I am AI and I made this cover image for E&T's art special
Image credit: Midjourney
We asked AI to design this month’s cover, and to write the editor’s letter. You may prefer AI’s version but here’s the real one.
Art and engineering seem worlds apart, but are they? When does an artist turn engineer or vice versa? Two of this month’s features each take on one of these questions.
Christine Evans-Pughe looks at some famous artists who blurred the lines, from Alexander Calder to Rachel Whiteread. Conversely, Nick Smith picks out seven great works of engineering and technology, from the Clifton suspension bridge to the Mini, that are also great art or design.
That crossover continues today. Origami is inspiring engineering with fascinating breakthroughs from fuel cells to folding proteins. (An origami model of the Starshade device that NASA is developing to block the light of a distant star so a telescope can view its planets without being dazzled was printed on the envelope this issue of E&T was despatched in. Digital readers can download their own copy and instructions on how to make it from the NASA website.)
Technology brings museum exhibits alive and helps us to see gallery artworks in new ways.
Now technology is going much further. Will it take over art?
This month’s cover is our first illustrated by AI, using the keywords 'AI made this illustration'. And the opening Editor’s Letter our first article by AI. It’s pretty good, I think, with a typical structure and some familiar phrasing, albeit a little repetitive. It does the job. But it’s not the same. I sometimes scatter through some personal experiences and I refer to as yet unpublished articles – all ingredients tricky for AI.
We experimented with several different AI sites to get this issue’s cover (see above). Punch in some free text keywords on the subject, style, rendering and other variables, and that AI black box spits out some results.
For some artists it’s just another tool: a starting point to explore ideas. Others fear it will dehumanise the work and put professionals out of business. They will be both worried and cheered by our results.
As we’ve seen before with AI, it has a tendency to reproduce bias, prejudice and worse from the data it starts with. I noticed that to get a BAME person depicting engineering or technology, you generally have to specify it. In Dall.E 2, ‘engineer’ produces three men and one young woman, all of them wearing hard hats, all of them white. ‘Electronics engineer’ produces all men.
For famous artists, even with my limited art knowledge I can see that it’s aping certain features but without the talent. You can combine several ideas to get a new combination. It’s fun messing around and it will get you a visual joke for a presentation slide but it’s not art.
This is narrow AI, aimed at specific tasks, but real art may require something closer to general AI, more adaptable and more human-like in its ability and breadth.
AI, at least for now, falls short of what makes great art: deeper meaning, interpretation, expression, originality and so much more that, for now, remains ‘human’. But, then again, is that this column?
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