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Can AI create a masterpiece?

This story is part of “Smart Creativity,” a series exploring the intersection between high-concept d..

This story is part of "Smart Creativity," a series exploring the intersection between high-concept design and advanced technology.

"Edmond de Belamy" has made history as the first work of art produced by artificial intelligence to be sold at auction.

The slightly blurry canvas print, which has been likened to works by the Old Masters, sold Thursday for $432,500 — dramatically exceeding its original estimate of $7,000-$10,000– at a Christie's auction in New York.

"Christie's continually stays attuned to changes in the art market and how technology can impact the creation and consumption of art," Richard Lloyd, international head of prints and multiples at Christie's, said in a statement before the auction.

"AI has already been incorporated as a tool by contemporary artists and as this technology further develops, we are excited to participate in these continued conversations. To best engage in the dialogue, we are offering a public platform to exhibit an artwork that has entirely been realized by an algorithm."

Obvious co-founder Pierre Fautrel stands beside "Edmond de Belamy" before it hits the auction block at Christie's in New York. Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

While the print is signed "min G max D x [log (D(x))] + z [log(1 – D (G(z)))]" after a section of the algorithm's code, it was conceived by Obvious, a Paris-based trio fascinated by the artistic potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Though none come from an art background, friends Pierre Fautrel, Hugo Caselles-Dupré and Gauthier Vernier first started experimenting with art and machine learning last year.

"We saw algorithms were capable of creating new images, and we were astonished by the potential they had," Vernier said.

To produce "Edmond de Belamy" and the 10 other portraits in the "La Famille de Belamy" series, Obvious fed a two-part algorithm 15,000 images of portraits from different time periods. After reviewing these submissions, the first part of the algorithm began generating its own portraits, trying to create original works that could pass as man-made.

Can artificial intelligence produce a masterpiece?

"All the data has similarities, so common features. So, first algorithm creates new examples of those images and tries to fool the second algorithm into thinking that those pictures created are, actually, real portraits, so human-made," Vernier said.

"We're looking at these portraits the same way a painter would do it. Like walking in a gallery, taking some inspiration. Except that we feed this inspiration to the algorithm, and the algorithm is the part that does the visual creation."

"Le Comte de Belamy" is one of 10 portraits that comprise Obvious' "La Famille de Belamy" series.

"Le Comte de Belamy" is one of 10 portraits that comprise Obvious' "La Famille de Belamy" series. Credit: Courtesy Obvious

While inventive, this approach hasn't been without critics. Many working in the field of art and artificial intelligence criticized or dismissed Obvious' inclusion in the Christie's sale since the type of algorithm used — generative adversarial networks, or GANs — have been used by artists for years.

Speaking to The New York Times ahead of the auction, Mario Klingemann, an artist known for his work with machine learning, likened "Edmond de Belamy" to "a connect-the-dots children's painting."

But in light of the auction result, it's likely Obvious will remain undaunted by naysayers. Their work has raised interesting points around the nature of human creation — and clearly caught the attention of the world's collectors.

"I think (artificial intelligence) has its place in the art world because it tries to replicate what any artist would do, like trying to create from what he knows," Vernier said. "It forces you to try to understand your own creativity and how you would be able to replicate it."

Watch the video above to find out more about Obvious and how technology informs the trio's practice.


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Trump administration downgrades EU ambassador

Until they didn't.The European Union's ambassador to the US, David O'Sullivan, normal..

Until they didn't.The European Union's ambassador to the US, David O'Sullivan, normally among the first 30 foreign envoys to be seated, watched as almost every other ambassador to the US took a seat, leaving him among the last to be called. That, according to an EU official, was how the 28-member bloc learned that the Trump administration had downgraded its diplomatic status from a state to an international organization. The shift — a reversal of an Obama administration decision in 2016 — has riled Brussels, deepening a growing rift and appalling diplomats in Washington who decried the move as "amateur" and "unprofessional."

The latest irritant

"We learned of this when Ambassador O'Sullivan went to the funeral of President George Bush," an EU official told CNN, speaking anonymously to discuss the issue. "Every administration has the right to review this order but why now, two years in?" the official said, echoing comments from diplomats in Washington that the move seemed politically motivated. "What for us is remarkable is that we were not notified," the official continued. "For a diplomatic move like that, you should at least tell the organization involved."The State Department did not answer multiple questions — when or why the decision was made, by whom and why the Trump administration didn't bother notifying the EU orally or in writing. Instead, the agency sent CNN an automatic message citing the government shutdown for its failure to respond. The snub is just the latest irritant in US-EU relations since the Trump administration took office. Under President Donald Trump, the US has sparred with the EU on a number of issues, including trade, the Iran nuclear deal and support for the Paris climate agreement, and has failed to consult it on decisions that affect European security. More to the point, Trump and senior officials in his fiercely nationalistic administration have criticized the EU, pushed for Britain's departure from the group and publicly questioned its value, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraging members to assert their national sovereignty in a December speech. Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, in a strikingly undiplomatic speech, Pompeo asked whether the EU is "ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats and Brussels." News reports of the speech noted that one audience member shouted, "Yes!" "This decision is just another in a series of failures to consult our closest allies," said Julianne Smith an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "Europe wasn't consulted or notified about the administration's decision to leave the INF Treaty," with Russia, which immediately impacts European security. "Nor was it consulted or notified when the administration decided to leave both Syria and Afghanistan," Smith said. "Europeans have become accustomed to learning about US policy decisions in the newspaper. That's not how alliances work, and that's not how past administrations have treated allies. Europeans are growing tired of the constant surprises."

