This blurry portrait of a man may not look like much but it just sold at auction for $432,500, nearly 45 times its high estimate. What makes it so special? The Portrait of Edmond Belamy is the work of Artificial Intelligence and it's the first of its kind to sell at a major auction house.
This portrait, however, is not the product of a human mind. It was created by an artificial intelligence, an algorithm defined by that algebraic formula with its many parentheses. And when it went under the hammer in the Prints & Multiples sale at Christie's on 23-25 October, Portrait of Edmond Belamy sold for an incredible $432,500, signalling the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage.
The painting, if that is the right term, is one of a group of portraits of the fictional Belamy family created by Obvious, a Paris-based collective consisting of Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier. They are engaged in exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence, and their method goes by the acronym GAN, which stands for 'generative adversarial network'.
'The algorithm is composed of two parts,' says Caselles-Dupré. 'On one side is the Generator, on the other the Discriminator. We fed the system with a data set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th century to the 20th. The Generator makes a new image based on the set, then the Discriminator tries to spot the difference between a human-made image and one created by the Generator. The aim is to fool the Discriminator into thinking that the new images are real-life portraits. Then we have a result.'
However, there is controversy surrounding the piece, which is laid out in detail in The Verge:
But for members of the burgeoning AI art community, there's another attribute that sets the Portrait of Edmond Belamy apart: it's a knock-off.
The print was created by Obvious, a trio of 25-year-old French students whose goal is to "explain and democratize" AI through art. Over the past year, they've made a series of portraits depicting members of the fictional Belamy family, amplifying their work through attention-grabbing press releases. But insiders say the code used to generate these prints is mostly the work of another artist and programmer: 19-year-old Robbie Barrat, a recent high school graduate who shared his algorithms online via an open-source license.
The members of Obvious don't deny that they borrowed substantially from Barrat's code, but until recently, they didn't publicize that fact either. This has created unease for some members of the AI art community, which is open and collaborative and taking its first steps into mainstream attention. Seeing an AI portrait on sale at Christie's is a milestone that elevates the entire community, but has this event been hijacked by outsiders?
Continue reading The Verge article: HOW THREE FRENCH STUDENTS USED BORROWED CODE TO PUT THE FIRST AI PORTRAIT IN CHRISTIE'S
More from the Christie's article: Is artificial intelligence set to become art's next medium? (Be sure to check out the signature on the piece!)
image via Christie's