First AI-Artist Work Goes Under the Hammer at Prestigious Auction House

First AI-Artist Work Goes Under the Hammer at Prestigious Auction House

The impact that AI-powered robotics could have on the future workforce was again recently raised by Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist. However, it is generally considered that the occupations least at risk of being made obsolete, replaced by the latest technology in the world of algorithms and robotics, are creative professionals.

Repetitive and rules-based processes are the strength of AI and the emotional intelligence and uniqueness inherent in artistic creativity is generally thought to be its weakness. Within that context, it may come as a surprise to hear that prestigious auction house Christie’s autumn print sale will include a work produced by an algorithm.

The hot new AI artist in question called ‘min G max D Ex [log D (x))] + Ez [log(1 — D(G(z)))]’ and the work entitled “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy”.


The algorithm’s work has a period look to it and depicts a male with blurred features. min G max D Ex [log D (x))] + Ez [log(1 — D(G(z)))] was developed by French ‘artists’ Obvious, and other works can be seen on their website. The website also states that “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” is expected to fetch between €7000 and €10,000 at auction.

The algorithm was taught to create art by being fed a database of 15,000 portraits dating from between the 14th and 20th centuries. The AI-artists own attempts at producing portraits were then assessed by humans who assigned an opinion of how realistically human they seemed. Eventually, human assessors were unable to tell if the images the algorithm produced were made by a human artist’s brushstroke or artificially.

The collective behind Obvious Art believe that AI’s potential for ‘independent’ creativity can be considered as a new tool for art and draw parallels with photography, with the camera technology employed by the artist, the photographer. The three creators of the algorithm that produced the “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” likewise consider themselves to be the work’s ‘artists’.

The development will raise the obvious questions and debate around whether the work can genuinely be described as ‘art’. Human artists also use a data set to inform their output, will say Obvious Art. Is that not then also AI? The traditionalists will scoff. At the end of the day the market will decide. If the “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” indeed fetches €10,000, at the Christie’s auction the debate will certainly be lively.

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