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Sotheby’s Intelligence Reveals Artificiality

Sotheby’s recently announced acquisition of the artificial intelligence company Thread Genius, which makes image matching software. The auction house intends to employ the technology to suggest to art collectors what work they should buy based on images of their existing collection.

If you have ever done an Internet image search based on another image, you have used this same technology. It is not perfect, but it does come close to finding images that are similar to the one for which you searched. Sotheby’s came up with the idea to use the technology to help art buyers make choices after being inspired by services like Pandora and Spotify, which help users find new music to listen to based on the music they already like.

Unfortunately, the genius of Pandora and Spotify is also what makes them boring. Who wants to just listen to the same kind of music all the time? Similarly, who would want to simply collect the same kind of art all the time? How a digital eye sees a painting has almost nothing to do with how an actual human will interact with the same painting. Discovering art in person is a real experience. Letting a computer match you with art that looks like the art you already own is indeed the height of artificiality – but calling it intelligence is a leap.

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