Tech entrepreneur Angelo Dalli (left) and artist Mark Mallia
How much would you pay for one of the first paintings in the world created by an artificially intelligent machine? Maltese artist Mark Mallia took a step into the unknown when he tried to teach a robot the basics of painting, but his efforts paid off as the finished product was auctioned off for €17,500 this week.
Three months ago, Mallia entered into collaboration with Umnai, an AI solution initiative whose CEO is tech entrepreneur Angelo Dalli, to develop the concept of human-directed AI art. Umnai created an AI robot called Uma (for Universal Machine Artist) and Mallia spent months painting in front of it, essentially training it to recognise painting strokes and styles.
The end result was a set of paintings depicting two women merged together at the torso – the first by Mallia, “Agnes and Ingrid” and Uma’s reinterpretation of it, “Agnes and Ingrid Re-Imagined”.
Mark Mallia’s original painting
Uma’s interpretation of the painting
While the robot’s reinterpretation is decidedly more abstract than the original, its mimicking intention was clear, making the artwork nothing short of remarkable.
Uma’s signature on the painting
On Wednesday, both paintings were put up for auction as part of the Malta Blockchain Summit, with Malta-based entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Weingard eventually claiming it for €17,500 following a bidding war with Japanese businessmen.
All proceeds from the auction were donated to the Malta Community Chest Fund, while Weingard displayed the paintings at the Intercontinental Hotel, where the summit is being held.
Mark Mallia with his original painting (left) and Uma’s reinterpretation of it (right)
This was only the second-ever auction of an AI artwork in history, with auction house Christie’s having sold the impressive ‘Portrait of Edmond de Belamy’ for an eye-watering $432,500 a few days earlier.
The auction comes as Malta tries to position itself as a global hub for the development and regulation of AI technologies. The government yesterday appointed a taskforce to propose a strategy for the regulation of AI, which will consult with experts in the field, including the creators of the lifelike humanoid Sophia. Among other proposals, the taskforce explore whether Malta should launch a pilot project for the preparation of citizenship tests for robots.