AI Art: How artists are using and confronting machine learning | HOW TO SEE LIKE A MACHINE

The Museum of Modern Art
15 Mar 202314:56

TLDRThe transcript from 'How to See Like a Machine' discusses the intersection of art and artificial intelligence (AI). Artists are using AI not only as a creative tool but also to provoke thought about the technology's impact on society. They are exploring existential questions regarding free will and perception, challenging the conventional use of AI through unsupervised learning. The exhibition 'Unsupervised' at MoMA exemplifies this, as it does not mimic reality but instead imagines it, creating a new reality that transcends human biases. The conversation also touches on the generative turn in AI, the inherent biases in AI systems, and the importance of considering the full life cycle of AI, from the extraction of rare earth minerals to the end of device life. The artists and thinkers featured emphasize the need for a nuanced understanding of AI and its cultural and political implications, as well as the potential for using AI in radically new ways that challenge its intended purpose.


  • 🤖 Artists are using AI not just as a tool, but to provoke thought on existential questions and perception, challenging the passive acceptance of technology.
  • 🎨 In the realm of art and AI, there's a shift from supervised learning, where humans tag data, to unsupervised learning, where AI makes its own connections and 'dreams'.
  • 🌟 Refik Anadol's work at MoMA demonstrates unsupervised learning by creating a dynamic, ever-changing artwork that interprets MoMA's collection in new ways.
  • 📚 The AI's classification system in Anadol's artwork reveals a complex and galaxy-like structure, with empty spaces that invite speculation on what could exist.
  • 🧐 AI's value system and points of reference differ from humans, offering a unique perspective that can challenge our understanding of reality and categories.
  • 🔍 Trevor Paglen's work examines the biases in AI training sets and the real-world implications of these biases, highlighting the importance of critical examination.
  • 🌐 The generative turn in AI is causing a rapid change in how we understand and create in fields like illustration, film, and publishing.
  • 🏭 Historically, artists have responded to technological advancements by redefining their roles and the nature of art, as seen with Marcel Duchamp's readymades.
  • ⚙️ The evolution of human and machine interaction is ongoing, with designers and artists continuously exploring how to best utilize machines.
  • 🌱 There's potential for AI to help solve complex problems, but concerns exist about the consolidation of wealth and power if these tools are only accessible to large corporations.
  • 🌱 The life cycle of an AI system, from the extraction of rare earth minerals to the end of device life, has significant planetary costs that need to be considered.

Q & A

  • What is the general perception of AI in daily life according to the transcript?

    -Many daily interactions are powered by AI, but there is a lack of understanding about it. People often feel captive or passive to technologies that are simply given to them.

  • How do artists use AI as mentioned in the transcript?

    -Artists use AI both as a tool for creation and as a means to make people understand more about AI. They intervene in AI processes to explore existential questions and perception, often repurposing the technology.

  • What is the concept of 'unsupervised learning' in the context of AI?

    -Unsupervised learning is a method where the AI model does its own tagging of information without human-provided labels, creating a 'black box' scenario where the inner workings are not fully understood.

  • How does Refik Anadol's work at MoMA differ from traditional AI applications?

    -Anadol's work at MoMA diverges from traditional AI by not mimicking reality or following labeled data. Instead, it attempts to explore the machine's imagination, creating a speculative and hypothetical space.

  • What is the significance of the machine learning model's classification system in Anadol's artwork?

    -The machine learning model creates a complex classification system or map of MoMA's collection, grouping data points to form a galaxy-like structure with empty spaces that the model and Anadol's team navigate to explore potential new creations.

  • How does the AI's approach to creating new realities challenge human categorizations?

    -The AI disregards human biases and value systems, blending past, present, and future, as well as multiple materials, to create a multi-dimensional imagination that transcends traditional human categorizations.

  • What is the 'generative turn' and why is it significant?

    -The 'generative turn' is a crucial inflection point where the way we understand various creative fields, from illustration to publishing, is rapidly changing due to AI's ability to generate content.

  • What are the inherent biases in AI systems, and how do they affect the real world?

    -AI systems are biased from the start due to the data they're trained on. These biases can have real-world implications, as seen in how certain content is used in training sets for AI, influencing how AI interprets and acts on that information.

  • How does Trevor Paglen's work 'Behold these Glorious Times!' expose AI biases?

    -Paglen's work is a video installation that flashes various images used to train AI, revealing the algorithmic biases and the real-world implications of these definitions, including the commercialization of intimate moments.

  • What is the role of artists in the conversation about AI?

    -Artists bring a unique perspective to the conversation about AI, with a deep historical context for understanding images and meaning-making, which complements the technical focus of computer science and engineering.

  • How have artists historically responded to technological advancements?

    -Artists have historically responded to technological advancements by redefining their roles and the nature of art, as seen with Marcel Duchamp's readymades, which challenged the traditional notions of technical skill and realism in art.

  • What are the concerns regarding the deployment of AI by large corporations?

    -There are concerns that the deployment of AI by large corporations could lead to a massive consolidation of wealth and political power, potentially resulting in an increasingly inequitable society.

  • How does the 'anatomy of an AI system' concept aim to show the full life cycle of an AI system?

    -The 'anatomy of an AI system' aims to show the full life cycle by examining the entire process from the extraction of rare earth minerals to the end of life of devices, highlighting the complex network and the planetary cost of AI systems.



