Ethan Camilleri - Arts Award Gold Project - Level 3
Front Cover of The Dream Catcher - a novel by Ethan Camilleri
Illustrations for The Dream Catcher - a novel by Ethan Camilleri
Essay - The Technological Synthesis of Art and Literature
Throughout our history, the popular idea that everything that is born into our universe continuously evolves proves that it is of no exception to only living organisms. From being a singular uplifted race of Homo Sapiens to where we are now, it would be a downright tragedy to ignore what we have made of ourselves. 300,000 years everchanging, everlasting, humanity has a lot to account and uphold for, but to what end can It be done?
The answer lies in what we have done with our gift of life and how just one gift can constitute to another, we archive anything and everything and everyone that lives, has lived and left in their wake. Humanity’s gift of life is the resolve to aspire, inspire and persevere and what better way to immortalise yourself than to create.
In this essay I will transcribe my thoughts and knowledge on the evolution of Art and Literature, sharing my own personal hypotheses on the excitingly uncertain future symbiotic relationship between technology and the arts. Followed by a big question: Can we discern the possibilities of machines becoming intelligent enough to replicate and produce moving pieces of art and literature?
Paragraph 1: Technology & Art
The first thought that comes to mind when creating a piece of artwork is a question that is as subjective as the people who view it after its completion. Picture yourself as an artist; what exactly goes into your creation? Looking past the materials your using, a coalition of hidden energy lies beneath. It has no language, but a single glance can speak volumes.
When an artist strives to conjure something from their own creative ingenuity, they figuratively imbue it with their heart and lifeblood. That living essence is then permanently embedded into their handiwork, reluctant to die even when damaged or defaced, it’s an irreparable force that springs life into the eyes of those who observe it.
Can a machine or an automated learning algorithm permeate that same enlightening energy as a human? How can an automaton or a line of code emulate an emotive response from a subject as they would subjectively from an organic artist? If it cannot create art the same way as we have for centuries, we could credibly lose all the poignant passion and subjectivity that allows us to look at an art piece from a different and parallel perspective.
On a side note, comparing our technological advancement from the past to where we are now, every decade or so the brightest of minds invent something that defines a moment in the history of our race. Even the smallest of ideas can contribute to a commodious breakthrough. Inventions, scientific discovery, mathematical equations, philosophical inquiry, the composition of fine art… everything we adhere to and govern in our pursuits of success is picked up on and generated gradually as time elapses. Nobody can see it first-hand but an evolutionary shift in everything we know is out there, blueprinted and on a hard drive locked away from prying eyes.
We have countless graphics programs on our smart phones, computers and tablets to create digital forms of art and applications to modify images and photos of landscapes, objects and people.
I once came across an AI that could convert images of people’s faces into fine art; it was a remarkable feat to behold. You could see the differences in the final product compared to the uploaded image, but it made it look so original and unique. Regretfully, the site that hosted the AI is no longer up due to it overloading because of constant traffic and it doesn’t look like it will be back anytime soon.
Paragraph 2: Technology & Literature:
The entertainment value of reading a good book has upsettingly deteriorated over the last few years, in a growing society changes in global and public opinion alongside our methods of culture are normal. However, outside influences of media, social commentary and alterations to our lifestyles can quickly push out the nominal interests that brought a craze of enjoyment and self-rewarding.
Technology is no exception to this rule. Those who still find themselves reading a book or immersing themselves in a story appealing either continue to read the same way as we always have, or they choose the alternative; purchase a kindle/tablet.
Instead of buying physical copies of the books you want to read, you can go an extra mile in your wallets and buy a tablet. Doing so allows a person to have a single device capable of storing libraries worth of e-books to read in a minute’s notice, all at your fingertips. The downside to it all is the price range of how much you are willing to pay, the e-books themselves are usually cheap coming at the low price of £0.99, but a 6-7inch Amazon Kindle with a built-in light can go as low as £69.99 brand new. At the end of the day, it all depends on how committed you are to the product and the desire to keep yourself connected to a smart device.
