Monday, 29 March 2021

Logical magic

2020 was a strange year for everyone. Like many writers, I found it impossible to write. I'd been feeling burnt out already, and lockdown killed any remaining spark of inspiration that was there. But as a creative person, I desperately needed a creative outlet, and I was determined to achieve SOMETHING before the year slipped away entirely.

On my list of non-writing goals to achieve was "learn coding". I love my tech and my gadgets. I love computers. But I'm no good with numbers, so as much as I'd love training an AI to experience emotions and learn to dream, machine learning is beyond my ken. I wrote a story about a spiteful robot once, and more than one about self-aware AI. But that's probably as close as I'll ever get to my own AI companion. (Alexa doesn't count.)

I may be rubbish at maths but I'm good with languages, and the logic of computer code appeals to a different aspect of my artistic nature. It seemed a natural fit, and I enjoyed starting to learn it. Even so, it wasn't scratching my true creative itch, so I decided to learn watercolour as well.

While my brain was consumed by all this turmoil, I found the ART AI gallery. Art created by AI. I felt like I'd been searching for it all my life, the fascinating place where logic and creativity meet. It was so far beyond the weird concoctions from the DeepDream Generator or ArtBreeder (both of which I adore). These were original pieces generated by neural networks running a sort of Turing Test on each other, with one trying to "fool" the other into believing the art it produced was made by humans. For someone who only has the vaguest notion of how algorithms actually work, this was just the right infusion of science and magic.

I looked at every single painting then available, including all the ones that had already sold (Each painting is sold only once, making your piece one of a kind.) I had to find The Right One.

At the same time I was marveling at the idea that all these amazing images were essentially just ones and zeroes in different configurations. They weren't put together by living organisms expressing emotion but by a computer process. And yet many of them are just as beautiful and moving as anything made by human hands. How could these approximations of trees, generated by a programme that has no intrinsic concept of what a tree is, be so beautiful? Was it art? What IS art?

I finally narrowed it down to a few choices, and created my own list of criteria, one of which was "AI-ness". While the neural nets may want me to be tricked, part of the appeal for me is in the unique interpretation of a subject by a non-human. It's like owning something painted by an alien. The piece I chose, the one that spoke to me the most, was "Embarkation", which I talk about in this rambling gotta-write-something-or-I'll-go-mad post.

I was never much of a blogger, really only using this space to publicise new stories. But I decided to turn it into an art journal, and a place to talk about AI art, since I was too reticent to post about it on Facebook. I'd just seen too many negative comments (many of them from people entirely missing the point). I didn't want to risk incurring the ire of people who think it will "put REAL artists out of business". But I also resented feeling like it was my dirty little secret.

It wasn't long before I got my second piece, "Nothing Left". I was still looking at the site every day, finding so many paintings I loved. The problem was (still is) that I only have so much available wall space, most of the walls being taken up by bookcases. (Oh Billy, we love you so!)

But there was one space above the fireplace in the bedroom that needed something tranquil and serene. So I got "Obvious Love". That post says it's my "fourth and final" but I actually posted them out of order.

I was going to stop there, but then "Escaping My Mind" appeared on the site and I had the eerie feeling that one of the algorithms had tapped into my brain and generated something just for me. I knew that if someone else bought it before I could, I'd regret it.

Which brings me to now. I was thrilled to be contacted by Ben Kovalis, one of the co-founders of ART AI, and asked to be an alpha tester. There was a Facebook group, Slack and Discord channels - places to share my love of AI art with other humans who DON'T miss the point! I have to say I felt something of the joy I felt as a kid when I first learned about Star Trek conventions. (What? You mean there are actual places I can go, dressed in costume, where I can meet others who share my love and won't laugh at me?) Ben also encouraged me to share my blog posts about AI art, but I didn't want to feel I was spamming the group with the equivalent of "like my page" requests. So I thought I'd consolidate a few of my AI art posts into one. That turned into something a little more introspective and rambling, but on the plus side - it's the most I've written in over a year!

I'm looking forward to being part of the ART AI community. I'll keep painting and posting my progress here, and if my writing muse ever deigns to visit me again, I'll post about that too. I also hope to pick up someday where I left off with coding.

ART AI has already grown so much just in the time I've known about it, and I'm excited all over again. Now the "algo-artists" have names (l33t handles) and mini-bios describing their individual styles, which is a fantastic touch. M0n0chr0miX is the creator of the piece I bought yesterday, and I'll post a picture when it arrives.

I know they're just strings of code, electrical impulses, numbers, symbols, etc. But all you need for a magic spell is a few key ingredients and the desire to make something happen.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

- Clarke's Third Law


Sunday, 21 March 2021

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Friday, 5 March 2021

Shadows softly call

Let me lead you where the moonlit waters fall, shadows softly call...

(Reference photo by slowmotiongli on DreamsTime)
I even made a timelapse video of this one. You'll just have to imagine Morricone's music from ORCA playing: