AI Art: using generative art to enhance the human experience

Artists like REEPS100 are paving the way for using AI to enhance human life, not replace human workers.

If there’s one universal rule of technology, it’s this: the impact of a new technology will not be what we expect. And AI will be no exception to this rule. A good corollary to this is that people will always be scared of the impact of a new technology, as we’ve seen from the luddites onwards. Right now, people are understandably concerned about AI’s potential to deprive people of jobs. This is a concern rooted in reality: too many CEOs are rubbing their hands at the idea of replacing complicated, messy and expensive people with the simplicity of an AI.

(They may, of course, be fooling themselves as to how “simple” AI will be in reality…)

But what if that’s not how it turns out? Rather than AI replacing people, in the way that robots replaced assembly line workers, it acts as a human enhancer.

Bicycle for the creative mind

If Steve Jobs talked of the computer as a “bicycle for the mind”, artist REEPS100 is exploring the idea of AI as a bicycle for our ability to create. Here he is, duetting with an AI recreation of his own voice:

This brings us back to AI as assistive intelligence, rather than the more commonly thought of artificial intelligence. The generative AI systems we’re using are highly dependent on human input. They’re not self-generating, they create things with human parameters and prompts. They’re assistants to creativity. We can create genuine AI art, not by leaving the machine to do its own thing, but in dialogue between artists and tools. REEPS100 just made that dialogue more literal than most.

Which brings us, naturally, to ballet.



Infusing performance with AI art

Surely ballet, as a physical art form, is immune to the encroachment of AI? Well, of course, ballet is a mixed art form — it’s not just about the emotion of physical movement, but how that interacts with music. And, lest we forget, in most performances lighting and set design are part of the equation, too. The physicality of human movement interconnects with the sensations of photons hitting our eyeballs and pressure waves vibrating our eardrums.

Elements of that process can be enhanced through the use of AI, as REEPS100 — Harry Yeff — demonstrated earlier this year in collaboration with Leipzig International Ballet. Described as the first “AI ballet”, Yeff used generative AI in the music, but also in the set design and the very concept of the work. It is truly a work of AI art.

As Wallpaper* described it:

At the heart of Fusion is the music score (a blend of contemporary classical, electronica, and beatbox techniques) collaboratively composed and directed by Harry Yeff and Gadi Sassoon with Teddy Riley. Through AI-infused choreography by Mario Schroder and stage design and costumes by Paul Zoller, the ballet visually captures the journey towards harmony, and draws on Plato’s concept of the divided self.

You can get a sense of the performance in this video (in German):

The artificial inspiring the human

Despite the AI-infused nature of the perforce, it remained profoundly human and emotional. As one local reviewer put it:

There are moments of discovery, wonder, community, isolation and destruction. However, we never lose hope. Mario Schröder finds new ways of moving without losing his signature. There were even moments when he did the opposite of what I expected from him. I think it’s his best piece so far. Months and months of research with dancers reacting to sound definitely paid off. I’m excited to see what this experience inspires.

This is far from the first experiment in generating new art and performances with the aid of AI. It’s important to note that the human artists are still in charge of these performances. The AI is merely a source of inspiration and ideas: the humans then translate them into aesthetically pleasing reality. Yeff, in particular, has been working in this field for some years. He joined the Experiments in Art and Technology program at Bell Labs, where he researched creative applications for AI and Machine Learning, back in 2020. That’s decades ago in AI years…

Glimpsing our future through AI art

We’re at a crossroads: we nearly have a new tool. And we need to decide how to use it. We didn’t make a great job of that with the internet. Sure, you’re reading these works because of its existence. But you’ve also probably experienced the toxicity and abuse it brought because people were naive about its impacts. Artists have a role in this conversation because they encourage us to see things differently.

One could argue that much of art is about trying to see the human experience through new eyes. AI offers us a brand-new set of eyes, created by humans, but with a very different way of processing information. These early artist experiments with the new tools are already creating something interesting, and different. Something that adds to the experience of being human, rather than just displacing people from their jobs.

Fundamentally, AI is a new toolset in humanity’s arsenal. The real value artists bring to the debate about how we use it is that they remind us that it can be used to enhance our experience of being human, rather than just making business cheaper. We have a choice in how we use this tool. Let’s try to use it to make things better.

Harry Yeff — REEPS100 — will be appearing at NEXT23. Grab your place now.

Photo by Werclive on Unsplash