A while ago before the lockdown, I remember going into a Waterstones and it was literally chock full of customers buying stationary and different varieties of reading material. It was a confusing moment anybody could go inside and peruse the bookshelves but my own presumptions of society had led me to believe that most people would prefer to read e-books and audio books, rather than bothering to go outside and buy a physical copy at a higher cost.
It truly was a stupefying revelation, perhaps it could be that the difference between having a kindle/tablet or a physical paper back copy is a matter of special ownership to the consumer? Purchasing the real thing to cherish for the rest of their lives, and with so many different editions and formats to choose from including the hard-back option. If a kindle isn’t functioning properly there is always an alternative, compromise and get a physical copy for emergencies.
Moving on from the debate, I want to talk about a specific AI that was created 3 years ago. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T), a driving force in the research and study of the technological sciences and a dedication to the industrial development of America and the world. Just in time for Halloween they introduced ‘Shelley’ an artificial intelligence programmed to collaborate with others to generate horror stories. (Shelley being named after ‘Mary Shelley’ who wrote Frankenstein, which in an odd turn of events bases something that I will talk about later). At the time you could interact with Shelley on a separate website which is no longer up, including her Twitter account which hasn’t been updated for quite a while.
The idea was that you would post a snippet of what you had already written, and she would finish it, besides collaborating with humans her entire premise was to explore the limits of artificial intelligence and see if machines can learn to scare us. Fear is a powerful emotive response to inflict and requires exposing a lot of the subjects’ weak points and underlying phobias. While I personally didn’t get frightened by anything it had written, it was admirable to see what it was capable of.
Paragraph 3: Human Opinions
At the beginning of this essay I posed a question; Can we discern the possibilities of machines becoming intelligent enough to replicate and produce moving pieces of art and literature?
I have already added plenty of my own contextual input and relative thoughts into exploring how technology has transformed our ways of enjoying art and literature. And so, I took to video calling and interviewing 3 different subjects with distinctive levels of experience in the workplace and recorded their own opinions and lines of judgement.
With that question came another one; I presented to them a rough sketch of myself that had been drawn by a robot arm with a camera, fitted to a desk at an arts exhibition hosted at the Lowry and asked about their thoughts and feelings.
The State of Us was an experience unlike anything I had seen in my 19 years living on this Earth, it showed me how everything in the arts was so easily interlinked with the sciences. How art and literature had their own assemblages of chemical and biological structures, as much as the human body was made up of its own chemical and biological structures. Anything that didn’t make sense before, finally made sense. A person without an open mind would have overlooked the entire exhibition as nothing but a freak show and left after several minutes. All of it was made apparent by a quote in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein about the human body: “a workshop of filthy creation.”
Subject 1: 52 Year-old Male, experienced in engineering and sports.
“No, I don’t think so because computers and machines have to be programmed by people, an artificial intelligence isn’t that advanced enough. You can’t get a machine or a computer to have feelings. They can capture the likeness of what an emotion is, but they don’t know what emotion is. You can ask it to draw an apple and it will capture the way it looks; you can ask it to draw ‘sadness’ and it will give it a go, but it doesn’t know what sadness is.”
Subject 1 is shown the sketch and asked what emotions they get from it and what they think overall:
“I don’t feel anything from it, it has scanned the picture of you and highlighted the shades in your hair and face but there is no emotion whatsoever.”
Subject 2: 30 Year-old Male, experienced in engineering and music.
“There is a load of things to bring up in terms of that, its similar to the chicken and the egg question. Does it take a person to program it enough to do the art or does the person program it to learn the emotions? Is it to create the machine outright to perform the task, or do we fuel our experiences and emotions to help it learn? To answer the question, yes it will be possible, but it all depends on if the machine learns it all through itself or if its influenced into code and information inputted by programmers.
All art whether its painting, music or writing, art is subjective and its relative and anyone could take a picture of a sunset and post it online and its considered art. The next day, someone else takes a photo in the same spot and its art. It’s both a yes and a no.
You can’t look at the Mona Lisa and think ‘It makes me feel this way, that is a fact’ because its subjective. Machines are definitively adjective: they aren’t influenced by feelings.”