'Just rude'

The State Department's "Diplomatic Corps Order of Precedence and Dates of Presentation of Credentials" is used for protocol purposes, but it's also used by other organizations and embassies across Washington. The longer an ambassador is posted in Washington, the more senior they become. Being taken off the list effectively means they no longer receive many invitations — an essential part of doing business. The EU, which established its diplomatic corps in 2011, lobbied the Obama administration to have O'Sullivan be treated as the diplomatic representative of a nation-state and after a lengthy process, got the green light in 2016.Given the tension between the White House and the EU, and the timing — almost two years after the Trump administration took the White House — several diplomats told CNN the move seemed punitive. "It's clearly political and, frankly, amateur and unprofessional," said one diplomat from a non-EU country. "I'm putting it politely."Another diplomat noted that "there have been tensions for some time between the EU and the Trump administration. They've appeared slightly hostile at times to the EU. This is just rude."


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Man admits to cyberattack on German politicians

Hundreds of politicians and public figures were among those affected by the attack, with personal da..

Hundreds of politicians and public figures were among those affected by the attack, with personal data and documents released online."During questioning, the defendant stated that he had acted alone in the data spying and unauthorized data releases," Ungefuk said.The suspect was arrested in the German state of Hesse on Sunday as part of a joint investigation by Frankfurt's Attorney General, the Central Office for the Suppression of Cybercrime (ZIT) and the Federal Criminal Investigation Office.''The investigations have so far revealed no evidence of any third-party involvement," reads a statement from Germany's federal crime office (BKA) released on Tuesday. "On his motivation, the defendant stated that he acted out of annoyance at public statements made by the politicians, journalists and public figures concerned." The man was released on Monday evening due to a lack of grounds for detention, according to the statement, but evidence such as computers is still being evaluated.In response to the data breach, Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer told reporters that he would work to put safer measures in place to protect data in future, including a new IT security law. A draft bill could be presented to cabinet within a few months, Seehofer said during a press conference, but the exact timings are still to be confirmed. Seehofer reiterated that challenges would remain despite this new law.''We cannot promise absolute, total security, especially in the field of cyber security," he said.The Reichstag building in Berlin houses the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliamentDetails of the data breach were provided by government spokeswoman Martina Fietz on Friday.Fietz told reporters that German lawmakers at all levels, including from the European parliament, German parliament, and local politicians, had been affected. The data included credit card details, phone numbers and email addresses, one political party told CNN. Several German media outlets reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was affected by the breach, but Fietz said no sensitive information from Merkel's office had been published.Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel protege, elected leader of Germany's ruling partyThis is not the first time German politicians have been targeted.A cyberattack targeted parts of the German government network, including the foreign ministry, early last year, Reuters reported. And in 2015, pro-Russian hackers claimed responsibility for a series of cyberattacks that brought down government websites.On Friday, Fietz told reporters that it was "too early at this stage to compare this incident to that in previous years."


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50,000 people hit the streets across France in new ‘yellow vest’ protests

About 50,000 people demonstrated, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Large gatherin..

About 50,000 people demonstrated, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Large gatherings were held in Paris, Bordeaux and Marseilles.In Paris, 3,500 people participated in protests on Saturday, much higher than the 800 who took to the streets last week, police said. At least 34 people were taken in for questioning in the capital city.Benjamin Griveaux, government spokesman, confirmed that he and his team had to evacuate his office in Paris after demonstrators broke into his courtyard by knocking down the door with construction machinery.Violence was reported in Montpellier and Troyes, where demonstrators tried to enter prefectures, and in Avignon, where some attempted to break into the Court of Justice. Violence was also reported in Beauvais, authorities said.The protests are named after the yellow high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their vehicles.They have morphed from dissent over rising gas prices and eco-taxes into a broader demonstration against President Emmanuel Macron and his government, and tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor.France's Emmanuel Macron calls for respect and unity in New Year's speech"I call on everybody to be responsible and respect the rule of law," Castaner said on Twitter.Castaner said he gathered local police officials for a video conference "as tensions and violence have been witnessed in Paris and in a few other cities."Last weekend, an estimated 32,000 protesters took to the streets. There have been some protests since the year began but mostly they have been modest demonstrations on roads and roundabouts.Saturday's protests are the first big gatherings of the year.

A government under pressure

In his New Year's address, Macron made reference to the "yellow vest" movement without naming it.Tax rises, yellow vests and a gold desk: Emmanuel Macron's humbling yearHe acknowledged anger against injustice but said hateful speech would not be tolerated. Macron said France "wants to build a better future" while imploring people to respect each other.In December, Macron pledged to increase the minimum wage and get rid of new pension taxes, a move that didn't appease the anger of some of the protesters.Ten people have died in connection with the protests, with most deaths taking place in traffic accidents related to blockades in November and December.

CNN's Katie Polglase wrote from London while Joe Sterling wrote from Atlanta.


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