A unique gateway to the world of artificial intelligence, especially for creators

January 11, 2019

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For the first time, the National Film Board of Canada, the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, Element AI, Google AI and the Conseil des Arts de Montréal are joining forces to invite a Montreal-based artist or collective to participate in Art & AI: Artistic Residency in Research/Creation and Artificial Intelligence. The residency, which will run until October 2019, includes a $50,000 budget and 200 hours of support from AI experts. The goal is to develop a prototype for an artwork intended for public space and taking advantage of AI’s potential.

Sponsored by musician David Usher and sociologist and filmmaker Sandra Rodriguez, the initiative is intended to bring the art and AI worlds closer together, so that artists can benefit from the incredible possibilities opened up by this rapidly emerging technology. At the same time, researchers and developers will benefit from working with an entirely original creative approach.

We spoke with the two sponsors to learn more about the residency and its main audience.

Artificial intelligence is something we’ve been hearing about more and more often, but what is it, exactly?

Sandra Rodriguez (SR): Artificial intelligence encompasses a wide range of recent technological developments. It isn’t a single technology, it’s a whole set of technologies and theories, based on data that allow a “computer” to perform tasks inspired by those done by the human mind. In other words, AI doesn’t copy human intelligence, it takes inspiration from it.

David Usher (DU): AI is a completely new medium that’s only just starting to take shape, but this sophisticated technology tool is already very promising and loaded with all kinds of possibilities.

What is the goal of this artistic residency?

DU: Creative work assisted by AI is very difficult to do and hard to understand if you haven’t had the opportunity to work with AI. The residency is a golden opportunity for artists to learn about these technologies and explore their potential. By working closely with leading AI researchers, they will learn what can be done within certain time and money constraints, and will also get access to the very latest developments in AI.

SR: One of the problems when we discuss the creative potential of AI is that we often reduce artistic work to knowledge of art history, which we could turn into data to be fed into a machine, which would produce a new work. But there’s so much more to making art! The goal of this residency is not to encourage reproduction, but creation. The artist’s role is to push against conventions, find new ways to see the world. That’s why I believe artists can help advance AI, and come up with new uses and applications for the technology.

Who is this residency for, and why is it just as interesting for researchers?

SR: I sincerely hope this initiative will attract not only artists who have worked with AI before, but also those who have never explored these tools. The initiative is aimed at opening doors as wide as possible, for creators in every discipline: visual and digital art, music, performing arts, dance… Not to mention that the residency is not just beneficial for artists – it’s just as much of an opportunity for developers and researchers.

DU: Exactly! In my opinion, researchers and developers will benefit greatly from the artists’ expertise, because artists will contribute new perspectives on the AI specialists’ work and point them in new directions. There’s so much unexplored potential. Collaboration between these two worlds should produce some surprising results!

The participants are invited to think about the role of AI in the city of the future and in citizen participation. Why is this an important theme?

DU: AI isn’t science fiction, it’s a new reality that will influence the future of urban life. AI will be able to model the city in many different ways. It’s already a given that the business world will use it to its advantage, so it’s important that artists also have their say in how it’s used in the long term.

SR: If AI becomes part of our everyday lives, we all need to have a say in its role. Citizens and representatives of civil society need to be able to make themselves heard, and they need to think about future directions. That process requires a variety of different voices. Artists can challenge conventional wisdom and spark our imagination. That’s why their perspective is a welcome part of the important topic of citizen participation in urban affairs.

Call for proposals:

Art & AI: Artistic Residency in Research/Creation and Artificial Intelligence