Aug 29, 2018

One artistic thing: AI at the easel

An AI-generated portrait of the fictional Edmond de Belamy. Photo: Christie's

AI-generated art is selling for thousands of dollars to private donors and auction houses, leapfrogging from mere novelty.

Why it matters: We're often told that manual work will be snapped up by robots, while creative jobs are relatively safe. It’s not clear this technology quite approximates human creativity, but its commercial success suggests a demand for simulated imagination.

What’s going on: In October, Christie’s will become the first auction house to sell a piece of art created by artificial intelligence, Artnet news reports: a portrait developed by a French collective named Obvious.

  • Obvious sold a painting in the same series to a private collector for about $12,000 in February.

How it works: The pieces were made using generative adversarial networks, or GANs, a state-of-the-art AI technique.

  • The painting algorithm took a crash course in portraiture, reviewing 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries.
  • A second algorithm called the discriminator judged the result to see if it could discern AI- from human-created art.
  • If it could, it sent the generator back to the easel, and the cycle repeated until the generator produced something indistinguishable from human art.

The final products may not be exactly human-like, but they draw a viewer in. One member of the fictional Belamy family, Edmond, is an inscrutable, slightly pixellated ghost. Another — the count himself — looks like a wispy, glowing J.S. Bach.

The backstory: Computers have been making art for decades, from a system called AARON that has been drawing since the 1970s to "The Painting Fool," an algorithm that creates art based on the emotional content of news stories.

Humans are bad at telling human-painted art from computer-generated art, a 2017 Rutgers study found. Artworks created by GANs tuned to simulate creativity fooled humans into thinking they were human-made 75% of the time.

The big question: What does it mean for computers to be creative?

  • Computer-generated art generally needs a seed: Some inspiration from which to start. For The Painting Fool, it’s text; for the Rutgers system, a random input.
  • But Ahmed Elgammal, director of Rutgers’ Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, writes that humans need inspiration, too, and that artists draw on their experiences and other art to seed their own creations.

Go deeper: A thoughtful 2016 piece in MIT Technology Review.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Very small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
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World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes with protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 900,000 and the global death toll surpassed 45,000 early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 12,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

FBI sees record number of gun background checks amid coronavirus

Guns on display at a store in Manassas, Va. Photo: Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty

The FBI processed a record 3.7 million gun background checks in March — more than any month previously reported, according to the agency's latest data.

Driving the news: The spike's timing suggests it may be driven at least in part by the coronavirus.