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Now & Next: How AI is transforming the creative industries – in partnership with The Economist

Posted on 8 April 2021

The ability of computers to 'think' creatively has come a long way. But what does this change mean for those in the creative industries? Is the future of creativity destined to be more imitation, or will it push humans to innovate even further?

Business and education use the computer but art is finding a place for it as well.

The ability of computers to get creative has come a long way. While there is little chance of them usurping artists any time soon.  What does this change mean in the long-term for those working in the creative industries? And is the future of these industries destined to be more imitation or innovation?

Celine Fornaro - Head of European Industrials, UBS
I think the exciting role that AI will play is kicking us out of behaving like machines and perhaps being more creative as humans again.


How AI is transforming the creative industries?

These portraits might look like paintings from centuries gone by or digital art created by human hands but they are not. Each one has been imagined and created by an Artificial Intelligence. It’s the brainchild of Mario Klingemann. He’s leading a group of artists who are pioneering the use of AI in the world of visual arts.

Mario Klingemann
As an artist you are always in this interplay between accident and control so at one side you want to have control over your work but at the same time you also want interesting accidents to happen. Using AI allows me to find a good balance between the two.

This artwork is created using neural networks. Computer programmes that mimic the structure of the human brain. Mario has trained the system on thousands of portraits, from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The AI learns from them and creates a never ending stream of unique portraits.

In the past decade the use of AI has expanded into numerous creative fields and its role is continuing to grow. Marcus du Sautoy is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

Marcus du Sautoy - Author, ‘The Creativity Code’
I think a lot of people think that all that AI could possibly do is to produce more of the same, to produce pastiche and I think that’s really missing opportunity because this AI’s really beginning to push the boundaries, change things, disrupt things and so I think we’ve really seen something very special happening at this moment.

Before they take over the world many experts say they will take over your job.

Technological disruption is often assumed to lead to job losses. But such anxieties are frequently overblown. Research into the impact of automation in England shows a relatively low risk of job losses in several professions including artists. For those working in creative fields AI is more likely to emerge as a collaborator than a competitor.

Marcus du Sautoy
I think it’s going to change jobs and that’s the point. So this is a new collaborator, a new tool, a bit like the arrival of the camera on the scene that really changed art, so I think there will be art that will be just the same as it ever was but there will be new jobs out there, some jobs will go but for example, I think there will be something like the data curator, the person who creates the data that the AI will learn on will be a very creative role in the whole process.

By working as an ever more sophisticated collaborator, AI could also help to overturn another stereotype, that machines can never be as creative as humans.

Marcus du Sautoy
I think as creatives we can often end up kind of repeating behaviours that have worked in the past, actually behaving more like a machine than a human so I think one of the exciting roles that AI will play is kicking us out of that rather mechanistic way of thinking and perhaps making us more creative as humans again.

But alongside its potential to broaden the creative pallet, AI could also have some negative consequences for the creative industries.  In the world of music AI has resulted in new tracks mimicking artists in every conceivable genre.

Take the world famous Jazz Singer, Ella Fitzgerald, AI technology it advanced enough to learn from her back catalogue to produce this.  An original track in the same style.  It’s unlikely to become a new Jazz standard.  But it does highlight the potential the technology holds to copy artists on an industrial scale.  Concerns about the long-term impact of AI are shared by musicians like Holly Herndon who composes by collaborating with one.  She calls it ‘spawn’.

Holly Herndon - Composer and perf
She’s my AI baby, we’ve been teaching her how to sing, how to make music with us.

Holly is worried that there are no intellectual property laws or other regulations in place to protect artists from AI powered imitations.

Holly Herndon
Just from this conversation that we’ve had today you would have enough audio material to be able to make a model of my speaking voice and kind of do whatever you want with it. We simply cannot have this wholesale taking of each other’s work and so I think we have to move past some of our 20th Century logics around IP um and the way that we dealt with that and, and come up with a new framework for that for the 21st Century.

This legal grey area was exposed last April.  When the Rapper JZ reportedly tried and failed to have this track taken down from YouTube.  It used AI to make him appear to rap lines of Shakespeare.

Holly Herndon
I like how innocent it sounds.

But Holly has a more optimistic vision for the future of AI in the creative arts.  One characterised less by imitation and more by originality.

Holly Herndon
So by layering this we are able to kind of get the, the AI singing with the kind of real world singing and instrumentation to kind of meld together and occupy the same space.

AI’s capacity to help humans make new kinds of art seems likely to have the most impact on the creative industries and the livelihoods of those working in them in the years ahead. But what then? How far does AI’s potential to disrupt human creativity stretch?

Marcus du Sautoy
I think there will come a moment when we have to regard the AI as a sort of independent entity that is being creative and maybe that’s when it has its own internal world.  When perhaps AI becomes conscious in its own right which I believe will happen at some point.  There is an interaction that AI can have with the art of the past which is at a speed that we could never achieve so I think there is some possibility for AI to, to reach a, a, a state of uh creativity much faster than we did as humans.

Tom Standage
Hello, I’m Tom Standage, Deputy Editor of The Economist. If you would like to read more about AI and creativity then click on the link opposite and if you would like to watch more of our Now&Next series then click on the other link. Thanks for watching and please don’t forget to subscribe.

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