Media Arts

A Creative Introduction to AI

By Tim Needles, posted on Nov 9, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative force. I developed this AI-infused unit to help students learn about the technology while sharpening their creative skills. In this ever-changing digital age, it is the educator’s responsibility to prepare students for the issues and boundless possibilities AI has to offer, especially in artistic expression. I pose two questions to students: How can AI support us as creative people, and how can we use it ethically and responsibly?

SchoolArts magazine, The Media Arts Issue, December 2023, A Creative Introduction to AI
Quick, Draw! data results from a drawing of a carrot. The AI recognized the drawing as the correct subject, with a few close matches to other subjects.

Google’s Quick, Draw!
We begin with a look at how the technology works through the art lens, and my favorite free tool to start with is Google’s Quick, Draw! This fun and creative tool introduces users to how AI’s machine learning works.

Quick, Draw! is a simple game in which Google’s AI (the same tool that answers every Google search) asks the participant to draw six prompts in a set amount of time while AI tries to guess what you’re drawing. I start with a demonstration, showing how the tool usually guesses most of the drawings within a few seconds.

Once the game is finished, it gives you access to its doodling data set of more than 50 million drawings. This is where you can see how the AI’s neural net becomes better at predicting what’s being drawn as more drawings are input. You can also click on each drawing you created and see how the AI recognized it by comparing it to other doodles.

We then try Quick, Draw! as a class. Students enjoy hearing the automated voice’s dumbfounded expression as it tries to guess what’s being drawn. If the drawing prompt is something simple like an apple, it’s an easy guess for AI, but sometimes the prompt might be something challenging such as yoga or animal migration.

The Magic Sketchpad
Our next step is to explore co-creating along with Google’s neural net. I share another Google Experiment called the Magic Sketchpad, built by creative engineer Monica Dinculescu.

For this game, the participant can choose what to draw from a drop-down menu. Once the AI recognizes what you are drawing, it draws along with you.

The experience is like drawing with a five-year-old because AI will make sudden choices that are sometimes unexpected but interesting. The tool also allows you to choose colors and create multiple drawings on the same digital canvas. This teaches students to collaborate with their digital AI partner.

The experience is a fun and safe way to engage with AI, as Google doesn’t require a login, and it shares all of the data with users. I think it’s important to follow up with a conversation about AI and art, some of its potential positives as well as its limitations, and how we can protect ourselves from some of the negatives.

Further Conversations
We finish the unit by discussing how some AI tools search the entire internet to create, which can lead to copyright infringement. Other tools are more transparent, sharing the exact location of the data they pull from and how it’s being used.

We also talk about how this technology can help us be more creative by using it for brainstorming and preliminary exercises, rather than using it to create our work for us.

Before we conclude, we reflect on what it was like to co-create with an AI tool, because, as ISTE/ASCD CEO Richard Culatta recently shared at the ISTE Live conference, “all of the kids that you are teaching today, when they graduate, will work on teams where not all members on the team are human.” Although this may sound far-fetched, it’s probably true, and addressing it will help us get our pupils ready for the society they will live in as adults.

Tim Needles is an art teacher at Smithtown High School East in St. James, New York.

Google’s Quick, Draw!
The Magic Sketchpad

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