Can blockchain help inspire artistic creation?

The recent Malta AI & Blockchain Summit presented a number of topics involving the protection of personal data, the swift creation of transactions on a secure decentralised system as well as the capacity to revolutionise the way art is created.

‘Blockchain and the Arts’ was a segment that welcomed experts from across the globe and invited them to speak about their areas of expertise within the blockchain niche, linking it to the arts in the form of music, painting, graphic design and other areas of expression.

The discussion started with a panel of four experts: EcoTech Visions’ Dr Pandwe Gibson, Adaptia managing director Sergio Stephano, local expert from the University of Malta’s Computer Vision Department Dylan Seychell and Guarda Wallet’s CMO Maria Carola.

These industry experts led a discussion that brought up some interesting points, later developed and discussed in detail throughout the segment. The essence of the panel was primarily concerned with intellectual property, with Dr Gibson stating that it is “critical” for mutual artists around the world to freely create art and be protected in their doing so, while Carola added that it is also “very important to feel the trust” during such sharing and creation.

She continued: “Young people create a lot, blockchain and timestamping within the blockchain can simplify the process.” A positive idea that the experienced musician and Chief Marketing Officer stressed throughout the brief panel. Further elaboration on how blockchain can simplify processes within the artistic sphere were discussed by Martha Ryzhok with her talk entitled, ‘Design Principles Behind EMURGO and the Blockchain’.

During her presentation, Ryzhok, a graphic designer highlighted that 70 per cent of online businesses fail because of bad usability. She emphasised how: “Design can help make things beautiful, using clear design will not only give an aesthetic feel but also monetary value.” This monetary value is seen in the company’s overall success with 46 per cent of users straying away from companies if they do not understand an interface, layout or design model adopted by the company.

Trust is a vital element in the success of blockchain. Should trust fail to make it into the blockchain equation, there’s not much hope that it will succeed – ‘feedback’ is Ryzhok’s solution to this hesitation.

What value does the artist hold in society if a robot can do the very same thing?

“You need to allow users to understand that transactions are successful,” she said, emphasising this by displaying alternatives to the feedback reports exchanged by company to user. By implementing UI and UX elements that allow users to feel safe, basic design principles make apps more intuitive, where “explaining new terms and verifying steps will also make apps more trustworthy.”

Her parting words of wisdom, ending her talk and leading up to the next segment of the talk; “make it pretty and build the trust.”

Following Ryzhok was Dylan Seychell a member of the University of Malta staff responsible who discussed AI’s fight to create art.

He argued that art is fundamentally human; so creating a machine to create art is questionable – but he also added that AI is a tool that can help create art, “everywhere is our canvas”; and keeping “the human brain as our inspiration” could develop a symbiosis between machine and human to recognise art; be it imagery, fine art or otherwise.

He then discussed how humans can train AI to decipher images from another through neural networks, in the same way that we as children learned how to categorise different items. By feeding the machine tens of thousands of examples that will classify the specific ‘item’, Seychell and his team have made progress in ‘training’ machines to recognise one image from another as well as categorising and classing images into groups. He took the example of cats and dogs into question.

An image of a cat, and an image of a dog might share some similarities, especially if the animal’s characterising features are not entirely visible. The machine recognised the dog from the cat – so the next step was to ‘train’ the machine into recognising several dogs and categorising them all as the same species. Odd dogs of all shapes, sizes, breeds and peculiarities were systematically classified as ‘dog’ in the machine’s perspective.

The next step that came into discussion involved feeding the intelligence content and an artistic style and training the AI to create content in the desired style. For example; should you feed the AI an image of the Valletta skyline and giving it a style focus of Monet for example, it will develop an output of the Valletta skyline in the style of Monet, and with a discriminator judging the result and outcome – tweaks are implemented and standards kept.

Angelo Dalli was the final speaker and took his belief in AI’s connection to art to a whole new extreme. He discussed the actual creation of art by machine.

Although fascinating and somewhat shocking, this ideology in a sense takes the passion, creativity and life out of the expression of art. What value does the artist hold in society if a robot can do the very same thing? Maybe with time, a whole lot better than the artist himself?

Mark Mallia’s artwork was used as an example and test in this technological development. His work was fed into the AI system and as time went by the intelligence developed artwork that held Mallia’s style and approach in focus – even creating faces in its ‘artwork’.

Mallia was then faced with the challenge of creating art with the AI’s ‘piece’ as his inspiration. A work of art that sold last year for €18,000 in auction; and was the first human and AI collaborative piece created.

There are various questions that arise when dealing with such a personal form of expression, some of which might offend the artist and others that might even inspire the artist to create in an alternative manner.

The team is currently working on different painting techniques using a variety of media such as oils, acrylics and other paint forms. So there might be a future ahead of us where artificial intelligence, machines or robots; call them as you may, will through human manipulation – for now – create artwork that can reach the heights of our great masters. Is this a leap into the future or a step too far?

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