In the past year, artificial intelligence (AI) has not only become more powerful, it has become highly accessible. One recent online trend, made possible by the AI-based phone app Lensa AI, has led to a wave of "original" portraits being shared across social media. At Art & Object, we are always thinking about the intersection of art and technology. This article came about from a simple question: What can AI teach us about art?
What follows is a series of questions submitted to an AI-based text generating application programming interface (API) and the answers that it gave. The API and the language models that it runs were created by the OpenAI research laboratory. These models leverage the power of AI to "understand and generate natural language." The model that I "chatted" with is coincidentally named Davinci. While I cannot offer a deeper explanation for how Davinci works (I spent more time in the art library than the computer lab in college), I can describe what my experience was like using it. Questions are submitted in a simple online text box. A control panel on the right-hand side of the screen enables the user to tweak some of Davinci settings like the length of responses. The speed at which Davinci can generate hundreds of words is incredible. But most surprising was the quality of its answers.
Davinci can easily handle definitional and fact-based questions, not unlike the "smart" assistant on your phone or in your kitchen. But where Davinci really shines is with its answers to questions that have no clear answer: things you might be tempted to ask your smartest friend or favorite professor. Davinci was remarkably conversational and provided thought-provoking responses. On philosophical and ethical issues, one might expect Davinci to turn into the world's most expensive Magic 8 Ball, offering enigmatic non-answers à la "Reply hazy, try again." But Davinci surprisingly took stances in places where it could have easily equivocated. This, of course, raises ethical questions on its own, like what steps did the team that created Davinci take to make sure their biases were not coded in.
While it is easy to imagine a program like Davinci serving as a 21st-century Oracle at Delphi, that future still seems long off. Davinci did not function flawlessly, which I will share more about in an editor's note at the end of this article. Even still, the program's ability to provide meaningful answers at all is impressive, and in a world of email and text messages, it's easy to forget while chatting with Davinci that there is no human on the other end responding to you. Perhaps then we can say that Davinci shares something in common with its namesake's masterworks: illusion.
The following questions were submitted to the Davinci model, and its responses have been provided after. Links have been added throughout the interview, but the responses are otherwise unedited:
A&O: What is art?
Davinci: Art is a form of expression that can take many different forms, such as painting, sculpture, music, writing, photography, and film. It is a way of communicating ideas, emotions, and creativity through a visual or auditory medium. Art is often seen as a means of personal expression and can be created for a variety of purposes, including the appreciation of beauty, communication of ideas, or simply to provide enjoyment.
A&O: What value does art have?
Davinci: Art has a wide range of values that depend on the context and the people involved. Generally speaking, art can have the power to create connections, to evoke emotion, to tell stories, to be a record of history, to educate, to inspire, to provide catharsis, to provoke thought and discussion, and to provide beauty and joy.
A&O: What separates good art from bad art?
Davinci: Good art is art that is well-crafted, thoughtful, and visually appealing. It is art that has the power to captivate and engage viewers, often through its creative use of color, line, form, and composition. Bad art is art that is poorly conceived, hastily executed, and unappealing to viewers. It often lacks a cohesive aesthetic and fails to evoke any emotion or reaction from its audience.
A&O: What would you say to someone who looks at a work of art and says, "I could do that."?
Davinci: I would say that it takes more than just skill to create a work of art - it takes passion and dedication. While it may look simple, it's taken time and effort to create it. Plus, art is subjective, so you may be able to create something that looks similar, but your interpretation of it may be totally different.