Can AI Be Creative?

There's an ongoing debate about artificial intelligence. Is it simply mimicking existing elements on the web or is it creating new creative work, remixing, or creating? it's a fair question, but one that's hard to answer theoretically, so I decided to put it to the test.

A  few weeks ago someone suggested to me that I needed a new headshot -- a new avatar. Somewhat at random, I picked a piece of software called Photoleap and downloaded an app onto my iPhone.  The app wasn't cheap but it had a 7-day free trial which I figured was more than enough time for me to bang out some new avatars. Once I got to the AI offering, the "free" app offered me 100 different avatars for the price of just $2.99. Maybe it was the price, maybe it was the fact that I had already downloaded it, but I decided three bucks was worth a try. The app asked me to upload 20 selfies. I had plenty and uploaded them without being very selective about which I chose.

In perhaps a minute and a half, the app returned to me 100 avatars.



Here's what's interesting, some of them were really good.

Keep in mind this particular app asked for no prompts so how did it know that I liked pop art and retro images and spaceman and black and white noir images how did it know that? Is there some set of images out in the corpus of data that includes my name and styles that I like? I don't think so. And some of them like the spaceman ones with me in an astronaut's helmet probably aren't very hard to put together. But what's interesting were no cowboys, no athletes no kickboxers. They were a collection within the styles that I liked. Galactic, comic, royalty, glam, winter, art, fashion, gothic, vibrant, and neon.

So this got me thinking that the last time I hired an artist for something personal was when our deeply cherished family dog had died unexpectedly and we wanted a portrait.

I searched the web. I searched Etsy. I searched Craigslist. I found an artist. I sent the artist an image amd two weeks later I got a draft back. I gave some feedback that the ears weren't quite right. The artist sent me another draft and I paid something like $250.

We printed it on canvas. it hangs on our wall.

But the process was time-consuming. The feedback loop took effort and it wasn't inexpensive.  Presumably, the Photoleaap app that I used doesn't have a dog feature -- yet.

I wanted a new avatar. I ended up receiving 100 avatars for just $2.99. Now the artists in my readership will say that the AI simply copied styles and figured out some things I liked. Sure. Is it high art? I'm not sure that avatars ever are.

So of the 100 I took my 25 favorites, and broke them into collections -- one black and white image, one retro, one astronaut -- and I brought them into Adobe Premiere and created sequences with dissolves in music. I added value, I curated the images, I made selections, and I ordered them in the animation.

The fact that the AI produced 200 was a business decision on the part of the app owner presumably it would cost no more to produce 1,000 or 100,000. The gating factor was my attention -- 100 was enough for me to glance through them and pick 25.

And when I posted it on my profile I got lots of positive feedback.

What did I learn from this experiment? I don't understand how this particular piece of AI made judgments about my style, or the nature of the images I wanted. In this case, playful and eye-catching was exactly what I wanted and it's what I got. But there is no doubt that this experiment proved successful. It also means I'll never again think of my avatar as a stagnant, unchanging image. Instead I'll expect my avatar to change perhaps monthly, or more often based on my mood or my location.

The ability to produce a large volume of high-quality images at low cost with low effort is going to change the marketplace of visual imagery for sure. The question is what else will it change?

1 comment about "Can AI Be Creative?".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, February 6, 2023 at 5:04 p.m.

    Been tracking you for a decade without you knowing?   Who knows.

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