Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when the eye belongs to artificial intelligence, beauty could be translated as anything. 

AI researcher Robbie Barrat decided to see what would happen when he feed a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) thousands of nude portraits from a dataset and then trained it to create its own bizarre artworks.

Generative adversarial networks are defined as a class of artificial intelligence algorithms that are used in unsupervised machine learning, which uses two different neural networks.

“Basically what happens is you train the GAN to take in random vectors (lists of numbers), and output portraits. It does this using two neural networks; the generator and the discriminator,” Barrat told me. 

“The generator tries to come up with paintings that fool the discriminator, and the discriminator tries to learn how to tell the difference between real paintings from the dataset and fake paintings the generator feeds it. They both get better and better at their jobs over time, so the longer the GAN is trained, the more realistic the outputs will be.”

“Sometimes, the GAN will fall into what is called a ‘local minima,’ which means that the generator and the discriminator have found a way to keep trying to fool each other without actually getting better at the task,” Barrat said. 

“In this case, the generator keeps generating fleshy blobs that fool the discriminator pretty well, so overall they stop getting better at painting,” Barrat added.

The results are surreal. Barrat posted many of the final pieces of artwork — which can only be described as surreal, blobby, swirly naked women — on Twitter.

It’s almost like a very intoxicated Salvador Dali and a dizzy Picasso joined forces to make art. Barrat credits another artist — Sol LeWitt — to be the most similar to AI-assisted art. 

“LeWitt would create a list of rules for a drawing, and then send the rule list to a museum where people would interpret the rules and create the drawing there,” Barrat explained. “While his artwork was still rule based, room for interpretation of the rules is still there, just like in my AI-assisted artwork, but completely unlike what happens in more traditional rule-based generative art.”

Barrat’s AI-assisted artwork isn’t exactly sensual. In fact, most of the nudes look like they are melting on a very hot day.

“The way that it paints faces makes me uncomfortable. It always paints them as like, purple and yellow globs — that isn’t in the training set so I’m actually still not sure why it does that. Personally, I really love these super weird unrealistic ones.”  

The surrealist art movement seems boringly normal compared to this new wave of AI artists. Here’s hoping one day, art museums everywhere will have an artificial intelligence wing.

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