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Modern machines are incapable of producing true art

Modern machines are incapable of producing true art

Modern machines are incapable of producing true art
July 28
12:00 2022

With scientific advances moving us toward higher levels of complexity, technology’s role in the cultural and artistic world is becoming an increasingly pertinent topic. As we continue to develop our use of artificial intelligence, advanced machinery and algorithms, we must also learn to recognize the effects these machines have on art.

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of murals and sculptures taken from the Parthenon by the British in the early 1800s. For over 200 years since, Greece and Britain have been stuck in a disagreement on whether the pieces should be returned. Greece claims they were stolen, while Britain claims they were legitimately received. A research team at the University of Oxford has stepped forward with a new compromise: high-tech machines will carve exact replicas of the famous sculptures.

Initially, this may seem like the ideal solution for a long-standing bout between nations but the problem lies in the lack of sincerity. The week-long process of a robot chiseling at rock pales in comparison to the weeks and months spent hand-sculpting marble with fine tools. Elgin debate aside, the volunteering of a machine to create art should run a chill down everyone’s spine.

It is inevitable that the tools we use to create art will become more complex as our world advances. What we should steer away from is giving the art up to those tools, allowing the devices to determine what we value.

The interaction between technology and media is already beginning to twist how we make art and entertainment. Twenty years ago, the worst thing a children’s TV show could be made for was to sell a line of toys, and even then, a full-scale budget had to be allotted to it. Today, hundreds of YouTube channels make use of search engine-optimized titles and buzzwords to draw kids into low-quality content. Because simply watching the video will generate income, these videos are made in the thousands, abusing YouTube’s algorithms to make their way to kids’ screens.

Rather than picking and choosing the content yourself, “smart” tech-like algorithms have changed how content creators make their videos. This sludge of content may be mindless, but it easily outnumbers and outsells its more thoughtful counterparts.

The concern drawn from the previous examples is often assuaged with the assertion that these things are 100 percent controlled by their human operators. Algorithms can be changed, and the statue-making machines can be switched off. Even if that were so, the effects these man-made constructs have on our media consumption are a Pandora’s Box that we opened but never looked inside.

There are worrying implications regardless of how we interpret our mechanized Monets. If machines start regularly sculpting statues, is it still art? If it is art, are the machines the artists, or the manufacturers? Perhaps the programmer who creates the program is the designer or even just the person who presses the start button.

If it isn’t art, what are we valuing in it? Simply praising the symbols without the craft is a dangerous abstraction of ideas, especially regarding nationalistic figures. If it isn’t about symbolism, then it’s just another set of mindlessly produced content which is the last thing we need.

Scraping away all our technological tools is not the solution to this problem either, because they aren’t without their benefits. Algorithms can provide lesser-known artists with a chance to propel their works, and incredible pieces have been made with the help of machinery, like Sun Yuan’s “Can’t Help Myself.” What separates these uses from others is that they are supplementary, not essential.

Machines cannot create art because they can’t understand what art is, and we shouldn’t value their creations as much as we do our own. Even the most complex of artificial intelligence in our current age is still irrevocably bound to the will of its creators and anything formed from it is simply a product that can be reproduced.

There may be a time in the far future when artificial intelligence may gain enough sentience to produce original pieces — right now it’s a moot point. We should instead focus on ensuring that our artistic values weather the storm of media overproduction and excess, and all the ways that our machines contribute to it.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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