AV redefined: Jeroen van der Most and the power of AI

AI is redefining the world of work and the world of art. Reece Webb sits down with artistic pioneer Jeroen van der Most to discuss the world of AI and its connection to AV.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but with advances in AI art, could beauty be in the eye of the machine? For artists working with artificial intelligence systems, this groundbreaking tool offers the ability not just to revolutionise the world of work but herald a blossoming artform: Art generated by artificial intelligence.

Enter Jeroen van der Most, a Netherlands-based artist who has carried the banner for AI art for more than 10 years. From its humble beginnings to the massive explosion in capabilities and competency that we see today, van der Most began his journey into AI while working in market research data science, developing new research methodologies to generate algorithms that mine thousands of Twitter messages on certain topics.

Van der Most’s lust for creativity led to the repurposing of these algorithms to make artworks, using profile pictures as a base of a portrait and building the portrait out of Twitter posts from the user.

These creations went viral, leading to an example being added to the collection of a museum in New Zealand. From there, van der Most took on bigger and bolder challenges, leading to a pioneering carer in the world of AI art.

"We are heading towards an era where artists and creatives can create things that were previously impossible." - Jeroen van der Most

“I work with new technologies, but especially artificial intelligence”, explains van der Most, “I’ve been doing this since 2010 and I build all sorts of art installations using AI that can create imagery, write text or create movies. A lot of these projects are initiated with friends and acquaintances, and we see where these end up.

“I also do a lot of work for organisations building art installations, such as Nvidia, or non-profits like Amnesty International. At the beginning of my career, I was in it for the technical ‘wow factor’, to prove that these things were possible, but that’s just one side of it. AI can be much more than a tool – AI systems do have some kind of creativity on their own. Much like old masters such as Rembrandt had a team of assistants, AI can help you do hard work but it also has a creative impact on its own; it will come forward with creative stuff that you wouldn’t have come up with on your own. You can even design systems that increasingly create content or art on their own.”

One of van der Most’s most prolific recent projects is Letters from Nature, using the AI text model from OpenAI, GPT-3, to write letters on behalf of various natural entities that face eradication from climate change, such as ice caps, islands and coral reefs.

The system has been trained on a wide range of text from the internet, containing hundreds of billions of words. The underlying idea is that the system can predict what characters are likely to follow, based on a context of characters, which can be fed into the process.

“This is an ongoing project," says van der Most. “We used AI to write letters on behalf of nature to world leaders using the predecessor of ChatGPT. We explored different ways of bringing that art project to the public around the world, with projection or outdoor LED screens in city centres, as well as plain paper letters.”

- Jeroen van der Most's Letters from Nature exhibit at the Centraal Museum, Utrecht, the Netherlands

A lot has changed in the world of artificial intelligence since 2010 as ever more sophisticated tools are developed and released. Today, general understanding and awareness of artificial intelligence has entered mainstream consciousness. Awareness of various AI tools, ranging from deepfakes, to the adoption of AI tool ChatGPT for writing generation or tools such as Midjourney which exist to create images based on text prompts.

“[The change] has been incredible," says van der Most. “In 2014 or 2015, it was very complex to build an AI model – You had to build and program it yourself, but it has become much easier to do work with AI today. AI generators today are purely prompt based, you just type something, and it will create it on the spot.”

Like many technologies in the AV space, the wider adoption and understanding of artificial intelligence means that the standards to impress have never been higher. For artists and companies operating in this space, demands for ingenuity and creativity have never been higher.

Van der Most explains: “There is a greater understanding of artificial intelligence today, and lots of people are working with it. We are seeing huge democratisation in the use of AI, as anybody can use ChatGPT to create text or to create images with tools such as Dali or Midjourney.

“At the same time, democratisation is also an illusion to some extent. Because anybody can do it, the bar [for quality] is raised. To develop something impressive as a brand or as an artist, you must bring something more complex or brand new. Art is about being new and pushing the boundary forwards. The same is true for brands wanting to create a successful campaign.

“AI brings forward brand new possibilities to create images, texts, movies, or sounds. It also ‘supercharges’ you in some respects. We are heading towards an era where artists and creatives can create things that were previously impossible. I have created images and movies that I would never have been able to do on my own using these image tools, creating very complex visualisations - mixes of clothing [combined] with nature that would have required a whole team of photographers and prototypes. It supercharges the human being as a creator.”

AI has presented substantial opportunities for creatives from all walks of life, and the AV industry is no exception. Artificial intelligence systems can be used to streamline the process of programming, or even to create content or harness AV systems to reflect moods and feelings with the help of AI.

Van der Most says: “Creatives in the AV industry will be able to create more complex images and entire worlds, as well as ‘self-evolving’ systems that can increasingly create content on their own.

“I could create a system that uses AV to generate art in your office based on the weather, or the  ‘emotions’ lifted from social media, there are all sorts of new possibilities to create new content.”

“Even with things like programming, AI can be used as a major cost saver [and time saver]. These systems offer a major money incentive to keep people developing.”

Van der Most presented a keynote speech at ISE 2024 in Barcelona, offering insight into the role that AI is playing in the AV industry and how it can evolve going forwards. Van der Most says: “I explored the boundaries of art, how we can break those boundaries [with AI], talking about using technology to connect with nature and using artificial intelligence to explore new ways of connecting with other people, using AI to visualise thoughts and dreams.”

“AI is philosophically interesting because it is a mirror that tells you things about what it means to be human. Before 2010, people would have called you crazy if you said that machines can be creative, so, if machines are creative, what does that mean for being human? Are we the same as machines? These are the interesting questions that AI poses.”

Main image: Quantum Cat, an AI art piece created by Jeroen van der Most, created using AI and quantum computing. 

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