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'It wasn't me' - Shaggy

A blog entry by Nadir Abrar & Ashleigh Randall, Barclays Business Banking

Well, well, well, it’s a massive few months for data what with GDPR and a certain tech giant’s struggle with keeping data ‘safe’. Usually, in these situations I would deflect all responsibility but I fear when it comes to data, the blame - unlike beauty - usually lies with the holder. Beauty, on the other hand, does indeed lay with the beholder and as AI progresses into to the world of Art, it would do well to remember this.

The nuts and bolts

Go on then, Pabrar Picasso, how is AI used in the Arts?

Well, take a seat, grab your popcorn and buckle yourself in for an absolute symphony in machine learning.

Broadly speaking, AI in the arts can be referred to as generative AI. To simplify, this would mean AI will be the artist's tool but, in some cases, it emerges into the actual artist. 

Claude Monet used brushes, Jackson Pollock liked a trowel, and Cartier-Bresson toted a camera. Nowadays, AI makes art using artificial neural networks.

From selfie art-matching apps to AI-composing music. We really are putting the Art into Artificial Intelligence!

What does this mean?

Let’s start with the basics. What are neural networks? Neural networks are a computational approach to solving problems that is mimicking the natural neural processes of the human brain. Pretty cool, right?

Try teaching a child to recognise a bus. You show her examples, telling her, “This is a bus. That is not a bus,” until the child learns the concept of what a bus is. If they see new objects that they haven’t seen before, we could expect them to recognise correctly whether the new object is a bus or not.

This is exactly the idea behind a simple neural network.

But, don’t be fooled. The ideas and concepts behind the snazzier ARTificial neural networks are much more complex. Feel free to look into generative adversarial networks if you’re feeling brave.

Why is this important?

My wonderful co-writer and resident Data Scientist, Ashleigh Randall, keeps assuring me she doesn’t spend all her evenings in her dark loft incessantly coding her night away. According to Ashleigh, she is not impartial to having a bit of ..-. ..- -. (‘fun’ in Morse - her words, not mine). I cannot deny her that scientists do tend to have a bit of fun, and art can be the perfect vessel for this - as this dancing robot dog shows.

With previous spotlights of AI in different fields, there has always been an element of necessity in what the AI is providing (Health, Environment, Marketing etc.) AI within the arts is a sign of the technology travelling to where there is no need for exploration, much like when our ape ancestors decided to express themselves in ways the other sapiens could not.

Arts participation and arts education have been associated with improved cognitive, social and behavioural outcomes in individuals across the lifespan: in early childhood, in adolescence and young adulthood, and in later years. If technology can grasp this cognitive understanding of society, the outcomes are both remarkable but also daunting. What’s more is that technology does not have the same insecurities attached to it as the very same Kanye referred to with humans, so the possibilities are endless.

Will this destroy the human race?

We can create robots that pirouette but will robots then go and want to watch this pirouette in a hall in complete silence.

This is the crux of the argument. AI does not want to do anything; it does as we model it to.

AI is only another tool for artists to use to create. It is an avenue of exploration that artists have not been privy to previously. It’s something to be excited by. This is the artistic version of Columbus finding America.

Columbus’s discovery of America did lead to the systemic destruction of a native group of people and of course we must ensure that whatever advancements we make within AI is done ethically. If we get this right, we could be in for a new age of Artistic appreciation and that is something to be excited about.

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