Can Artists be Replaced by Technology?

This article was published by the Stillman Exchange (Seton Hall's Business School paper) on Jan 24, 2017.

The age of robots is quickly approaching (if not already here), and it may pose a threat to aspiring artists. There are two technological advances that will have a particular impact on the art industry: Virtual/Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

Virtual Reality devices provide fully immersive experiences that allow users to personally interact within a computer-generated, three-dimensional environment. And virtual reality is not limited to video games. Graphic designers may want to take a look into this, not only for game design, but also for social media platforms and educational platforms. Videographers ought to consider adapting to this trend by training themselves on how to use 360-degree cameras. Painters may want to have a go at Google's Tilt Brush, which allows you to paint inside a virtual reality.

Augmented Reality devices allow users to function in the real world, supplemented by computer-generated information. There are an increasing number of exhibitions that allow viewers to interact with art pieces that 'come to life' through augmented reality with their smartphone. Those who like to stick with traditional mediums may want to consider using augmented reality to show photographs of their artworks at multiple galleries at the same time.

In addition to these new robotic tools, I encourage people to consider developments in artificial intelligence. Machines with Artificial Intelligence function in ways normally thought to only be associated with human minds. For example, some AIs are self-learning or are able to understand human speech. What does this have to do with artists? Well, people recently created algorithms that allowed them to 3D-print an original painting that looked exactly like a Rembrandt (who is recognized as one of the greatest artists of all time).

Scared now? Some ask, "But Artificial Intelligence cannot possibly encroach on the beauty of the soul... can it?" Well, take a look at Cozmo, an AI robot designed to mimic human emotions. Of course, this robot is not the end-all-be-all; but neither were flip-up cell phones. It may not be impractical to predict that one day, AI will be able to do everything that we artists can do.

But not all hope is lost; here are a few consoling thoughts:

I expect that ours would be one of the last occupations to be replaced by AI, considering how challenging it is to quantify emotions and personalities.

I also imagine that after the robot-craze over digital realities, autonomous vehicles, 3D-printers and AI, many people will look once again to the value of the 'human touch' and the raw, natural world. Humans are flawed, and we may need to be prepared that aspect of ourselves; our struggles are what make us unique - what make us beautiful.

It is very important for us artists to begin asking ourselves how we are going to adapt to this increasingly technologically world. Once upon a time, people bought from whatever artists were in their local area. Now, people can buy from any artist they like via the internet, making it all the more challenging for each one of us to stand out among millions of other artists.

So what can be done?

Let me explain one approach with a personal experience of mine. Two summers ago in Anchorage, Alaska, I found a very nice handmade belt with native designs on it, made by a man who called himself Ziggy.

We talked briefly about our lives, and he told me that he painted most of the murals in Anchorage, learned more than 100 trades throughout the course of his life, and ran for mayor of Anchorage three times.

The belt was quite expensive, but I bought it anyways. I watched him finish making it for me by customizing it to fit my waist. Had I seen the exact same belt for sale at Macy's, I would never have bought it for that price.

But I got a handmade Alaskan belt made by a man with a scraggly beard who ran for mayor three times - I do not regret a thing.

There is a saying that people do not buy artwork - they buy the artist. Marketing one's artwork on social media is just the beginning. One needs to market their personality, their character, their visions, and even their passions. Our art is not the only thing that has to be relatable; the more relatable you are as a person, the easier it becomes to create exchanges.

In summary, current technological advances are having enormous impacts on our industry. I strongly encourage other artists to think critically about how the can adapt to current and incoming trends in order to share their individual gifts and insights with the world.


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