Google’s ‘Inceptionism’ Art Sells Big at San Francisco Auction

You've never seen 'Starry Night' like this before.

A Vincent van Gogh-inspired Google Deep Dream painting. Photo: courtesy Google.
A Vincent van Gogh-inspired Google Deep Dream painting.
Photo: courtesy Google.

At least our technological overlords appreciate the arts.

A group of 29 paintings made by Google artificial intelligence were sold at a charity auction in San Francisco over the weekend, with the priciest artwork of the night receiving an $8,000 winning bid, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The paintings, which are almost like a computer’s dreams, are created using Google computers through a process its creators have dubbed “Inceptionism,” in reference to the “neural network architecture” proposal used in the project.

A Google Deep Dream painting. Photo: courtesy Google.

A Google Deep Dream painting.
Photo: courtesy Research at Google.

Here, the computers’ artificial neural networks are designed to learn from example data. The networks are fed a large number of images, and over time are able to recognize visual patterns.

Based on what the neural networks learn, they can create new works of art. The auction website describes this process as “essentially ‘imagining’ images based on the learned rules and associations.”

Of course, the process also involves input from the eleven Google engineers and artists running the program. If the network starts to identify a particular image in the data, the operators will feed it images that will encourage that perception. So when the computer thinks part of the sky in Vincent van Gogh‘s Starry Night looks like a bird, the human team runs with it.

A Google Deep Dream painting. Photo: courtesy Google.

A Google Deep Dream painting.
Photo: courtesy Research at Google.

The team has developed techniques which can be used to create unique images, trippy fractals, or to generate a new work based in the style of an existing painting.

It’s not just computers getting in on the art scene: painting robots—and art critics—are also becoming a thing, with their own competitions and 36 hour-long robot painting sessions controlled by people on the Internet. (If only the tragically-destroyed art-loving robot hitchhiker had lived to see such technology-accepting times.)

“I used to think art was some peculiar thing that humans do,” one of the auction’s organizer, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, the head of Google’s machine intelligence group in Seattle, told the WSJ. “But now I think when we meet the aliens, they’ll have something just like it.”

A Google Deep Dream painting. Photo: courtesy Google.

A Google Deep Dream painting.
Photo: courtesy Research at Google.

The “DeepDream: The Art of Neural Networks” auction was held at the Grand Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District by Research at Google and the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, a San Francisco nonprofit.


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