AI’s Biggest Crime Yet — Stealing the Freedom of Human Expression

Understanding the consequences of Superintelligence on the freedom of human expression.


Avantika Mehra

3 years ago | 5 min read

Art exists for two entities — the Creator and the Recipient. For the former, it is the tangible result of various internal mental processes combining with an intent to convey them, tainted by emotion and experience. It is the physical manifestation of the artist’s perception and cognition. For the latter, it is a medium of connecting with a Universal truth. It is the ultimate cathartic experience, meant to fill the Recipient with the sentiment felt at the time of creation by simply exploring the piece. It is not bound by time, context, or a shared meaning of social structure or understanding of the world — it is simply felt, at some point, by some Observer who has voluntarily or involuntarily opened their mind and become Recipient.

Art is not scientific or formulaic — it is feeling and emotion driven. Yet it is not without technique — an artist must conform to a certain level of shared meaning with the world, adapting forms, structures and shapes that create representations that can be understood by a wider audience. Yet, there is no constraint, limitation or universal law describing the extent to which the artist must conform to these frameworks. Thus, unlike in science, math, or anything logical, art is individualistic and guided by the Artist’s free will. It is perhaps the freest form of expression humankind possesses — not limited by language, logic or medium.

While art is without purpose, it is with intent. It is with the artist’s intent of conveying the barest form of truth; the present state of the soul; a portrayal of the version of his existence at the time of creation. Therefore, it is not simply the consequences of an individual’s actions at a time of an emotionally charged mental state that constitute art — it is his intent to transform those into a vehicle of communication.

Machine learning refers to the idea of feeding computers with huge masses of data, and equipping them with algorithms to be able to sort, filter through and create representations of the information. Advanced image-recognition software, then, once fed with enough pictures, paintings, or pieces of art, should be able to churn out its own version of art, using rules, finding patterns, extracting properties and making generalisations. But to what purpose?

Some could argue that the phenomenon of Art has wide-ranging uses and implications in the industrial world. It can be combined with logic, language, consumer-behaviour statistics and an understanding of the human mind to create successful advertisements and commercials. Art can be used with space to create sculptures, civic spaces and public areas. Art could be combined with faith, resulting in purposeful architectural wonders — chapels, cathedrals, mosques and temples. Granted, a consequence of Art is that it can be used to make money. It is not uncommon for economically and politically motivated parties to capitalize on a fleeting moment of human vulnerability and emotion to sell an experience. And thus was created the science of design.

Perhaps AI systems can churn out effective, captivating designs. Perhaps companies will no longer have to hire designers to create websites, posters and advertisements. Perhaps governments will no longer require creative personnel to craft political campaigns. After being fed with various paintings, styles, descriptions of sentiments and an understanding of space, AIs can use human-supplied tools, frameworks and information to create representations. But as they get smarter over time, the human intervention and influence required to program, maintain, and monitor the robot will decrease. And one day, the robot will become smart enough to maintain itself. And some days later, it will program another machine — several other machines — to churn out designs as well.

The claim that robots are capable of design and not Art is idealistic — a comforting thought to hold on to as we contemplate the destruction, loss and corruption of one of our most organic forms of communication. But does the research support it? Apparently not.

Lamus is a computer that composes and produces music. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Malaga asked a group of 250 participants, including professional musicians, to distinguish between human-produced music and music composed by Lamus.

“The computer piece raises the same feelings and emotions as the human one, and participants can’t distinguish them”, researchers said.

AARON, an autonomous art-making program, has already sold paintings to the SF MOMA, the Tate Gallery, and the Brooklyn Museum. It paints not with pixels, but with paint on an actual canvas. Benjamin Grosser’s Interactive Robotic Painting Machine uses background audio, sounds of conversation and its own ‘internal mechanisms’ to create paintings. So AIs appear to be fulfilling the criteria of ‘evoking sentiment and feeling in the Recipients’ to be classified as Art. However, do they do so with intent?

AIs are non-conscious — can a non-conscious entity possess intent?

The current definition of intention indicates that it involves planning & forethought, which sound suspiciously like elements of cognition. Therefore, this suggests a machine must have the ability to think in order to create Art.

So if a machine can think, can it create Art?

Wait — you need to answer the question ‘Can a machine think?’ first.

Can a machine think?

Humanity is not equipped to answer that question. We don’t fully understand how the human mind works, so we don’t know exactly what ‘thinking’ entails. We may, through trial and error, and large datasets, be able to create robots that replicate and imitate human behaviour, a result of ‘thinking’. But if we can’t operationalize or define the term ‘thinking’, we can’t devise a test to measure it.

Then how do we measure machine intelligence?

Alan Turing, the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, said that the question ‘Can a machine think’ was too broad and “too meaningless to warrant discussion”. Instead, he proposed an Imitation Game — a test to see how well can machines could imitate humans. Any machine that could fool a judge into believing that they were communicating with a human would pass this ‘Turing Test’.

It is a popular misconception that passing this Turing Test renders a machine ‘intelligent’ — this is false. In his paper, Turing does not make any direct associations between success on the test and machine intelligence. Yet, people associate the two, because, in humans, cognition guides behaviour. When there is a change in behaviour, we are often able to attribute it to a change it the functioning of the brain, i.e. a change in cognition. However, the behaviour of the machines is a function of the data it receives. A change in data causes a change in behaviour. Therefore, the success of a computer on a Turing Test cannot be attributed to its internal mechanisms

OK — what if we somehow invent a test to measure machine intelligence, and find it to be cognitively indistinguishable from a human, thus capable of expressing intent?

Then, perhaps, we can with certainty say that these ‘generally intelligent’ entities can produce Art. But it’s worth pondering — if they are creating Art, to whom does it belong — the robot, or the artist that programmed it? Will these new entities also learn to cultivate emotion, or will it simply reflect the biases of the programmer in its Art? Will the emotion that is evoked from the art piece be those that the programmer intended to convey?

Or maybe we’re looking at this all wrong, too scientifically, too technically. Maybe the machine is the Artwork — a vehicle of communication, an extra layer of complexity added to convey the Creator’s truth.

The earliest Homo sapiens drew on the walls of caves 42,000 years ago. Later, our ancestors discovered paper, canvas, sculpting materials and tools. Years later, graphic design was born. Evolution shows a pattern of discovery, innovation, and an ability of the human race to adapt and adopt these new paradigms, changing the way we convey meaning and interact with the world at each stage of history.

Maybe embracing this new medium is simply humanity’s way of adapting to make the timeless, fluid concept of Art more relevant in tomorrow’s world.


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Avantika Mehra







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