By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
Artificial intelligence recently broke a record by selling a painting for $700,000. The painting was a collaboration between a robot named Sophia and a human counterpart. How does the public respond to computer-made art?
In March, a painting that began as a portrait by Italian artist Andrea Bonaceto was finished by its subject, becoming a self-portrait and selling for more than $688,000 at auction. The subject and collaborator was none other than Sophia the Robot, a famous humanoid robot that uses artificial intelligence (AI).
Artwork has long been considered an expression of what it means to be human. However, in increasing number, artificial intelligence has been painting, drawing, composing, and writing. This has a number of enthusiasts doubting how unique the creative arts are to humanity and what AI’s role can—or should—be in the art world.
In her video series How Digital Technology Shapes Us, Dr. Indre Viskontas, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco, discussed AI and the creative process.
Bach, Larson, and Emmy
Aside from recent exceptions like Sophia’s self-portrait collaboration, the public’s relationship with AI-created art is mixed.
“Once we find out that a piece of art was created by a computer, it loses some of its value,” Dr. Viskontas said. “In 1997 […] Steve Larson watched while his pianist wife, Winifred Kerner, played three pieces: one by Bach, one by Larson himself, and one by a computer program called Experiments in Musical Intelligence (EMI or Emmy), programmed by David Cope.”
The audience was then asked to pick which piece was written by which composer. The majority believed Larson’s original had been written by a computer and that Emmy’s was the true Bach piece. Larson was saddened, while Cope was unsurprised and had already become accustomed to the angry reaction from the “duped” audience. Why?
“People get angry when they learn that what they thought was at the very core of what it means to be human, to be expressively creative in the style of one of history’s greatest composers, might be at stake, and when they realize that their very human emotions were in fact manipulated by a machine,” Dr. Viskontas said.
The Psychology of Creativity
Human reaction to AI-created artwork, then, is rooted in knowing the artist was a human as opposed to a machine or a computer program of some sort. Again, why does this matter? Dr. Viskontas said it has to do with how our brains process sounds that we think were computer-generated as opposed to human-generated.
“We listen differently if we think a piece was composed by a computer because we don’t attribute intention to the machine,” she said. “When we listen to what we think was written by a human, we engage more of the parts of the brain involved in theory of mind—our way of assessing another person’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
“It’s essential for empathy, and an impairment in theory of mind can make social interactions and relationships fiendishly difficult.”
However, Dr. Viskontas said, once the initial shock wears off, AI programs that can win at chess or Go—or compose classical music—often help us break our own boundaries and become better creative people ourselves. Whether fueled by a sense of competition or inspired by ideas that come from a non-human perspective, we can use AI to help us go the extra mile in our respective fields.