Does Google's AutoDraw AI grasp modern art better than you?

The tech company is unleashing its neural network to make your sketches and doodles prettier. But how does it go with Picasso?

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
2 min read

Turns out Google is a better artist than you.

The company has unveiled a new web-based drawing tool called AutoDraw, which will turn your terrible Microsoft Paint skills into actual pictures.

Just scrawl something on your phone screen with your finger (or on your desktop with a mouse) and Google's machine learning will detect what you're trying to draw, and fix it up for you.

The tech company has been making great strides in artificial intelligence, scooping squads of AI enthusiasts into its fold, tackling the toxic mess that is online comments, firing up special-purpose AI chips and once again pitting its machines against human players at the board game Go. For AutoDraw, the company used the same technology behind its "Quick, Draw!" AI Experiment, which tried to teach a neural network to recognize doodles. Now Google has upped the ante, partnering with artists to create some of the suggested sketches in AutoDraw.

But we're forgetting the big question: Does a neural network really understand modern art?


From left, "The Birth of Day" by Miro, the writer's impression and Google's rendition.

Claire Reilly/CNET

Apparently Miro is a no-go.

But what if we feed it something even simpler? Say, the ultra minimalist animal sketches of sometime doodler, Pablo Picasso?


Google understands Picasso's animal sketches better than all of us.

Claire Reilly/CNET

Google knows a parrot when it sees one.

Claire Reilly/CNET

But apparently Google doesn't like camels.

Claire Reilly/CNET

Apparently even the smartest machines have their limits. A single-line drawing on a smartphone, copying one of the greatest artists of the 20th century -- excuse the pun, but that's where Google draws the line.

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