Why Do We Need A.I. Art?

OpenAI’s DALL-E 2‘s impressive drawings bolster a theory that computers are better than humans — that’s a lie.

Colin Horgan


Do you want to see an image of teddy bears mixing sparkling chemicals as mad scientists in a steampunk style? Next question: How many do you want? DALL-E 2, the upgraded artificial intelligence imagery program from OpenAI that can create unique images merely from written descriptions, can provide as many as you need. It can also show those bears doing the same in different styles — say that of a 1990s Saturday morning cartoon. Is it perfect? Take a look:

An image DALL-E 2 created based on a prompt. At first glance, it’s impressive, but the details reveal weird mistakes: Why do their paws meld together? What’s going on in the spaces below their arms? Etc.

The answer is clearly no, it’s not perfect.* But it’s not bad.

DALL-E 2 can also be prompted to imitate images that already exist, like a picture of a shop window or home interiors. Here’s an example of what it comes up with:

A rendering of a store from DALL-E 2, based on a photo of a real store. This looks good, but how does that door work? What’s up with the windows?

Like other artificial intelligence programs released in recent years, like ones that produce images of non-existent people or that write entire newspaper columns on their own, DALL-E 2 brings us close to the uncanny — something we know to be unreal but that could be real. Interestingly, what makes DALL-E 2’s images uncanny, and thus reveal its mechanical nature, are its imperfections.

Unfinished lines colliding with others, doors that we can see wouldn’t actually work, surfaces blending together — these are all evidence that DALL-E 2’s images, good as they are, still remain some distance from rendering a world as we know and live it. Human-made drawings would also contain mistakes, but DALL-E’s mistakes are ones humans wouldn’t make. Inaccuracy is a sign of human touch — but only certain kinds of inaccuracies: intelligent ones. The DALL-E 2 images are good, but the imperfections are a tell. It’s just ‘guessing’ because it doesn’t really ‘know’. This isn’t intelligence after all, it’s just covering its ass.

As it happens, DALL-E 2 can also mimic artistic style, arguably one of the most obvious showcases of human creative touch. Among the examples of art OpenAI used as a prompt from which DALL-E 2 could extrapolate was Georges Seurat’s A