Robot Artists?

Generally speaking, we don’t need robot artists. Cameras and software may seem to automate art, but they end up simply being new tools for human artists.

“Art matters because as humans, we all have the ability to be creative. With time, the art we create evolves, and technology plays a crucial role in that process,” wrote Ahmed Elgammal in the New York Times, comparing cameras with artificial intelligence. “History has shown that photography, as a novel tool and medium, helped revolutionize the way modern artists create works by expanding the idea of what could be considered art. Photography eventually found its way into museums. Today we know that cameras didn’t kill art; they simply provided people with another way to express themselves visually.”

Elgammal expects human artists to do great things with AI, not for robots to become artists. We don’t need faster, more uniform production of concertos or the ability to perform dances in caustic environments. There’s no shortage of workers in the arts. Robot artists just aren’t high priority.

Or are they?

Sometimes we need robot artists

Disney has a need for multiple iterations of almost identical faces, for example. So they came up with RobotSculptor, a system using a 6 axis industrial robot arm with a specialized sculpting tool.

An actual human artist is required for the programming stage, but then machine learning allows the RobotSculptor to develop the ability to reproduce the creation in different styles and variations.

As the researchers explain in their paper, CNN machines can’t work well with clay. Machining doesn’t give the look of clay sculpture, either, even if you use a material that mimics clay.

RoboSculptor begins with a mesh shape. It gets input from a human sculptor to develop an initial set of tool paths. It then optimizes the human actions for robots, reducing collisions and controlling the effects of pull on the clay.

The results? Not as good as humans — but that’s the eventual goal. The researchers also hope to be able to make it possible for artists to use the system without computational or programming skills.

Are those robots really artists?

Clearly not. Even when the makers can get a 6-axis arm to reproduce the artist’s intention as well as another human being can, the creator of the design will be the artist. The robot arm will not be an artist.

And that’s okay.

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