The Impossibility of Human-Made Art: Examining the AI-Designed 'Impossible Statue'

Category Artificial Intelligence

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AI-created art is becoming ubiquitous, with Swedish multinational engineering company Sandvik recently unveiling the 'Impossible Statue': a sculpture made of stainless steel designed by combining five of the world's most renowned sculptors. While some debate the level of machine vs human creativity in art, the statue provides insight into AI's latent potential for creating artwork never seen before.

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There’s been a lot of speculation about the role AI will play in art and creativity. Some think it will give humans a creative boost, while others worry it will detract from our ability to make high-quality art. AI image generation is becoming ubiquitous with programs like DALL-E and Midjourney, and algorithms have been trained to produce artwork in the styles of famous painters. But AI’s most recent artistic foray got even more complex, and it involved a whole new genre: sculpture.

The statue was unveiled at Tekniska Museet, the national Science and Technology Museum in Stockholm, Sweden

A statue designed by an AI was unveiled last week by Swedish multinational engineering company Sandvik. The Impossible Statue is made of stainless steel, weighs 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds—maybe they meant impossible to move), and stands 5 feet tall. It’s on display at Sweden’s national science and technology museum in Stockholm, Tekniska Museet.

Multiple AIs were involved in designing the statue; they were trained on the work of five famous sculptors, with the output attempting to combine the best-known attributes of each of their unique styles. It incorporates Michelangelo’s "dynamic off-balance poses," Auguste Rodin’s "musculature and reflectiveness," Käthe Kollwitz’s "expressionist feeling," Takamura Kotaro’s "focus on momentum and mass," and Augusta Savage’s "defiance." .

The statue is 500 kg and stands 5 feet tall

"Rather than designing an AI system from scratch that went from concept to statue, we decided to use many AI systems so that we could iterate and continuously improve what came out," said Robert Luciani, a computer scientist at The AI Framework, a consultancy that worked on the project. "The AI can spit out images that are very visually compelling, but that doesn’t mean that they can actually work in real life." .

The statue is made of stainless steel

The AIs created a two-dimensional design based on the work of the five renowned sculptors. Engineers translated the 2D design into a 3D model, then human "pose estimators" refined the body, video game algorithms generated realistic fabric, and another AI added back details that had been lost throughout the preceding steps, resulting in a digital twin of the sculpture.

The team used software and precision cutting tools to hew 17 separate pieces, which were joined to create the finished statue. Thanks to the digital twin, Sandvik reported, testing and verification time were one-sixth what they would have been in a manual operation, and "not a single part of the statue had to be scrapped and remade," as each component had been digitally refined before the physical fabrication began.

The team used precision cutting tools to hew 17 separate pieces, which were then joined to produce the statue

At a glance, the statue could be mistaken for something that belongs in a basketball hall of fame: it depicts a figure with a muscled human torso and arms, one of the arms outstretched holding a ball. A closer look reveals that the ball is a globe. In the statue’s lower half, the torso gives way to a billowing, ruffled form that looks like part of a toga, a leg and foot protruding.

The Impossible Statue is essentially a clever marketing ploy for Sandvik; AI is the talk of the town, and anything it’s involved in is bound to grab some attention. But it’s also yet another example of how the technology can be used in artwork, and of its ability to produce designs that humans wouldn’t dream up on their own.

The figure is holding a globe, not a basketball

It’s debatable where the line is between machine and human creativity in scenarios like this; humans chose which arists to use as models, and humans determined what features to include in the final product. But, the combination of the five different styles produced a never-before-seen result, demonstrating the latent capabilities of AI.

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