An artist in residence on AI's territory

By Leslie Katz

At a reception for OpenAI’s first developer conference in San Francisco last month, a crowd mingled, wine in hand, as withering criticism of art created with artificial intelligence flashed on a blue wall at the front of the room. “I’ve seen more engaging art from a malfunctioning printer,” one critic jabbed. “The fine-art equivalent of elevator music,” huffed another. “Inoffensive, unmemorable and terminally dull.”

It might seem an odd strategy for OpenAI, the company behind widely used generative A.I. tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E, to promote scorn of A.I. art, until you catch the twist: A.I. itself wrote the criticism. Alexander Reben, the M.I.T.-educated artist behind the presentation, combined his own custom code with GPT-4, a version of the large language model that powers the ChatGPT online chatbot.

Next month, Mr. Reben, 38, will become OpenAI’s first artist in residence. He steps in as generative A.I. advances at a head-spinning rate, with artists and writers trying to make sense of the possibilities and shifting implications. Some regard artificial intelligence as a powerful and innovative tool that can steer them in weird and wonderful directions. Others express outrage that A.I. is scraping their work from the internet to train systems without permission, compensation or credit.

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