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AI gets naughty by generating surreal nude portraits

Who knew neural networks could envision naked ladies like a surrealist artist? A researcher talks about how he created an AI artist with a talent for making racy art.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But when the eye belongs to artificial intelligence, beauty could be translated as anything. 

AI researcher Robbie Barrat decided to see what would happen when he fed a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) thousands of nude portraits from a dataset and then trained it to create its own bizarre artworks.

Generative adversarial networks are defined as a class of artificial intelligence algorithms used in unsupervised machine learning, which uses two different neural networks, one called the "generator" and one the "discriminator."

"The generator tries to come up with paintings that fool the discriminator, and the discriminator tries to learn how to tell the difference between real paintings from the dataset and fake paintings the generator feeds it," Barrat told me. "They both get better and better at their jobs over time, so the longer the GAN is trained, the more realistic the outputs will be."

Sometimes, Barrat explained, the GAN will fall into what's called a "local minima," which means the generator and discriminator have found a way to keep trying to fool each other without actually getting better at the task at hand. 

"In this case, the generator keeps generating fleshy blobs that fool the discriminator pretty well, so overall they stop getting better at painting," he said.  

Barrat posted many of the final pieces of artwork on Twitter, and they can only be described as surreal, blobby, swirly naked women. 

It's almost like a very intoxicated Salvador Dali and a dizzy Picasso joined forces to make art. Barrat credits the work of another artist, Sol LeWitt, as the most similar to AI-assisted art. 

LeWitt would create a list of rules for a drawing, then send the rules to a museum, where people would interpret the rules and create the drawing there. 

Barrat's AI-assisted artwork isn't exactly sensual. In fact, most of the nudes look like they're melting on a very hot day.

"The way that it paints faces makes me uncomfortable. It always paints them as like, purple and yellow globs -- that isn't in the training set so I'm actually still not sure why it does that," Barrat said. "Personally, I really love these super weird unrealistic ones."  

The surrealist art movement seems boringly normal compared to this new wave of AI artists. Here's hoping one day, art museums everywhere will have an artificial intelligence wing.

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