Artificial intelligence and machine learning have been getting a lot of media attention lately, from Google’s AlphaGo to Microsoft and Facebook’s photo recognition for the blind. But being able to analyze and learn from cold hard facts is one thing. Being able to derive something creative out of it is a whole different ballpark. But that’s exactly what Microsoft and some partners accomplished when they let a computer “paint” an entirely new original piece of art just after analyzing Rembrandt’s existing corpus.
The two-year project, which was aptly called “New Rembrandt”, involved Microsoft, financial firm ING, Delft University of Technology, and the Mauritshuis and Rembrandthuis Dutch art museums. Their quest was to discover what really made a Rembrandt painting a Rembrandt. Given how art is pretty much a subjective matter, they needed the help of an objective observer and critic. And what could be more objective and detached than a computer.
The group didn’t simply throw Rembrandt paintings at the computer and expected a miracle at the end, of course. Art pieces were digitally tagged by humans and the researchers also tweaked algorithms to make them more efficient in discovering patterns. Those patterns, in turn, would translate into insight on how Rembrandt would, for example, usually depict certain body parts like eyes.
And like a student being tested on what she or he learned in the classroom, the computer was directed to create its own masterpiece in the style of Rembrandt. Not just any piece, mind you. It was specifically narrowed down to a 30 to 40 year old Caucasian male with facial hair. One that was wearing black clothes with a white collar and a hat. And to top it all, he would be facing to the right. Just to make sure the computer doesn’t veer too far and gets too imaginative.
The result is indeed an artwork worthy of being a Rembrandt-alike. Not a perfect one but something that could be said to have been heavily inspired by the Dutch artist. Critics and purists need not worry, as there is definitely no way to exactly replicate Rembrandt. At least not without cloning or something wild like that.
As a finishing touch, the 3D texture used for the painting mimicked the height and depth of Rembrandt’s brush strokes, giving an even more authentic feel to it. And to make that a literal feel, it was also 3D printed, replicating those strokes in actual physical textures.