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Who is the author of AI-created paintings?

By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-26 09:27
Paintings created by Microsoft's artificial intelligence robot, Xiaoice, are displayed at the arts museum of China's Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing on July 14, 2019. [Photo/IC]

As paintings created by artificial intelligence pop up around the world and are being increasingly recognized as art, a fundamental question emerges: who is the author of these artworks?

When an AI-generated painting of Edmond Belamy was auctioned at Christie's last year, the artist's signature was an algebraic formula that defined the algorithm which drew the painting, which seems to imply that the algorithm is the true author.

But in the eyes of Qiu Zhijie, an artist and professor at China's Central Academy of Fine Arts, three contributors should be given credit - the AI model, the company that develops it and those involved in identifying what are excellent paintings.

"Take Xiaoice's paintings for example. Microsoft developed the computer algorithm that powers Xiaoice. We identified the aesthetic standards for the AI drawing bot. Xiaoice also played a big part in creating the pictures. The three parties are all the authors," Qiu said.

From a legal perspective, Microsoft is the author of Xiaoice's paintings because Microsoft developed the platform. But Xiaoice created all the pictures by herself, thus triggering a complicated situation, which needs to be thoroughly discussed, said Xu Yuanchun, general manager of the AI creation department at Microsoft's Search Technology Center in Asia.

In the future, the signature and copyright may be separated and not owned by the same party, Xu said. He recalled that when Xiaoice's first poetry collection was published in 2017, China's regulator made an exception by allowing Xiaoice, not Microsoft, to be recorded as the author of the collection.

"Similarly, the artist's signature at the bottom of the paintings is that of Xiaoice, not Microsoft, because we never told the AI bot how to draw the pictures, it produced all the broad strokes and fine details itself," Xu said.

According to him, rapid technological advancements will trigger new discussions about legal issues that the public has long taken for granted.

But analysts generally agreed that authorship is an open question. If the artist is the one that creates the image, then that would be the machine. But if the artist is the one that holds the vision and wants to share the message, then that would still be humans.

"AI is one of several technologies that will have an impact on the art market. There is no need to rush to define what AI paintings are and to resist such artwork. It is an irreversible trend. Some artists are even starting to use machines to create works. It will be exciting to see how this revolution plays out," said Hu Changqiong, a painter at the Chinese Academy of Oil Painting.

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