In the last half a century or so, computers went from ballistic machines size of a building to excellent chess players that fit inside your pocket. Not only they got smaller and faster. Decade after decade, their creators conquered one field after the other. Each of those usually thought to be out of reach for artificial intelligence. Sometimes we thought there is a limit for what can be done by math models and data processing, sometimes we thought of technical limitations. Sometimes it was just our vanity and fear of being replaced by a machine in something we humans are proud of doing.
It's time to ask ourselves about one more human activity that computers might tap into. Will they steal the art production from us?
Those bloody machines are really great in calculating and all the intelligence stuff. But, one might ask, can they write novels?
Well, yes, as the matter of fact, they can. Novel is, sorry to break the bad news, a structure with rules, and there's a wast but limited number of plots to apply those rules to. I'm not sure if somebody is experimenting with that stuff, but I wouldn't be surprised if in a year or five a geek come and show us his great invention: Shakespeabot – an artificial writer. A computer that has an ever expanding database of plots and characters, a dictionary, thesaurus, and a couple of sophisticated algorithms that wrap all those things together.
Same will be with the music and any other kind of art. Music probably being the first to come. It's the most mathematical of the arts and rules of harmony and composition are known for centuries.
So, one night in the near future, you'll be in the mood for some literature and you'll tell your Shakespeabot to spill out something for you. Input parameters: length, genre and, most probably, the name of the writer whose style the bot will imitate. Machine will buzz for a bit and start "reading" its brand new piece of art to you.
photo by Jiuguang Wang
But that's not all. One doesn't build such a machine and then miss the easy part. Modern machines tend to guess and learn our needs. So Shakespeabot will scan your mood and correct the course of the story as the story goes. If your attention falls during the descriptive passages, it will elegantly skip to the action part. And it will promptly learn so the same mistake doesn't happen again. Not to mention that you'll get a happy ending each time you want it. In less than a dozen sessions your personal storyteller will be able to spit out a new piece of literature that you need and love on a single command.
And so you'll become a retarded consumer of computer-generated trash literature.
Beside that literature being nothing but trash created for your mental masturbation, there are three more problems with it. Problems that will actually make real artists survive in the future.
That question up there "can the machine write a novel" could be different and, accordingly, with a different answer. Can it invent the novel? Can it give us something really new instead of just remixing the old stuff by the rules invented by the humans? Hardly so. Great names in the history of art are those that bent and broke the rules. Those that conquered new territories and discovered new paths. Those that opened new questions and proposed new answers. You don't get that by calculating things.
Second, when I said that computer-generated art is trash, it wasn't about its artistic value. Trash is the art that, by all means, tries to be liked. Or at least, not to make its consumption hard. That's where that algorithm that follows your mood comes in play. We don't appreciate art because it goes easy on us. There's enough bad TV for that. With a bit of luck Shakespeabot might have that optional.
Last, and most important, art is about the communication, not the cheap creation of consumer products. It can be argued that product of a computer program calculating over the huge corpus of human creativity is art as well. It brings new forms of communication among those humans. And I'll agree with that. In that case, that program is an art installation in its own right. But declaring that program an artist is nothing more than another fraud of consumer oriented society.
We seem to be safe. There will be art-generating machines and they will be interesting experiments and nice geek toys. But they won't make human artists obsolete.