Can AI Do Art? Are You Afraid It Could?

Two years ago I was sitting in a Belgian concert hall listening to the Brussels Philharmonic playing a series of original pieces. The composer? An AI created by Luxembourg company Aiva.

After the concert I mingled with the attendees. Most of the conversations were around this recurring question: Can AI really do art?

Despite the fact that we had just silently sat for more than an hour listening to very agreeable AI-made music, many found themselves passing a harsh judgement. Most comments were along that line: « That’s not art, it’s only a pastiche of the great composers ».

What stroke me, though, was not the conversations themselves, but the fact that we were all suddenly unified in our judgemental attitude. As is often the case when we pass judgement on someone else — or something else, in the case of AI — I felt we were collectively projecting our own fears. But fear of what?

I’d say it’s the fear of losing our supremacy on a trait that we strongly associate with our identity as human beings.

This would not be the first identity crisis caused by the relentless march of technology. Another example is illustrated by these words, uttered by world-champion Lee Sedol as he lost his match against AlphaGo. “I’m sorry for letting humanity down.”, he said, with tears in his voice.

But humans haven’t stopped playing Go since that famous defeat. On the contrary, they converted the AIs into allies in their pursuit to understand the game. Today, thanks to artificial intelligence, new Go openings are constantly being tested and mastered by humans.

Here’s another anecdote. In December 2018, famous cellist Yo -Yo Ma was speaking at the world’s largest conference on Artificial Intelligence. When asked the question about music and AI he answered something along those lines: « I don’t care, because whenever I’m listening to music I look for the intentions of the human behind it. »

In his recent critic of « Beethoven X », a project to complete Beethoven’s unfinished tenth symphony, composer Jan Swafford notes something similar: « The ability of a machine to do or outdo something humans do is interesting once atmost. We humans need to see the human doing it. »

Might it be that our fear comes from the fact that we see art as the artifact rather than as the intention of the human creating this artifact?

AI will definitely create music that you’ll find pleasing to listen to as you sit in a waiting room or as you drive your car. But, unless you can connect to the human behind that AI – to their intention, their struggles, their humanity – chances are you’ll soon forget about this music.

So can AI create art? To that I answer: who cares. It will never be able to disconnect me from my fellow humans and from the ways in which they try to communicate their humanity through the artifacts they create. That’s what I choose to call art.