Friday, January 6, 2023

Machine Creativity.

A couple of months ago I wrote about AI generated artwork.

Since then, as part of my job, I've been looking at the functionality of some AI creators. And they can be scarily good. In one instance, with only a few key words, I asked one to create a document for me. It was pretty good. An hour later, with the same key words, I asked once more. And the document was much improved. It had trained in the space of an hour, and I doubt many people would have requested a similar document in that time.

This week I've been involved in three separate conversations about AI generated artworks - art, writing, film and music. I did not instigate any of these conversations so it's obviously something people are thinking about. In two of these discussions, my friends were convinced that AI could never create real art, as a machine can't have creativity. I disagree.

I've seen examples of accidental art, where someone has accidentally spilled paint on a wall. They may not have recognised it as anything more than a mistaken mess, but I saw the beauty and took a photo. It really is a lovely piece of art.

After all, don't they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

It's coming. We will, in a few years, have films and albums fully created by AI based on scripts and lyrics written by a human. And then how long until the AI is writing those as well.

Personally, I don't mind. I look forward to seeing and listening to AI created works. And some of these will resonate with me, others won't. Some will be considered masterpieces.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A Strange Christmas.

A strange festive season indeed.

We had a week or so of cold weather, with a very light snowfall, but apart from that it has been quite mild. A couple of days I've even been out in my t-shirt. 

But for some odd reason it just doesn't feel like Christmas. I don't know why this should be. Perhaps it's because I've hardly been in town, especially when the lights have been on. But we have our tree up, our cards on display, our decorations and so on. But I just don't feel Christmassy yet.

I have, against my better judgement, bought a Christmas jumper. I always vowed I wouldn't, but it is a thing here.  Maybe I'm acclimatising in more way than one.

I'm looking forward to the Christmas break. I hope to have a relaxing time. To refresh, recharge and renew.

Here's to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Been There. Done That. All Different.

It's been three years, but I've just been back in Australia.

As always, it was wonderful to see family and friends. I spent a lot of time talking, laughing and eating with them. Great stuff. And, as always, not enough time to catch up with everyone I had hoped to see.

I visited the school at which I taught prior to moving here. In that time I've lost a couple of close teaching friends to cancer while others have moved on to other schools. In the past six years I have visited that school a couple of times, but this was the first time where I felt I had truly moved on. It will always have a huge place in my heart, but I no longer belong there.

I also realised that none of the current students were there when I was teaching.

I didn't go "sightseeing" too much - a day in the Yarra Valley, in the company of my best friend, and another in the city. I went to a favourite street - a place that was quirky and alternative - and I was so disappointed to see the weird little shops had been pushed out by increasing rents in favour of upmarket cafes, restaurants and hairdressing salons.

So sad.

Melbourne is a wonderful city but I was surprised but just how many changes there have been in the past six years.

It's true, you can't go home. Not completely.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Put the "Hell" back into Halloween

Growing up in Australia, Halloween was never really a thing. We might have drawn pictures at school, or a spooky party at Scouts. We may even have dressed up for that evening. But I don't recall anyone decorating their house or any other special events.

To us, Halloween was a very American thing. We saw it on TV, usually in dramas and comedy shows. We saw people dressing up, kids going Trick-or-Treating, and so on. I never even knew there was a potential "trick" element to the event - simply people gave candy to kids. We certainly never did this.

But like so many other things - language, slang, proms - Halloween has now taken root in Australia, and here in the UK. Supermarkets are filled with plastic pumpkins and ghosts, local retailers have real pumpkins, houses decorate, and lanterns are made. And then, of course, kids start to arrive to collect sweets (or candy, or lollies).

This doesn't affect us too much. We live in an older part of the village, and so last year, despite purchasing sweets, we had no knocks on the door.

I don't really begrudge this infiltration. If kids have fun, then I'm all for it. But the one thing that surprises me is that it's no longer a "spooky" event.  On the few occasions we did dress up for a Halloween party as kids, there was usually some scary element to the costume. A ghost, for example. or a vampire. But these days the costumes can be anything at all. And I don't really get that. If you're going to have a spooky event, at least make it spooky.

This year, maybe I'll dress upas a grumpy old man and sit out on my lawn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Who's the Artist?

Some AI generated art recently won an art competition at the Colorado State Fair. The winner has defended this, and claimed that he made no secret of using an AI. Other entrants have responded with anger. The art was entered in a Digital Art category, and the organisers and judges had no problem with it being included or winning.

There have been controversies in the at world before. There was some backlash against photography many years ago, as it was deemed as not requiring the skill and experience of a "true" artist. And then it happened again more recently when digital tools were becoming more commonplace.

I suppose the difference this time is that anyone can type a few words into an AI generator and achieve reasonably impressive results in a few seconds. Hit re-enter, with the same words, and you receive a different result. And again, and again, and again. And in a very short time, it's very easy to produce literally hundreds of artworks. And by changing the words and parameters, you can change style, lighting, setting and so on.

