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Teen trains artificial intelligence to paint nude portraits — with surreal results

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By Lillo Montalto Monella  & Alice Cuddy
Teen trains artificial intelligence to paint nude portraits — with surreal results
Copyright  © Copyright and photo credit: Robbie Barrat

An American teenager has trained artificial intelligence (AI) to paint nude portraits and tells Euronews he couldn’t be happier with the “strange and surreal” results.

Eighteen-year-old Robbie Barrat, who works at a research lab at Stanford University, is passionate about mixing AI and art.

After teaching a machine to rap like Kanye West and make 3D printable sculptures, he turned his attention to painting.

Barrat uses a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) algorithm to create the images.

“The basic idea in terms of how it works is that there are two neural networks, the generator and the discriminator, which together compose the GAN,” he said.

“The generator network tries to generate paintings that fool the discriminator network, and the discriminator tries to learn how to tell the difference between ‘fake’ AI generated paintings that the generator feeds it, and real paintings from [a] dataset of nude portraits.”

With the two components constantly trying to fool each other, Barrat says the idea is that the generator will get better at making new paintings, while the discriminator will improve at spotting generated paintings.

The efforts have produced some weird and wonderful results, with the discriminator unable to tell the difference between "strange blobs of flesh and humans,” Baratt said.

“Since the generator could consistently fool the discriminator by painting these strange forms of flesh instead of realistic nude portraits; both components stopped learning and getting better at painting,” he explained.

Many of the resultant AI images look like blobs of flesh sprouting limbs and tendrils, which Baratt said has scared some people viewing the art.

But he says he wouldn’t want the results to be any different.

“I'm much happier with the strange and surreal outcomes than I would be if it generated perfect nude portraits. I want to get AI to generate new types of art we haven't seen before; not force some human perspective on it,” he told Euronews.

“If the resulting images were realistic nude portraits; it wouldn't be nearly as exciting as the strange and alien bags of meat it paints -- because everyone has already seen so many regular nude portraits before.”

The young AI researcher is now considering studying art, and says he will continue to explore AI as a tool.