual Property). One of the examples I talked about (as well as the now-infamous Edmond de Belamy portrait) is Botto, an AI system that creates artworks (and their titles) that are then sold as Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Apparently, the works (like the one shown here) have netted more than $1m so far.

Botto is very much a team effort, bringing in a number of different algorithms as well as real-life people: the process starts with a random string of words that are fed into a Generative Adversarial Networkcalled VQGON¬†that creates an image. Another algorithm called CLIP then judges whether the image reflects the words well enough – if not then VQGON tweaks its image until CLIP is satisfied. CLIP also creates a two-word title for the image that it believes resonates with the image. Then a third algorithm, GPT-3 (which I’ve mentioned in this newsletter a few times before) creates an ‘abstract poetic’ description of the image. Amongst all of this algorithmic fervour are some humans which help judge the artistic merit of the images (short-listing the 2,000 weekly images down to 350) and tweak the descriptions, mainly to remove any obscenities (GPT-3 was trained on the whole internet so includes more than enough rude words for anyone’s liking). And by ‘listening’ to the human feedback the algorithms are able to do a better job next time around.

The Botto system highlights a number of challenges from AI that are facing the art world, none more so than the use of other artwork (some of which may be copyrighted) to derive the new pieces. One could argue that all art is effectively derivative, but Botto is able to do this at scale and with relative ease. We do not get any sense of the effort or the motivations behind the Botto art (because there really is none) which is surely a major element of any work of art. If Botto’s role is to generate some nice images then fair enough, but let’s not call it art.

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