Out of all those hundreds of pieces, several will be special - a cut above the rest. All by typing a few words and hitting the enter key.

I tried this myself the other day, and was thrilled by some of the artwork I generated. And this was only using a general, free online version. I can only imagine the potential of some of the higher-end generators.

I also saw someone post a picture they had generated. They were asked if they'd drawn it. They responded that it was complicated, that there was some controversy, and they'd used some software.

I don't think it's complicated, or controversial.

I'm not going to pretend that my efforts using the AI in anyway requires any artistic skill, talent or ability except, perhaps, in having some critical artistic eye in determining the merit of the resultant piece. The real skill is practice in determining the words to use, how to phrase them, the order and so on. In the few days I've played with the generator, I have improved my results dramatically by playing with these variables. There is some skill needed there. I notice the winner of the above competition did not reveal the words he used. 

And we can control the styles. I found the words to create art in the style of one of my favourite artists.

We can enjoy and appreciate this art. Perhaps we just need to be more open about how it was created. Competitions and the like need to be clear and specific in whether AI art can be entered, and in which categories.

It's here. We can't go backwards. And it won't be long before we have AI generated novels, movies and music. I, for one, look forward to hearing new "Beatles" songs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Right Royal Event.

Although it wasn't officially announced until the evening, we knew the Queen had passed by the early afternoon. There had been a vague announcement about doctors somewhere around lunchtime, and nothing more. Then we noticed the BBC announcers were wearing black, which they surely wouldn't do were she still with us. One BBC reporter tweeted she had passed, then retracted it with an apology, stating there hadn't yet been an official announcement.

But then it was announced, right in the middle of a late thunderstorm here in Lincoln, which somehow seemed appropriate, while there were two rainbows over Buckingham Palace at the same time. Serendipitous. (After the reign?) And then we had a week of little else but Royal programming on TV. And then we had a day of ceremny and funeral, which was full of pomp and very moving indeed.

Being a Scottish Australian, I'm not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination.But that doesn't mean I'm against the Royal Family. I attended an event during the last year which made me uncomfortable for jingoistic, colonialist reasons. I mentioned this tome someone, and from later comments I had they feeling they think I am anti Royals.

I think they need to evolve, I think they are basically ceremonial and part of the tourist industry, I don't like much of their behaviours, but I see their importance to the economy of the UK. So maybe a few should be fired, others should be forced to get jobs which pay the rent, but for the most part, with modernisation, I think they are good for the UK.

When we were leading into the Jubilee, someone in a meeting said that whether you were a Royalist or not, everyone is pretty pleased that Queen Elizabeth had lived so long. I pointed out that it was not everyone. Perhaps Prince Charles didn't feel that way. Which was meant as a joke, and perhaps held an element of truth, but in return I received some quiet glares. Personally, I think the Queen would have chuckled at that one.

I know public opinion of Charles has softened over the past few years - I'm still not sure where I stand on him. Perhaps he'd be quite a charming fellow with a pint in hand and a good natter. I think William will make a good King, although I suspect that won't be for a few more years.

RIP, your Majesty. And good luck, King Charles. And if you ever want a quiet evening with a pint and a natter, I'm sure your security team can find me easily enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Home Is Where The Stomach Is?

It has been three years since I was last in Australia. Generally I go back every 18 months or so, but the pandemic threw that timeline out of whack. Once airlines started flying again, flights were limited, rules and restrictions were tight, and prices were beyond ridiculous. In the end I figured I would wait until things were a bit more back to normal.

Sometimes I am asked if I miss Australia, and I suppose I do - not in any yearning, sit at home, homesick kind of way, but there are times when I feel like I would quite like to go somewhere or do something over there. Mostly I just miss my family and friends.

I belong to an expat group on Facebook. For the most part it's encouraging, supportive and fun and I quite enjoy it. People regularly share tips on like in the UK, including which shops currently have Tim Tams and other goodies for sale. Others share pictures of care packages sent from loved ones. Sometimes we just get to joke about things that make no sense if we say them to Brits. ("Lock it in, Eddie" was mentioned recently)

Personally, I'm don't yearn for Australian snacks and sweets in the same way others do, although occasionally I would love a dim sim or a Chiko roll. Just one, and then I'd be good to go for another year. But there are some on there who are in the UK because they married a Brit, and are desperately homesick. I feel for them. Homesickness can be a terrible thing.

I don't feel that personally. Maybe because I was born here, and to me this has always felt like home anyway. Maybe because I enjoy my job and have my wife's family close by, or maybe because my feelings just don't work that way.

I look forward to going back. When it happens, I'll relish the time spent there, in the company of friends and family. And expect me to return here with a couple of extra kilos round my waist.