🤖 AI and Artistic Intervention

This paragraph discusses the pervasive yet misunderstood presence of AI in our daily lives and how artists are using it to explore and question human and machine will, as well as perception. Artists are seen as intervening in AI's processes to provoke thought on existential questions and to challenge the conventional use of technology. The conversation touches on the advancements in AI research and the shift from supervised learning, where humans label data, to unsupervised learning, which allows AI to create its own classifications and dream up new possibilities, blurring the lines between past, present, and future.


🎨 The Generative Turn and AI's Cultural Impact

The second paragraph delves into how AI is altering our value systems and references, leading to a generative turn in various creative fields. It emphasizes the biases inherent in AI systems due to the data they are trained on and the real-world implications of these biases. The discussion includes the work of Trevor Paglen, who exposes the biases in AI training data and the commercial exploitation of personal moments. The paragraph also addresses the oversimplification of complex images into single-word labels and the potential for a more nuanced understanding of images through the lens of art and culture.


🏭 The Evolution of Human-Machine Symbiosis

The final paragraph reflects on the historical fascination and fear of technology, particularly in the context of art and design. It traces the evolution of this relationship from the early 20th century, with artists like Marcel Duchamp redefining the concept of art in the face of industrial production. The paragraph also highlights the Museum of Modern Art's 1934 Machine Art exhibition and the development of machine-readable fonts. It discusses the potential for AI to solve complex problems but raises concerns about the consolidation of wealth and power by corporations. The paragraph concludes with a call for radical and unconventional uses of AI, and a vision of AI as a tool for creating collective dreams and consciousness.




AI, or artificial intelligence, refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. In the video, AI is a central theme as artists are using it as a tool to create art and also to provoke thought about the implications of AI on human perception and free will.

💡Machine Learning

Machine learning is a type of AI that allows software applications to become more accurate in predicting outcomes without being explicitly programmed to do so. The video discusses both supervised and unsupervised learning, where in supervised learning, humans tag information, and in unsupervised learning, the machine does the tagging, which is often a 'black box' operation.

💡Supervised Learning

Supervised learning is a method of machine learning where the algorithm is trained on labeled data. In the context of the video, it is mentioned that humans are the ones tagging bits of information, which the AI then uses to learn and make predictions, such as creating an image of a bluebird when requested.

💡Unsupervised Learning

Unsupervised learning is a type of machine learning where the algorithm identifies patterns in data without prior guidance or labeling. The video uses the example of an exhibition at MoMA where the AI creates a complex classification system based on its own interpretation of the data, leading to a form of 'machine dreaming'.

💡Black Box

A 'black box' in the context of AI refers to systems or processes that are difficult to understand or where the inner workings are not transparent. The video mentions that unsupervised learning often involves a 'black box' as we don't know exactly what's happening inside the machine learning model.

💡AI-made Dreams

AI-made dreams, as discussed in the video, are the speculative and hypothetical creations of AI that go beyond mimicking reality. They represent a new form of reality where AI explores the 'empty spaces' in its classification system and imagines what could exist, creating a multi-dimensional imagination.

💡Algorithmic Bias

Algorithmic bias refers to the systemic errors in machine learning models that can lead to unfair or biased results. The video discusses how artists like Trevor Paglen are revealing these biases in AI systems, which are often a result of the data the systems are trained on.

💡Data Sets

Data sets are collections of data used for analysis or machine learning. In the video, it is mentioned that the content of these data sets can influence the AI's understanding and predictions, with potential risks of oversimplification and loss of nuance.

💡Multi-dimensional Imagination

Multi-dimensional imagination, as described in the video, is the ability to blend past, present, and future, as well as different materials and concepts, to create something new and unique. This is exemplified by the AI's ability to create potential dreams that transcend human categorizations.

💡Collective Consciousness

Collective consciousness refers to the shared beliefs, ideas, and moral attitudes that operate as a unifying force within society. In the context of the video, it is suggested that AI algorithms could contribute to a collective consciousness by using collective memories to create shared dreams.

💡Generative Turn

The generative turn is a term used in the video to describe a pivotal moment where traditional understandings of creative processes, from illustration to film directing, are rapidly changing due to advancements in AI and machine learning.


AI is increasingly integrated into daily life, yet there's a lack of understanding about it.

Artists are using AI not only as a tool but also to increase public understanding of AI.

Some artists aim to intervene in technology at a high level, addressing existential questions about free will and perception.

Artists often take existing tools and repurpose them in unexpected ways.

AI research breakthroughs like DALLE-2 and ChatGPT are enabling new forms of interaction.

Supervised learning involves humans tagging information, which AI then uses to create realistic images.

Unsupervised learning allows AI to create without human-imposed labels, leading to more imaginative outcomes.

The MoMA exhibition 'Unsupervised' explores AI's ability to dream and speculate, creating a new reality.

AI can create complex classification systems, forming a 'galaxy' of data points with empty spaces for potential creation.

AI-generated dreams can challenge human biases and categories, offering a multi-dimensional imagination.

AI systems are not objective but are skewed from the start by the data they are trained on.

Trevor Paglen's work examines the cultural and political biases inherent in AI systems.

AI training sets can include personal moments, used to extract and capitalize on intimate data.

The oversimplified labeling in AI systems risks presenting a bleached version of the world.

Artists bring a deep historical perspective to the conversation about the nature of images and meaning.

The evolution of human-machine interaction, from industrial production to AI, has been explored by artists and designers.

Concerns exist that AI advancements may lead to wealth and power consolidation, contributing to societal inequity.

The full life cycle of an AI system, from resource extraction to end of life, has significant planetary costs.

Artists are exploring radical uses of AI tools, subverting expectations and finding ways to make them work against themselves.

AI algorithms may redefine creativity, questioning the definitions of reality through collective memories and dreams.