State Fair Award-Winning Digital Artwork Sparks National Controversy

Jason Allen knew his digital artwork “Space Opera Theater” won the top prize at the Colorado State Fair on August 26. It was a unique choice: the work was not created directly by Allen’s hand, but by an Artificial Intelligence that he programmed. Allen had exactly four days to enjoy the win – until VICE picked up the story on August 31. Then the pixels really hit the fan.

Allen had posted the news of the award to his own Discord account and was encouraged to post it to a thread where participants share information about digital media in the physical world. That’s where VICE found it – with growing outcry from artists protesting the price and questioning whether AI-created art is actually art.

“We watch the death of art unfold before our eyes” commented @Omnimorpho on Twitter. “If creative jobs aren’t machine-proof, then even highly skilled jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete.”

Allen learned that his win had gone viral just before he set off on a road trip to Las Vegas to attend the World Masters Jiu Jitsu tournament. “I was getting all these emails and text messages while I was driving,” Allen says. “I did my first interview with a newspaper on the road.”

The talks did not stop. Allen makes about two a day, every day since.

Allen is the founder and president of Colorado-based company Incarnate Games, designed to “discover and explore emerging markets, new technologies and their impact on the gaming industry.” It seeks to “blur the lines between ‘now’ and ‘tomorrow'”, he says. And “Space Opera Theater” is just one of many pieces of his Space Opera Theater series, which Allen plans to debut soon.

Click to enlarge

Another work by the same Space Opera Theater project.

Jason Allen

At the heart of the controversy is a question that philosophers of aesthetics have pondered for centuries: what is the fundamental essence of art? Allen says the answer is “transformation”.

“Shaping your vision, anything someone does that elicits a reaction from their audience – that’s art,” he says. “You took something from within and brought it out. You brought it into the world, and the world reacted. It’s art. It’s fundamental. And that’s where the people start arguing.”

But should this be a controversy at all? When a computer called Deep Blue beat chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov at his own game over 25 years ago, there was no outcry declaring the spirit of the game dead. do we celebrate AI on the one hand to kick our ass in chess,” says Allen, “but we don’t celebrate AI to kick ass in the art world? the individual. Very few people could compete with chess masters at the top of their game, but there are so many artists. There is no analogy. Anyone can be an artist, and that’s how it should be.

But the controversy is also complicated by the fact that most people – even some of the artists commenting vehemently on the matter in online forums – don’t understand the process. Allen uses an online research lab called Midjourney, which uses AI to create images from text clues provided by users.

“It’s a method of machine learning where you show the algorithm how to do a task, and once it figures out how to do that task, it can extrapolate from there and learn how to do it better and better. “, says Allen. “Then this essential concept is applied to billions of images on the Internet.”

At this point, it’s a lot like the old joke about how an artist carves an elephant: they start with a big chunk of granite, then remove anything that doesn’t look like an elephant. “That’s crazy,” Allen said. “It’s as if the image was already there, and now it reveals itself. Think of the miracle of that.

Some artists share Allen’s appreciation for the process. Others – clearly – do not. But Allen compares it to the stages of grief. “Some people are just in the anger phase right now,” he says. “It’s been happening for so long. I’m not trying to shed light. I know it’s serious and I understand the ethics. It’s not about me — it’s about companies that might choose not to hire an artist. If they pass on an AI artist to save money, that’s on them. I understand that’s the danger, but AI It’s also going to provide a wealth of opportunities. We just have to get past the shock so we can adjust, embrace it, and then move on. We’ll see where we end up after that.

Ultimately, Allen says he doesn’t mind the Keyboard Warriors controversy in the arts community.

“I don’t see any of that hatred in the real world,” he says. “When I go to tell people about it, they are very loving and interested. I’m not trying to be cantankerous. This sparked a lively debate. It’s the one that has to happen. I’m just glad I was able to help bring the discussion to the world.

To follow Jason Allen and see his Space Opera Theater project comes to life, see its website.

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