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Use of artificial intelligence generates questions about the future of art


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is everywhere. It's now part of our conversations about education and politics and social media. It's also become a hot topic in the art world.

Programs that generate art using A.I. are widely available to the public and are skyrocketing in popularity. But what goes into these programs and the work that comes out are heavily debated in the arts community.

Jeffrey Brown explores the influence of A.I. on art, and where it may be headed next. It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown: An enormous 40-by-14-foot screen, constantly morphing abstraction, created from some 35 million images of coral from around the world.

What are we looking at?

Refik Anadol, Artist: These are machines' interpretation of millions of data of underwater.

Jeffrey Brown: It's a kind of artificial reality, in the term of artist Refik Anadol, who calls this a data painting.

Refik Anadol: It's in flux, doesn't dry. The pigment is always in movement. The colors are changing.

Jeffrey Brown: The 37-year-old Turkish born artist in perpetual motion and overflowing with energy at the opening of a new exhibition of his work at the Jeffrey Deitch art gallery in Los Angeles, is at the leading edge of a growing artificial intelligence, or A.I., art revolution.

Refik Anadol: My primary material is data, the information, and my second material is a thinking brush that is assisted...

Jeffrey Brown: Thinking -- a thinking brush?

Refik Anadol: Yes, that is assisted by artificial intelligence.

Jeffrey Brown: Anadol's artworks are made in a Los Angeles studio in which computers, software programs, screens and a 3-D printer with a giant robotic arm replace more traditional artist's materials.

Here, he and a team, including computer and data scientists, engineers, researchers, architects and designers, build enormous data sets requiring huge computing power -- you can't do this at home -- and run them through or train A.I. programs they themselves have created.

The input can vary. Right now, at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Anadol has created a piece titled Unsupervised created from images, research and other data from the museum's entire archives. In another example back at his studio, the input is a whole lot of flowers.

This is your brush in this case.

Refik Anadol: Yes. It's like with a game joystick.

So, what we are watching here is an A.I. that is trained on 75 million flowers.

Jeffrey Brown: Seventy-five million images of flowers.

Refik Anadol: Of flowers, exactly.

Jeffrey Brown: And then the A.I....


Jeffrey Brown: ... is making its own flowers.

Refik Anadol: Yes, exactly.

And -- but to make it happen, it's when and machine and human connection happens.

Jeffrey Brown: We're not seeing real flowers here, but an artistic collaboration of machine and human.

Who is the artist?

Refik Anadol: Artist is still the artist. Like, human is the human there.

Jeffrey Brown: You are the artist?

Refik Anadol: Yes. But let's also remember that it's an -- assisted by a machine, an A.I., an algorithm. And I think this is really inspiring to me, because that's exactly where art, science and technology, a beautiful movement that I hope it's inspiring. And it's most likely our future, where we are more getting closer to machines every single day.

Jeffrey Brown: You refer constantly to the machine dreaming.

Refik Anadol: Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: Is the machine thinking too?

Refik Anadol: No, I don't think machine is thinking. Machine is helping to think in a different way.

Jeffrey Brown: It's the stuff of sci-fi, yes, but art and technology have been connected and debated forever, including in the early decades of photography.

Dhyandra Lawson is an assistant curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, known as LACMA.

Dhyandra Lawson, Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Photographs were dismissed and marginalized from fine art discourse. It's because of the president of the apparatus, the machine, the camera, right, which people had claimed, critics claimed, took away the artist's special hand.

Jeffrey Brown: And the computer itself has been a fascination for artists for more than 50 years, made clear in a LACMA exhibition titled Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, artists playing with the physical machine and exploring its ability, primitive compared to today, to generate images.

Coded brings the story up to 1982, the advent of the Internet age.

Dhyandra Lawson: What is new now I think is access.

Jeffrey Brown: Access, that is, for everyone, including to a new kind of artmaking on A.I.-generating apps available to the wider public, offered by companies such as Midjourney, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and a proliferation of others, which allow the artist in each of us to create an artwork through simple prompts.

It's easy and fun, but has also raised a host of new questions. Last year, for example, an A.I.-generated work won a prize at the Colorado State Fair, outraging other contestants. And some artists, like Molly Crabapple, see another, more urgent threat.

Molly Crabapple, Artist and Author: I see a world where illustrators like me, people who make our living drawing pictures, are completely replaced by these apps because they can make images faster and cheaper than any human possibly can.

And, even worse than that, this generative A.I. was trained on our stolen images.

Jeffrey Brown: Crabapple is a New York-based artist and writer. Her critique? The new platforms build their businesses by scraping, or collecting, images and other data from the Internet, including works by artists and illustrators who aren't credited or compensated.

And that, she says, is already changing the landscape for her community.

Molly Crabapple: There are companies that, even one year ago, were hiring artists to do book covers and creating beautiful book covers with those artists that are now making A.I. book covers.

Jeffrey Brown: In January, in fact, a group of artists filed a class action lawsuit now pending against several A.I. imagery generators, charging copyright violations.

I asked Crabapple, who's not part of the suit, about A.I.'s lasting impact on the art world.

Molly Crabapple: Do I think that human creativity will be destroyed because there are these little image generators? No. People are creative.

However, do I think the lives of individual artists who are making their income will be destroyed if they no longer have work? Yes, of course I do.

Jeffrey Brown: Another concern in these early days of A.I. art suddenly being available to all, the images themselves, and how much they reflect the biases, or worse, of the Internet databases from where they have been obtained.

Curator Dhyandra Lawson counsels that consumers need to consider the source of the data being used to generate A.I. art.

Dhyandra Lawson: The things that we need to be aware of are, who and what is training the A.I.? What sort of data are they -- is it using? Does the data perpetuate power dynamics and inequalities in our -- in our lived experiences, in our real lives?

Jeffrey Brown: Artist Refik Anadol agrees with such concerns. His work, he points out, differs from widely available apps, in that he and his team generate their own data sets and take care with their sources, what is sometimes referred to as ethically sourced data.

He remains a big believer in the future of this technology. He's convinced that the work going into his art, for example, the mapping of coral reefs, can help with environmental and a host of other big problems in the world.

But, he cautions:

Refik Anadol: We should think A.I. as a mirror. A.I. is a mirror, and this mirror can reflect whatever we are training. So, if we are aware of this mirror that reflects the information, I think we have more clarity.

It's really on our hands to train this mind to dream what we want. It's -- the human intention is here. It's not the A.I., I think, the issue.

Jeffrey Brown: The human, that is, is, for now, still the more complicated machine.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Los Angeles.

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