Subject 2 backs up some of his claims with an indirect quote by Gilbert Ryle, a British Philosopher who pioneered a theory in 1949. Named solely as ‘The Ghost in the Machine theory’:
“The human body falls under mechanical law; mind activity cannot be seen. Humans consist of two things, one is public, one is private. Mind and body are bound, but one is physical existence, one is consciousness.”
The quote while not being direct from Gilbert Ryle, doesn’t literally talk about machines but more about humanity. But even so, it can likely be implied to be possible for a machine to be this way but only if they advance enough to a point where both can be separated entirely as a human can.
“Machines aren’t capable of reflection and thought and if they did in the future, would they still be classed as machine? The mind works on its own, you can sit and think about something and it programs your body to move and work and you can be introspective without the body’s interference. Basically, you’d be able to train a robot to make art, but it wouldn’t be subjective cause its learning from someone else to make art that emotive.”
Subject 2 is shown the sketch and asked what emotions they get from it and what they think overall:
“It’s cool and I’m impressed at the basic details, the more I stare, the more I can compare it to you. Yeah, its impressive but in time I’m sure it will be capable of drawing a portrait/image of a person. It’s a form of art but its an objective form of art, because it draws the image. Art doesn’t necessarily have to sweep them off their feet or cry but if that is something they need to be looking for then it still needs a human element. It has your hair, the dark tone and the glasses it’s their but there are so many arguments. For subjective art you will always need that human element, I believe if you could put a human brain into a robot then it would be possible.
Say you have two guys, Mr. Brown and Mr. Robinson and they are having a brain operation. They get operated on by an abysmal doctor and they switch brains and bodies, but Mr. Brown’s body dies, and Mr. Robinson’s brain dies along with it. Leaving Mr. Brown’s brain which is alive in Mr. Robinson’s body, (lets call him; Brownson) he says he is Mr. Brown and he recognises Mr. Brown’s family and friends and the memories of himself growing up. But when he sees Mr. Robinson’s family, he doesn’t know who they are.”
Subject 3: 29 Year-old Female, experience in the arts and has a degree at Bolton University
“I think robots and machines even now are able to do a lot and replicate emotion and there is always a good formula to a good film, a good book and a robot can learn such a formula but could it illicit a similar response? Probably, but I think there is an extent to it, I don’t think they could truly be able to create something new only mimicked renditions of what we have already created.”
Subject 3 is shown the sketch and asked what emotions they get from it and what they think overall:
“I don’t know my exact feelings about it, but it is good and you know how artists have a type of style and that is what surprises me. It doesn’t look like a robot has done it and is more like an organic depiction of a person’s idea. Its very basic and has got a bit of your fringe, glasses and smile but it’s weird, beyond weird.”
The questions have been asked and the answers have been received, but where does this lead to my final opinion? From what I have gathered from the remarkable minds of simply remarkable people, I’d have to say that there is no doubt that our expertise in creating art and literature is nowhere near in danger of being jeopardised by machines and or artificial intelligences.
If history has a due course of repeating itself over and over, every so often with new lifestyles, new technologies, new shifts in culture and power and even new pandemics. Then by all means, not everybody is going to be replaced and/or particularly have their livelihoods as artists and writers and independent thinkers put at risk.
Subjectivity is a clause to choose what we see in ourselves and what we therefore see in art and literature, it can be a disappointment to one person but an invigorating portrayal of grandeur or humanity to somebody else. Experimentation be it of artistic and/or scientific inquiry has always been a grand pursuit to undergo, but if you are going to do something do it with your heart on your sleeve. Passionate determination and the willingness to explore the unknown and become one with it while overcoming the odds is as human as it gets and that is why I, Ethan Camilleri, believe that machines will not be able to create something as great as a human can but when the symbiotic link between man and machine is ultimately established I hope to have my brain in one. So that I can finally see that connection we have been waiting for, come alive before our eyes.
“A person is a thinking intelligent being that has reason and reflection, considers itself as itself, in different times and places. They think about themselves in the past, present and future, and conditional, and in a variety of different places.”
-British Philosopher John Locke (1632-1704)