Machine Learning Comes to Life

If you’ve ever asked Alexa to a play a song or turn your lights off, you already know how a bit of artificial intelligence can change everyday tasks. This month, we’re thinking about how high-tech tools impact and inspire artists, and we’re starting with a deeper look at AI— where is it now, and where is it headed?

AI Gets Personal

As AI and machine learning become more powerful, companies are racing to integrate them into our everyday lives. Right now, developers at Amazon and Google are designing AI digital assistants that will go beyond answering simple questions and helping control our devices. They’ll also connect to us in more “human” ways. To make it happen, developers are drawing expertise from surprising places — including comedians, novelists, poets, and animators — to create personalities for AI tools.

And it’s not a big jump to think consumers want deeper, more personal connections to their digital assistants. When Daren Gill, director of product management for Alexa, talked to New Scientist last December, he explained how attached people already are: “Every day, hundreds of thousands of people say ‘good morning’ to Alexa.” Not only that, he reported that half a million consumers have professed their love for Alexa, and another 250,000 have proposed marriage.

AI Moves into the Design Studio

While companies develop AI for our personal lives, the technology is also making its mark at work. Industries from retail to manufacturing are using AI and machine learning to automate repetitive backend processes. The goal is to free up humans to focus on what we do better than machines: creative problem solving.

This is how AI is filtering into the creative world, too — it’s automating the tedious tasks that eat up hours a designer would rather spend creating. We talked to artists using the AI tools in Adobe Stock, including visual search, which finds images similar to one another, and automated keywording, a tool that generates automatic keywords for images, to get their take on how AI fits into the creative process.

Graphic designer Jesús Ramirez used visual search last year as part of his Make a Masterpiece project — a challenge from Adobe to recreate a famous work of art using only stock images. “I needed to search through thousands of images looking for very specific things, so visual search really sped up the process. For example, I needed hands in a specific position, so I took photos of my own hands mimicking those positions and used them to search. In the past, I would have had to type in ‘hand,’ but how do you describe hands doing a certain thing? And even if you could, what are the odds that the creator used those same keywords? For things like that, AI is great.”

Jesús also counts on automated keywording: “Now that Sensei [Adobe’s AI tech] is integrated with search in Photoshop, I don’t have to tag my photos. I can have thousands of photos uploaded to the cloud and just type a keyword like “cat” or “building,” to find what I’m looking for.”

How Creative Will AI Get?

When it comes to what’s next, graphic designer Tina Touli is hoping AI will advance enough to communicate in more intuitive ways, and take over jobs that don’t involve much creativity: “I’m looking forward to AI tools that will understand how to do small tasks when I talk to them, as you would talk to a human. You’ll be able to ask for minor visual changes, such as trying different colors or fonts, without having to do a single click,” says Tina.

“I’m excited about AI that can recognize the level of noise in an image and be able to either remove it, or match it automatically if I add an element from another photo,” adds Jesús. “It all goes back to the tedious task s— I’d like them not to take so long.”

But is there a point when it’s too much? Will AI start to step on artists’ creative toes? “When the camera was invented, people thought we wouldn’t need painters anymore,” says Jesús. “With AI, I think some people have the impression that the computer is going to do all the work, but at the end of the day it’s just another tool. I’m not afraid of AI taking over; I’m just afraid that’s the perception people are going to have.”

Tina agrees that human artists can’t be replaced by technology: “The passion you put into your work, the pleasure of creating something — that’s always reflected in the work. A machine can’t achieve that.”

More on Tech and the Creative Life

Follow us the rest of the month as we consider artists who use tech as their creative inspiration, and talk to photographers whose work captures complex machines. And visit our dedicated gallery of Adobe Stock exploring how tech is changing our world.