PIX18 is a robot that paints oil on canvas. It is not just a machine that executes paintings conceived by a human artist. Its is not robot that simply emulates humans by imitating classic paintings styles. It is a machine that conceives and creates art on its very own, with minimal human intervention. PIX18 may be a first glimpse at a generation of what some call "Robot Artists".
We humans have been unique in our ability to create art -- until now. As Robotics and AI enter their fourth wave, we humans may not be the only intelligent species capable of artistic expression.
Art in the age of robotic artists
The topic of Robot Art is controversial. Some see art as a uniquely human endeavor, one that by definition precludes a machine. Most readily accept that a machine, such as a camera, can be an essential part of the artistic process -- as long as it serves a human, Some are even willing to concede that a robot can autonomouslycreate art, but not that a robot is an artist. The question therefore is more complex than just "what is art" -- a question that in itself has baffled artists and philosophers for centuries. The question is really what is an artists - touching on the issue of Machine Sentience. In a way, the question mirrors the classic conundrum of Strong AI versus Weak AI - Essentially, machines that just act intelligently versus machines that are intelligent. The conclusion reached was that ultimately, there they are indistinguishable. The same may apply to Robot Artists,
PIX18 creator Hod Lipson argues that since PIX18 can independently and deliberately conceive of its own subject matter, it is an artist. Since the conception is based on past experiences of the robot, it is personal to the robot, Since it involves excited neurons in the massive neural network comprising more than 1 million neurons, it is a form of sentience. Clearly the robot cannot articulate the story behind that feeling in a way that a mature human can, nor does the robot have feelings that in any way are as sophisticated and nuanced as a human, but the robot does have primitive feeling in the form of unique excitatory patterns in its unique neural network, defined solely by its unique past experiences. Perhaps PIX18's artwork is not unlike art created by a talented child yet unable to express their feeling verbally. Human involvement in PIX18's creation is relatively minor: commissioning the painting, and providing the materials and power to execute it.
Regardless of whether the robot is an artist or not, it is clear that products of Robot Artists will challenge conventional art. There has always been a dance between art and technology. Some argue that the emergence of camera technology in the late 1800's, for example, ushered the end of realism, and the birth of impressionism. It took another few decades more until photography was accepted as mainstream art. Similarly, the first Robot Artists will be met with skepticism, but ultimately they will push human art to new places.