Creativity Evolved: the rise of AI Artwork

How Uma is learning creativity from its collaboration with humans

Creativity and innovation have always gone hand-in-hand since the beginning of human scientific and technological endeavours. Our collaboration between the Maltese artist Mark Mallia and Umnai’s creative AI system Uma (for Universal Machine Artist) has started to give rise to human-directed AI artwork.

Uma’s Interpretation (Left) of Mark Mallia’s second painting in the Uma collaboration project

Uma’s artwork was successfully launched to the public at the end of October in Malta, where the first pair of collaboration artwork was auctioned for charity, breaking records for an auction price for a living artist in Malta (read more about the first painting here). The question of whether art can be created by anything other than human creativity and appreciated by people enough to bid for it and appreciate it has been answered conclusively, leading us to extend our collaboration further.

Mark is currently teaching Uma Umnai how artistic style evolves over time. Having initially gone back to his style as it was two decades ago, from his Miami days, Mark is now slowly moving over to his present day style, teaching Uma how artists evolve and change over time. Mark acts as a mentor to the AI system and its learning process, allowing it to create its own original creative artwork, influenced heavily by the human artistic process. Uma, now in its third month of artistic creation, has started to learn to draw human faces — we do not know the identity of these people or how they are being created — yet they definitely exist in Uma’s artificial imagination.

The second pair of artworks have been initially inspired by the presence during the first auction of the Sophia robot, a prime example of how human-looking robots can capture the public imagination and fuel creative fantasies about AI and the future. The paintings, entitled “Sophia” by Mark, and Uma’s interpretation of it — “Sophia meets Uma” — are remarkable for the way that Uma picks up on the main elements in Mark’s painting and applies a rather darker style to it — exactly in line with how Mark himself has changed over time. Mark commented that:

“Now that we fed Uma with my work, she knows my subconscious mind, its like she got into my soul, stealing my creations before I actually put them on canvas.”

It is a fascinating process to watch Mark eagerly await Uma’s interpretation of his own artwork, as he corrects and provides feedback to the whole process. “When I saw Steven Spielberg’s AI, I thought it was far fetched at that time — now that Uma predicts me, I have changed my mind”, adds Mallia.

Mauro inspecting Uma’s sketch outputs during the generation process

Unlike other creative AI projects that simply use paintings as training examples and a method called Generative Adversarial Networks, where two neural networks (the generator “painter” and the discriminator “critic”) work hand-in-hand against each other to create new artwork, we have added the human element in the loop, with the human artist working as the director. “Sophia meets Uma” is signed by Uma, with the Umnai logo representing her surname, simultaneously identifying it as unique artwork produced by an AI entity. Uma exists on a couple of hundred servers on the cloud, and was conceived by Angelo Dalli, the CEO of Umnai, and trained and perfected by Mauro Pirrone, Umnai’s Chief Software Architect.

The collaboration between Mark and Uma continues — the future looks bright as we embark on a journey to establish a new form of art where humans and AI collaborate together to create something creatively unique.


We would like to thank 111 Art Gallery for Mark Mallia’s financial support and artistic representation; Eman Pulis, for the enthusiastic support from the start; Aleksey Leonov, for the photo inserts; Olga Finkel, for legal and financial support; Michael De Giovanni, for the final processing of the physical canvas output and the rest of the Umnai Team.

Angelo Dalli is a serial entrepreneur and super-angel investor with a tech background and AI expertise - and a part-time marathon runner :-)

Angelo Dalli is a serial entrepreneur and super-angel investor with a tech background and AI expertise - and a part-time marathon runner :-)