Who is the artist behind AI generated art?


Artificial intelligence is increasingly used in creative tasks. One example is the Google Dream project with its surreal imagery. But who is the actual artist behind the pictures, the computer or the humans who programme and use the computer? A new research article discusses the possibilities and problems with creative machines.

”If an algorithm is trained on paintings by Von Gogh it will generate a lot of pictures that will look like Van Gogh paintings. That is not what creativity is” explains Palle Dahlsted, Interaction Design division, Department of Computer Science and Engineering. In the article Big Data and Creativity he summarizes the experience and research on creativity and computer-generated art. 

AI often uses so called probabilistic machine learning algorithms in creative work. Palle Dahlstedt say these types of algorithms lack the ability to create something truly new. He makes an example using the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

“If we study Bach’s fiftheen inventions they are quite different, but they all have something in common. Each part has similarities with the previous ones but is also a new addition to the idea-content. You can train an AI system on the works of Bach and get it to generate new parts that will sound like Bach, but they will lack something new. If Bach had written a sixteenth invention, it would, like all previous inventions, gone beyond the previous idea-content and added something new.”

Since AI-system are largely controlled by humans, Palle Dahlstedt mean it’s wrong to talk about creative computers or that they have the ability to independently create works of art.

“These are fantastic technologies; I love them and work with them all the time. They allow us to do something we previously couldn’t, to work with visual or musical material on a pattern level instead of for example note level. But the agency, the ability to make creative decisions, are partly in the hands of the programmer of the algorithms and partly in the hands of the person deciding the data set and setting the parameters for the algorithm.”


 A self-portrait by Palle Dahlstedt created using Google Dream.

Today’s AI-systems are not creative but imitative. “A computer can imitate the symptoms or the result but not the causes of a work of art. That is the essence of it being imitative. It is not able to predict the next style change, which is the truly creative act.

In the article Palle Dahlstedt write about the possibilities for truly creative artificial intelligence. “There is nothing that in principle prevents it, but we’re not there yet. For it to be interesting, the AI must have a life, an influx of information and an interaction with reality. If the AI has a life then maybe it could be creative, but then an equally interesting question arises. Should an AI create art for itself or for us humans? The result may be something beyond our range of understanding.

Photo on the right: A self-portrait by Palle Dahlstedt created using Google Dream.

Read more

Article Big Data and Creativity as preprint at Research Gate

Article Big Data and Creativity in European Review

The chapter Between Material and Ideas: A Process-Based Spatial Model of Artistic Creativity from the book Computers and Creativity

Watch Palle Dahlstedt's lecutre n Etudes: Artistic Intervention at the Big Data Symposium

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering is shared between Chalmers University of Technology and University of Gothenburg.