Itelligence: Digital culture, art and work in the 21st century

By Nicolai Fast Sørensen

Experience Thomas Nørmark at the Digital Round Table. This article is from the IWDK Preview Magazine.

To many, artificial intelligence brings to mind images similar to those of films like “I, Robot” and “Her”. But the more AI develops and learns, the more we can benefit in our own work and even art, according to Thomas Nørmark, Global Head of AI and Robotics at Itelligence Transformation Lab.

Perhaps you start your morning saying “Hey Google, play my favourite playlist”. Or maybe you are totally dependent on Siri’s uncanny ability to navigate to even the most – to you – unknown addresses. One day you might have a fridge that sends you a message when you’re in the supermarket reminding you to buy milk.

Robots come in all different shapes and sizes and rather than them looking like the 1960s vision of the future they are embedded in the very products we use every day. But just because we’re talking about robots doesn’t mean we’re talking about artificial intelligence. That is a whole different matter even though it exists in the same periphery of most people’s minds and associations.

“There are different definitions of what AI means. Broadly speaking, AI is when technology performs tasks and behaves in a way that in the past we thought required human intelligence. Both in terms of the behaviour but also in terms of the decisions made from the information gathered,” says Thomas Nørmark, Global Head of AI and Robotics at itelligence Transformation Lab.

Nørmark explains that ‘normal’ technology and computer programming is based on rules wherein you give the computers instructions on what to do. With artificial intelligence the technology performs tasks and learns from experience in the form of data – this is also known as machine learning.


Tech as art – art as tech

We’re at a crossroads when it comes to technology and the human experience. AI has become so sophisticated that machines can create art, write poetry and perform creative tasks otherwise believed to be reserved for humans with a human experience.

“We’re at a place where technology can emulate human things in our reality through technology, for example by creating art. In the past we used to say that machines can’t be creative and that it is an exclusively human ability to be able to create things based on creativity,” says Nørmark.

Nørmark says that there are examples of machines making visual art that no human can tell isn’t made by a human. The way the machine does it is by learning from thousands of art works what ‘art looks like’. There are also examples of written text created by machines through natural language processing, which is machine learning based on texts.

“We’re starting to see examples of machines writing like humans in different themes and genres. For example, writing a text like Shakespeare or the Danish duo Nik & Jay,” says Nørmark.

Some will argue that there is not as much value in art created by robots because the sender of the message and the work is not human. But how should we interpret this if the person experiencing the art doesn’t know it’s created by a robot?

“There are a lot of discussions about whether the creator of the work has a meaning when it comes to the artwork. Whether it is the creator’s intention with the work that matters. So it’s a natural discussion to have whether AI can be defined as a worthy sender,” Nørmark says.

The future of work

Some of the negative consequences of the development of machine learning is seen in the use of machine learning and fake news. But there are positive opportunities for this kind of technology as well.

“There are a lot of tasks we do as humans that we’re not created for. Human beings shouldn’t be doing machine work where we perform the same tasks over and over again. That’s when we get sloppy, make mistakes and become unmotivated and unproductive. We don’t enjoy doing the same kind of task hundreds of times like GP receptionists transcribing notes or journalists copying a news story from Reuters. These are some of the examples of places where machines can do the work and reallocate humans for more valuable tasks,” says Nørmark.

To some, this might seem scary but Nørmark points out that it is not the first time machines have taken over tasks previously performed by humans:

“Throughout the Industrial Revolution we let machines take over on the work previously performed by our own arms and legs,” he says.

This development won’t make humans obsolete in the workplace, Nørmark insists.

“I would argue that it is the heart that is the special thing about us humans and not our brains. We can understand empathy, we can understand social contexts where you have to make complex, human decisions. These are skills that are difficult to replicate in technology. And this is where our focus and energy should lie,” Nørmark says.

To Nørmark, this is the same when it comes to creating art:

“We should see robots as a help to us. Also when we’re being creative. I have done work where I have collaborated with robots on a visual or written piece of art where the finished product has been created by me but alongside the robot. To me, that brings up interesting ways of using robots – again – to our own benefit,” Nørmark says.