Last month, in a world first, auctioneers at Christie's sold a series of paintings created by an artificially intelligent artist. One of the portraits, depicting a fictitious 19th-century aristocrat called “Edmond de Belamy", sold for an impressive $432,500 – more than 40 times the amount the experts at Christie's predicted ($7,000-$10,000).
If you don't happen to have half a million bucks floating around your pocket or would prefer something a tad more personal, do not fear. Luca Stornaiuolo and Mauro Martino have developed a website where you can upload a selfie and have your very own portrait "painted" by a robot.
According to the website, "the intention is to share the experience of being portrayed by an AI algorithm, to discover how AI sees you. There is no willingness to improve or deform the starting picture.”
So, how exactly does it work?
It involves a type of technology called a Generative-Adversarial Network (GAN). In the past, these have been used to create everything from scarily persuasive deepfakes to hilariously bad Halloween masks.
Essentially, a GAN is made up of two different neural networks that work in tandem to come up with a convincing end product. The first – the discriminator – is trained on a bank of images (in this case, celebrity faces) to recognize these portraits. The second – the generator – learns how to create a new portrait based on a given image.
The result here is a portrait that (most of the time) looks indistinguishable from a real-life human (albeit one that has been heavily airbrushed), if not necessarily identical to the person in the selfie. But then that isn't the point.
"The level of resemblance of the portrait is high but deliberately not too similar to the starting image, the data (faces of actors and actresses) on which the model was trained re-emerge in portraits," Stornaiuolo and Martino say on the website.
If you want to try and get the best possible image, however, we would recommend selecting a photo that is face-on and close-up, without any objects or limbs obstructing the face.
To test the algorithm, we uploaded photos of celebrity scientists.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson – astrophysicist and TV personality
Donna Strickland – physicist and Nobel Prize winner 2018
Brian Cox – physicist, TV personality, and former rockstar
Katherine Johnson – mathematician and NASA employee responsible for calculating the orbital mechanics necessary for the mission that launched the first manned mission to space
Bill Nye – aka Bill Nye the Science Guy, mechanical engineer and TV personality
Dr. Emmett Brown – first man to travel back in time (also happens to be purely fictional)