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    Is AI the future of art?

    PARIS (AFP) – To many they are art’s next big thing – digital images of jellyfish pulsing and blurring in a dark pink sea, or dozens of butterflies fusing together into a single organism.

    The Argentine artist Sofia Crespo, who created the works with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), is part of the “generative art” movement, where humans create rules for computers which then use algorithms to generate new forms, ideas and patterns.

    The field has begun to attract huge interest among art collectors – and even bigger price tags at auction.

    United States (US) artist and programmer Robbie Barrat – a prodigy still only 22-years-old – sold a work at Sotheby’s in March for GBP630,000 (USD821,000).

    But the nascent scene could already be on the verge of a major shake-up, as tech companies begin to release AI tools that can whip up photo-realistic images in seconds.

    Digital artists work with supercomputers and systems known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) to create images far more complex than anything Nees could have dreamed of.

    Argentinian artist Sofia Crespo holds one of her works at the Estrela garden in Lisbon. PHOTO: AFP

    GANs are sets of competing AIs – one generates an image from the instructions it is given, the other acts as a gatekeeper, judging whether the output is accurate.

    If it finds fault, it sends the image back for tweaks and the first AI gets back to work for a second try to beat the gamekeeper.

    But artists like Crespo and Barrat insist that the artist is still central to the process.

    “When I’m working this way, I’m not creating an image. I’m creating a system that can create images,” Barrat told AFP.

    Crespo said she thought it would be a true “collaborator”, but in reality it is incredibly tough to generate satisfactory results. She said it was more like “babysitting” the machine.

    Tech companies are now hoping to bring a slice of this action to regular consumers.

    Google and Open AI are both touting the merits of new tools they said bring photorealism and creativity without the need for coding skills.

    They have replaced GANs with more user-friendly AI models called “transformers” that convert everyday speech into images. Google Imagen’s webpage is filled with absurdist images generated by instructions such as, “A small cactus wearing a straw hat and neon sunglasses in the Sahara desert.”

    Open AI boasts that its Dalle-2 tool can offer any scenario in any artistic style from the Flemish masters to Andy Warhol. Camille Lenglois of Paris’s Pompidou Centre – Europe’s largest collection of contemporary art – also played down any idea that artists were about to be replaced by machines.

    She told AFP that machines did not yet have the “critical and innovative capacity”, adding, “The ability to generate realistic images does not make one an artist.”

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