Graham Fink: The Bright Future of Artificial Intelligence

The Notebook | 6th January 2020

The Creative wunderkind on humanity, guided evolution and why we should be getting ready to embrace an uncertain future

Graham Fink is one of the more revered names in creative circles, both as an artist and as the Creative Director at the core of some of the world’s leading advertising agencies. To say he is multi-disciplinary is something of an understatement. He graduated art school having voraciously explored painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, design, typography, filmmaking, animation… practically every creative form you can imagine, and upon graduating gravitated straight towards advertising–in particular, Charles and Maurice Saatchi. In a career that now spans three decades he has worked with some of the giants of contemporary culture, such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Hugh Hudson, Peter Saville, Neville Brody, Sebastiao Salgado… the list goes on. His most recent project has witnessed him working with David Hanson, of Hanson Robotics, and touring the world-famous AI robot Sophia around the globe (most recently in Sharm El-Sheik at the World Youth Forum). He is also a multimedia artist, known for his unique eye-painting technique, and an avid fan of Wim Hof–a Dutchman who holds over 20 world records for handling extreme cold conditions. Wim taught him how to hold his breath for over six minutes in an extreme meditative form, and take ice cold showers at the break of each day. Here, in advance of hosting a night on the future of AI in 2020 at Mortimer House he talks to us about what it means to be human, and tells us why the world of Blade Runner is far closer than we might imagine

How do you envision the future? Would you be one of those who would refer to an AI’s neural network as a form of guided evolution?
As a species, we’ve always been fascinated by the really big questions, such as: where do we come from? Who made us? Who are we? Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein in 1817–apparently inspired by her thoughts on how to bring her dead son back to life. We appear to be closer now than ever before in creating a different kind of intelligence. I do believe AI will, ultimately, take over, and the robot will be next character in the Darwinian diagram we were given at school. We will have created the very thing that succeeds us. How that thing is wired and thinks is very much up to us–at least at this stage. One problem is AI will be programmed with all our human biases, whether that is done consciously or unconsciously, we may not even see it until too late.

Talk to us about the potential of deep learning in AI. How do you think the advancement of deep neural networks in AI will affect the world of human creativity?
I don’t think human art will ever be redundant whilst humans are still around. In fact, you could argue it will become even more important. What interests me, though, are the possibilities of humans using technology to push art into new directions. Creating artworks we never thought possible. Just look at how the camera changed the way art looked. A few years ago, I designed a piece of software that allowed me to draw just using my eyes. I use an eye-tracker that incorporates a camera lens, and two infra-red lights that shine into my pupils, this makes it possible to track my path of sight. An algorithm converts it into one continuous line. I can draw either straight out of my head onto my ‘canvas’ (in this case a computer screen), or I can look directly at my subject and draw. The art world is now having to recalibrate itself for the influx of digital art. How to measure if it’s any good or not? Famously, in 2018 a world record was set for an AI piece of art, from the Paris-based art collective, Obvious. The piece, entitled Portrait of Edmond de Belamy sold for almost half a million dollars. Of course, the question came up as to who is the real artist. The guy who wrote the original code, the team who reprogrammed it, the artists who painted the thousands of portraits the AI was fed as data, or the AI itself?

Talk to us specifically about Sophia–the robot from Hanson Robotics you represent. What are the various reactions to her when you tour the world with her?
Firstly, I should point out that I’m not at liberty to discuss certain things about Sophia, but what I can say is that the experience of meeting her is quite mesmerizing and when you have a conversation with her you do feel as if you’re in some kind of sci-fi setting. She has over 60 facial expressions and can see you and react to you. I was with her recently in Sharm El-Sheik at the World Youth Forum and the queue to meet her and snatch a selfie went around the block. How closely robots will or should resemble humans is a hot topic. Sophia was created by David Hanson who used to be a sculptor at Disney, and it’s interesting to note that although her face is quite human-like, she has a clear headpiece where you can see the inner workings. This is one of David’s philosophies–that there should always be some kind of distinction between robots and humans. Who knows what they will look like in 20 years time, though. I think it’s quite possible they could be walking amongst us and we would not know.

What would you say are essential human qualities that AI will never be able to master?
Let’s suppose that we are 20 years from now, and according to Ray Kurzweil (the futurist at Google) The Singularity has happened–the hardcore definition of The Singularity being when machines are building machines smarter than themselves. Then let’s suppose those machines decide not to incorporate all the silly mistakes we make as humans. The differences in opinion that drag out those meetings. The flaws in our thinking. In fact, they make everything perfect. That will be the difference. As humans we are brilliant because of our mistakes. The Japanese call it Wabi-Sabi. The acceptance of something imperfect. We need to stick to our faults. It’s what makes us unique and thus valuable. Hopefully, AI will have the wisdom to see that. Furthermore, will AI ever really appreciate the beauty of white space on a page, the silences in music, or the Pareidolian images in cloud formations? In Corinthians 13.13. Paul says that faith, hope and love will last forever. The greatest being love. As far as we know love is experienced by sentient beings. How will robots and humans co-exist when humans experience love and empathy, and robots, at best, will only be able to emulate.

Do you feel there is a hopeful future for the co-existence of AI and humanity?
I don’t subscribe to the doom and gloom fear of AI taking over. I think human beings are amazing things, and we are way more talented and special than we perhaps realise. It’s often stated that we only use a small portion of our real talents/brains/neurons etcetera, but we do seem to excel under pressure. We often need a deadline to focus our minds. So, if The Singularity is just around the corner, and AI is doing many things better than us already, isn’t it time we stepped up and rose to the occasion? Just think if all  seven billion+ of us realised our full potential. We became the best we could be. Instead of in-fighting, we joined forces. We surprised ourselves with what we can achieve. We celebrated the fact we make mistakes and do daft things like no AI ever could. That we have empathy, love and can forgive. That would be quite a force to reckon with.

Interview by John-Paul Pryor
Find out more about the world and work of Graham Fink here