Can Robots Make Art?

It is hard to deny that technology has become a huge part of western societal function, with digital machinery playing a major role in our every day lives. For instance many factories now use assembly and industrial robots for packing and sorting, self-checkout services are available in almost all supermarkets and shops and even cars are beginning to drive themselves. Machines are undeniably becoming more and more prevalent in this technology driven society, but what about an artificial intelligence’s ability to create art?

Digitally created emotional intelligence is a heavily debated and sought after concept and has even been the subject of many dystopian movies and novels. However, art that is created with the aid of a machine is not really such a novel concept. In 1973, a painter and university professor named Harold Cohen, created and used a program called AARON. This program has been able to make pictures autonomously for decades and Cohen even joked that he would be the only artist who would ever be able to have a posthumous exhibition of brand new artworks that had been created long after his death.

But Cohen is now not the only artist that has created art making technology. After developments in 2013, a week long exhibition was held in Paris, featuring works produced over a number of years by what was described as ‘an up and coming artist’. This exhibition was a fairly normal affair, however it stood apart from a standard event as the artist in question was a computer program know as ‘The Painting Fool’. This program was created by Simon Colton, a professor of computational creativity at Goldsmiths College in London. Art creating machines were taken even further again in 2019 by Aiden Meller, who created not just a program but a tangible robot called Ai-Da who has progressed from abstract art into painting self- portraits. She is described as the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist and is now displayed at the Design Museum in London. Ai-da’s self-portrait creations raise some interesting questions about identity and creativity, as Meller even commented himself that ‘it is literally the world’s first self-portrait with no self... She has no consciousness, she is [just] a machine.’

Thus, whist many wonder and are eager to see what the potential of machine created art is, others question whether the work that is created by these machines can really be described as art? I suppose art itself cannot really be specifically defined, but it is conventionally accepted that the defining factors of art are described as creative and imaginative pieces of human expression. There is certainly an emotional element to art that sets it apart from other human activity; as there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to creativity itself, so how can that possibly be emulated with technology without first giving a digital device a mind of its own? Can the mysteries of human art- making really be captured by a machine that has no consciousness? Of course, there are many that believe this is where technology could be heading, however for now, robots remain without free will, identity or a consciousness – despite a huge amount of science fiction entertainment that would suggest otherwise.

So whilst it’s heavily debated whether technology has or will actually be able to create a unique and emotionally involved masterpiece, it is at least interesting to think of where digital aids may take art in the future. What do you think of robots making art? Do you think R2D2 could be the next Picasso? Or do you think that robots are not and will never be capable of matching human creativity? 

Artwork by March '22 ScrawlrBox featured artist Created By Imrie

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