Sam Kronick has a bunch of rocks arrayed in front of him on a raised desk in his Oakland studio. He’s an artist and his plan is to sketch the rocks, but not with pen and paper. He and his artistic partner Tara Shi are going to do a 3D scan of them so that an artificial intelligence program can map their contours, learn to recognize rocks and then start generating its own craggy depictions.
The project is deceptively simple: trying to get artificial intelligence to make nature art. But it’s also a way of figuring out the limits of computational creativity. Kronick and Shi are using a neural net, a computer program loosely modeled on biological neural systems like the human brain. A given neural net needs to be trained on data.