Life

This is what A.I. looks like, according to A.I.

AI-generated self portrait from IBM Research 
Source: IBM Research 
AI-generated self portrait from IBM Research 

When you think of artificial intelligence, maybe you picture Dolores from "Westworld" or something out of "Black Mirror." But if you ask AI what AI looks like, it's nothing like that — in fact, AI thinks it looks like a multi-colored helping hand for humans.

Recently, IBM Research asked AI to draw a picture of itself. The result is embedded above.

And while artificial intelligence has created art before — AI-made portrait "Edmond de Belamy" sold for $432,000 in October at Christie's — the task is uniquely challenging.

"Edmond de Belamy" sold at Christie's in New York City on Thursday.
Timothy A. Clary | Getty Images
"Edmond de Belamy" sold at Christie's in New York City on Thursday.

"Creativity is an attribute of people that is hard to fully quantify," John Smith, an IBM Research fellow who worked on the project tells CNBC Make It. "It requires some kind of leap of thought, imagination or inspiration that is not easily reproducible in machines."

That's because artificial intelligence is good at analyzing information (including language and images) and making decisions based on training, according to the IBM research lab's blog, but creating new content is "a much more experimental activity."

To enable AI to create the picture, which was used as an illustration in a New York Times series on AI, the IBM Research team first had the system do things like ingest 3,000 Times articles on artificial intelligence, which helped it learn the most important concepts around AI, like "robot, self-driving, and computing," according to Axios. The team also used technology to score images from past New York Times articles on their strength in representing AI. The most representative image was determined to be one of a robot and human shaking hands.

From there, to create an original image, the team used over 1,000 existing images to train a neural network (basically a statistical model based on the brain that analyzes complex data) to draw new images of human and robot hands, which it did all day and night for almost a week, IBM notes.

Sample imagery was also used so the AI could create an image that matched the style of New York Times' visuals.

AI-generated self portrait from IBM Research 
Source: IBM Research 
AI-generated self portrait from IBM Research 

"The self-portrait took several weeks to make," Smith tells CNBC Make It, because there was a lot of experimentation to produce the figure out the overall process. But "Now that the process has been developed, it can be applied to new tasks, whereby the turnaround to create new image content ... could be one day."

Using AI to produce original art and music is a trend that will continue, says Smith, and it raises some interesting philosophical questions.

"In some cases, people will like content generated by computers and may even consider it to be art," says Smith. "At some point the question will emerge as to whether creativity is really about the product or the process."

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