If you're feeling like there hasn't been a lot to smile about when it comes to world news this year, you wouldn't be alone. But design researcher Tom White has decided to take matters into his own hands.
He's developed a bot called 'Smilevector' that crawls the web looking for images of people, then adds or removes smiles to their faces. Why? To investigate whether machines can exhibit creative intelligence.
"It has examined hundreds of thousands of faces to learn the difference between images, by finding relations and reapplying them," White. "When the computer finds an image it looks to identify if the person is smiling or not. If there isn't a smile, it adds one, but if there is a smile then it takes it away."
A form of puppetry
White describes the process as a form of puppetry. "These systems are domain independent, meaning you can do it with anything—from manipulating images of faces to shoes to chairs," he said. "It's really fun and interesting to work in this space. There are lots of ideas to play around with."
With machine learning and AI starting to have implications for people in the creative industries, White says the time is right to question what this means for creativity: "I'm interested in exploring what these systems are capable of doing but also how it changes what we think of as being creative is in the first place."
"Once you have a system that can automate processes, is that still a creative act? If you can make something a completely push of the button operation, does its meaning change?"
Just another tool
Ultimately, White believes, AI is just another tool that artists can use - people have always used creative tools by giving commands, and machine learning is no different.
"I think we're moving toward more of a collaboration with computers," he said, "where there's an intelligent system that's making suggestions and helping steer the process."