Let's face it, robots are going to steal all our jobs. It'd be a tragedy if machines weren't already on course to be way better at what they do than we are. Case in point: the Novice Art Blogger, a Tumblr page set up by Matthew Plummer Fernandez. The British-Colombian artist programmed a bot with deep learning algorithms to analyse art; so instead of an overarticulate critic rambling about praxis, you get a review that gets down to the nitty-gritty about what exactly you see in front of you.
The results are charmingly honest: think a round robin of Google Translate text uninhibited by PR fluff, personal favouritism or the whims of a bad mood. We asked Novice Art Blogger to review our most recent Winter 2014 cover with Kendall Jenner. Here's what it said:
There is a young woman dressed in white and red with a large pink heart written on her face, or maybe a woman with red feathers holding a large amount of hair with a teddy bear. I'm reminded of a woman adorned with banana on her body and head.
Sound about right? We spoke to Fernandez for more insight.
What's the best review you've seen Novice Art Blogger give?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: Either the Barbara Hepworth sculpture described as metal ice-cream, or the Aubrey Williams painting, "Death and the Conquistador", described as a close-up view of a pizza, resembling a pizza decorated to look like an angry bird.
Does it ever give bad reviews?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: No, I think the bot is simply articulating what it interprets; there is something very noble about that, that it is not passing judgement. However it has a childlike naivety that it gets away with; completely missing the intentions of the artist and calling a serious war depiction a pizza would probably be offensive coming from an expert art critic.
Is using a computer to review art the most honest way to do it?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: Yes, I think there is a value in having a machine describe art without the burden of prior art knowledge, art history, trends, and favouritism. It makes us reflect on whether art should be able to stand on its own and elicit unaffected experiences of art, or whether to read art we need that cultural context and formative background, or a mix of both. The bot though does have its own background reflected in its views, it can only draw upon experience, and its knowledge of the world is limited to the captioned images that it has been trained with. A lot of those captions must have been incredibly simple and sometimes poorly spelt, because the bot tends to regurgitate those flaws in its own descriptions.
Will robots steal creative jobs?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: I think the relationship between humans and robots is becoming so blurred and entangled; behind every robot or AI there may be an invisible network of human intelligence it draws from. Not to mention creative practitioners increasingly use automation and computation in their work; Photoshop for instance is full of robot-like tools. That makes it impossible to say this is a humans vs robots conflict.
Was the project inspired by frustrating reviews of your own work?
Matthew Plummer Fernandez: The project wasn’t particularly inspired by personal frustrations, but your question has prompted me to consider the fact that I do have this anxiety caused by sharing platforms like Tumblr, where I feel socially obliged to share and comment upon art. Perhaps subconsciously the bot is one method of alleviating that pressure. I’m tempted to unpack that as a topic, how technology for sharing is not just an act of technical engineering but also an act of social engineering, one that reconfigures us to share more even if we’re not experts nor inclined to do so.
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