> topics > Literature

Despite threats, AI can contribute to literature and art

LI HUI | 2018-08-10 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


An AI robot writes a poem on paper. AI-based “robotic poets” are not only capable of composing poems, but can also put them to paper using a writing brush. Photo: CFP

Artificial intelligence has been in the spotlight in recent years thanks to the rapid development of computer technologies, and in particular deep learning.

In 2017, Xiaobing, or Little Ice, a robot developed by Beijing-based Microsoft Research Asia, published a collection of modern poems titled “Sunshine Misses Windows” before defeating four talented poets in the CCTV science challenge program “AI VS Human,” or “Ji Zhi Guo Ren.” After deep learning using a great many artworks by Rembrandt, Microsoft-developed painting software “The Next Rembrandt” drew a portrait that was barely different from an authentic one in a museum. AI singer Xiaochi created by Cambridge University not only could talk with human beings, but also was capable of speech, voiceprint and emotion recognition, and she sang so well as to astonish the audience.

The fast development of artificial intelligence has brought unprecedented opportunities to literature and art, but challenges loom large as well. The changes it has brought to the foundations of human survival have prompted mankind to reflect on a series of issues like the relationship between art and reality, the status of writers and artists in artistic activities, and the meaning of the existence of art and its trends.

Potential and limitations
Artificial intelligence has made remarkable progress in literary and artistic creation. Emotional expression and imagination, which were previously regarded as weaknesses of the technology, have met with breakthroughs.

Super-strong computing capacities have enabled AI robots to process human emotive data and build emotion models. Massive data on the internet has made it easier for them to learn about literature and art.

Artificial intelligence is able to finish reading and observing works of tens of thousands of writers and artists within an extremely short period of time while analyzing laws within. “Maiden Poet” Xiaobing, for example, can discern emotions from human faces through analysis of pictures, thereby laying a groundwork for her compositions.

If further developed, substantive AI robots can almost perfectly demonstrate nuanced human emotions and feelings through facial expressions and motions. Certainly, however, it is another matter whether the emotions and feelings they display are visceral or just performances out of data computation.
Literary and artistic works created by present-day artificial intelligence have already outshone those of numerous writers and artists due to their lightning creation speed, superb learning abilities, diverse techniques of expression, plentiful emotions, wild imagination, skillful stylistic shifts, accurate prediction of consumers and penetrating art appraisal.

Based on previous Turing tests, AI-created literary and artistic works have attained or exceeded the level of ordinary writers and artists. Robots have brought fear and panic to the literature and arts community.

Yang Shousen, a professor of Chinese language and literature at Shandong Normal University, said in his book Life, Literature and Art, “artificial intelligence applied to literary and artistic creation has brought to humans excitement and sorrow at the same time.” Pessimists even hold that the jobs that artists live on will soon be taken by AI, and human literature and art will come to an end. Artificial intelligence will thoroughly degrade humans by manipulating them and depriving them of creativity and idealism, challenging the dignity of the human race as intelligent life.

However, things are not as bad as pessimists have imagined. Artificial intelligence has by no means outperformed humans entirely in the field of literature and art. Despite big strides, AI still has no sense of selfhood as humans or other advanced intelligent animals do.

Humans can not only reflect on their body, but also on their mind, their life plans, emotions, beliefs and fates. Artificial intelligence, however, cannot recognize its own existence and think about its thought. Without a physical body as humans have, it doesn’t have emotions and feelings generated from birth, death, illness, old age or the vicissitudes of life.

Likewise, robots are unlikely to foster personalities determined by inborn genes and nurtured through later experiences, nor is there a likelihood that they will have unique life experiences, common sense or emotions accumulated from ongoing experience.

Maiden Poet Xiaobing, “The Next Rembrandt” and singer Xiaochi exist only in the internet. They are unable to understand the true meaning of life like real humans, so naturally they are unable to create immortal masterpieces.

AI robots are restricted to the environment they are placed in and cannot actively adapt to it. They are confined to the tasks set by the designer. They cannot paint when designed to write poems or play musical instruments when told to paint. They cannot move freely to cope with complicated environmental changes like human beings. This means AI artists are not able to replace their human counterparts yet.

Proper utilization essential
Although artificial intelligence has injected vitality into the human art world and added special colors to it, its negative impacts are obvious. First, artificial intelligences make literature and art that conforms to stereotypes. AI robots are restricted by algorithms and databases set by scientists, and their self-learning mechanisms haven’t been fully grasped.

AI robots triumph over humans in terms of creation speed, but through careful reading and observation, it can be found that countless AI literary and artistic works are somewhat similar. They can learn and draw upon the style of any brilliant writers and artists, and even produce plausible works, but they are yet to break through the level and height of human literature and art to create distinctive and refreshing artworks.

The development of AI literature and art has also posed ethical problems. Mankind is most concerned about what the relationship between AI robots and humans will be in the future. Will AI robots be neck and neck with humans and even become a new species to replace humanity? Or will they be new machines that obey human orders, serve human society, and contribute to the better and quicker development of mankind?

The prospects for artificial intelligence depend on how humans understand and utilize it. If AI technology is guided along the track favorable to the development of human society, then AI may have a bright future and tremendous promise in the literature and art realm.

Economically speaking, the development of artificial intelligence is subject to the logic of investors and consumers. In other words, it rests upon whether AI investors and owners can get returns, as well as whether consumers can obtain better, more cost-effective services.

When it comes to artificial intelligence in literature and art, whether huge investments made by investors and manufacturers can yield decent profits will be the decisive factor in its future development. Whether Maiden Poet Xiaobing can grow into a “mature literary youth” is up to how the literary market favors her and to investors’ estimate of her profitability.

If heavy investments yield little returns as her works are seldom bought and read, she will be abandoned by Microsoft, leaving her with a dark future and halted growth. Instead, if Microsoft finds a clear profit model suited to the literary industry from her, it is not unlikely that Xiaobing will become a literary giant.

Future artificial superintelligence artists might be autonomous and independent in their creation. AI technologies can lend writers and artists a hand, helping them with deep learning and improved learning efficiency, so that they can absorb all quintessence of human art and excel their predecessors.
Also AI robots can analyze materials and enrich ways of artistic expression to make human artists’ works even better, adding amazing colors to the human literary and art world and allowing cultural consumers to appreciate more beauty.

In the era of artificial intelligence, the high threshold for artistic creation has been lowered, so those with art dreams can make bold attempts with the help of artificial intelligence and contribute to the art world in their own way.

Artificial intelligence is also capable of deep data analysis to grasp consumers’ preferences and predict their literary and artistic needs, thus providing targeted consumer goods and services. So cultural consumers’ individual needs will be met to the greatest extent. This is undoubtedly a blessing.

Li Hui is an associate professor from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Shandong Normal University.

(edited by CHEN MIRONG)