Arts and Culture

Blending art and technology: Digital creativity and environmental innovation

A new era of art and technology dawns with artificial intelligence and large nature models.

A new era of art and technology dawns with artificial intelligence and large nature models. Image: World Economic Forum

Joseph Fowler
Head, Arts and Culture, World Economic Forum
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Arts and Culture

  • Technology is moving art into a new phase by leveraging artificial intelligence models like Stable Diffusion.
  • Key works leveraging new technologies have also introduced the world’s first large nature model involving the largest dataset of nature-related images, sounds, scents, texts and climate measures.
  • Two major artworks involving the new art and technology fusion, commissioned by the World Economic Forum, will be exhibited at the Serpentine North Gallery in London, United Kingdom, between 16 February and 7 April 2024.

Technology has profoundly impacted the art world, transforming how art is created and experienced. With the rise of digital tools, artists now have an array of new techniques and mediums at their disposal, expanding the possibilities of creativity and what art can be.

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Evolution of technology and art

Technology has been providing artists with original ways of expression throughout history. Major shifts in artistic movements, such as the transition from analogue to digital creation or the birth of Impressionism, have been made possible by advancements in technology and science. These advancements have pushed the boundaries of creative production and opened new frontiers for artists to explore. By embracing technology, artists have expanded their artistic possibilities and contributed to the evolution of artistic expression.

Technology in art plays a significant role in challenging perceptions, as it introduces new aesthetics, virtual experiences, scientific concepts and logical reasoning that go beyond traditional forms of creativity. This fusion of art and technology allows for exploring new possibilities and creating immersive experiences that reflect the changing world we live in and the innovative ways in which artists express their creativity.

Over the past two years, I have collaborated with media artist, director and pioneer in the aesthetics of data and machine intelligence, Refik Anadol, to explore the creative outputs possible with today’s technological capabilities.

Innovative new ground

The two outputs created with Anadol were Artificial Realities: Coral (2023) and Dataland: Rainforest (2024), unveiled at Davos 2023 and Davos 2024 in Switzerland, as an integral component of the Forum’s Arts and Culture programme.

Artificial Realities: Coral
Artificial Realities: Coral Image: Refik Anadol Studio

Artificial Realities: Coral is an innovative artwork that explores the intersection of art and technology, specifically utilising the Stable Diffusion model, one of the most advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in image production.

By leveraging this technology, Refik Anadol Studio trained a unique AI model with approximately 5 billion images of corals openly accessible online. Generating abstracted coral images, the AI constructs new visuals and colour combinations based on the dataset. The artwork combines science, technology and visual arts by connecting a digital ecosystem of data and a landscape home to many living ecosystems to use the potential of both metaverse and blockchain economies to contribute to alleviating global climate change issues.

DATALAND: Rainforest art and technology
DATALAND: Rainforest Image: Refik Anadol Studio

DATALAND: Rainforest is an AI-based installation introducing the world’s first large nature model. To develop the large nature model, Anadol is collaborating with leading research institutions at Google and Nvidia, as well as the Smithsonian Institution and London’s Natural History Museum, to assemble the world’s largest dataset of nature-related images, sounds, scents, texts and climate measures.

The large nature model is designed to continue to expand over the coming years as additional data partners, such as universities, museums, foundations, government entities and libraries join the effort. The results are data-driven narratives of the natural world, providing a dynamic platform for examining the nuanced interplay between ecosystems. Thus, the large nature model is not just a data repository; it is a living archive, a canvas for creativity, a beacon for innovation and a catalyst for change.

DATALAND: Rainforest demonstrates the transformative potential of generative AI and immersive storytelling in shaping a sustainable future.

Art is humanity's capacity for imagination. With the advent of artificial intelligence, we have a unique partner in our mission to preserve our collective memories.

Refik Anadol, Artist and Aesthetics Machine Learning Pioneer

Reimagining

The two works are now featured at Serpentine North Gallery (London) from 16 February to 7 April 2024 in a new exhibition entitled Echoes of the Earth: Living Archive. The exhibition will be featured as part of the New Alliances strand of the Serpentine programme, which aims to widen audiences through engagement and collaborations.

Artificial Realities: Coral is presented as a multi-channel sound and video experience, inviting the audience to be immersed in a virtual underwater space, whilst DATALAND: Rainforest has been reconfigured and developed by Anadol with the installation, transforming the gallery into the AI model’s interpretation of a rainforest featuring the longest 3D generative AI outputs on nature to date, which includes data of flora and fauna from over 16 rainforest locations globally.

“Art is humanity’s capacity for imagination,” says Anadol. “With the advent of artificial intelligence, we have a unique partner in our mission to preserve our collective memories. Through the synergy of human intuition and machine precision, we harness the power to reimagine and restore our environments. This collaboration not only amplifies our artistic expression but also reinforces our commitment to safeguarding the planet’s beauty for generations to come.”

Technology is crucial in enabling new artistic expressions, scientific discoveries and ecological advancements. Virtual reality and augmented reality have opened up new possibilities for immersive art experiences and scientific simulations. Technology-driven data analysis and modelling have also enhanced our understanding of ecological systems and informed sustainable practices.

Both art and technology define and continue to reshape the world we live in. Reimagining what we know as real or as a solid ground pushes our opinions and understandings of nature to the limits.

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World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Arts and CultureEmerging TechnologiesNature and Biodiversity
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April 18, 2024

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