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Wired made it's own Artificial Intelligence art, and so can you

Tom Simonite for Wired wrote: On the  3:13 pm train out of San Jose on a recent Friday, I hunched over a MacBook, brow furrowed. Hundreds of miles north in a Google data center in Oregon, a virtual computer sprang to life. I was soon looking at the yawning blackness of a Linux command line—my new AI art studio. Some hours of Googling, mistyped commands, and muttered curses later, I was cranking out eerie portraits.

I may reasonably be considered “good” with computers, but I’m no coder; I flunked out of Codecademy’s easy-on-beginners online JavaScript course. And though I like visual arts, I’ve never shown much aptitude for creating my own. My foray into AI art was built upon a basic familiarity with the command line, and a recent encounter with 19-year-old Robbie Barrat.

Barrat makes art using artificial neural networks, webs of math that have spawned the recent AI boom by enabling projects like self-driving cars and automated cancer detection. Neural nets can learn to do useful or artistic things by processing large volumes of example data, such as photos. Barrat enabled my explorations, along with a nice payday for Obvious at Christie’s, by sharing the code and instructions to train image-generating networks with images collected from the giant art encyclopedia WikiArt. My first experiment involved a neural network Barrat had trained on thousands of portraits from more than a century of art history. Once I’d gotten the supporting software working, I could type a few dozen characters and spit out grids of weird portraits—some of them similar to the one that Obvious sold for almost half a million dollars. Barrat’s networks natively produce only small images. I tried enlarging one of my portraits with a service powered by machine learning called Let's Enhance, which Barrat says one member of Obvious told him it used as part of its workflow. My own experiments spanned only a few days. But after a handful of duds that “painted” only blotchy glitches, I trained networks that could produce recognizable oceans, and even ghostly sailing ships. Sensing I was close to making them even better, I cued up a marathon training session—and accidentally crippled my virtual studio.  

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