To say most of the discussion surrounding artificial intelligence in the last six months has centered around AI art tools is no injustice to the technology’s broader context. While programs like ChatGPT have done much to showcase AI’s disruptive capabilities in the public’s eye, its advancements in AI art tools that have stirred up the most uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and conversations about what it means to be human in an age where human exceptionalism finds increasingly fewer places to hide.
It’s not that artists using machine intelligence is anything new — creatives have been exploring the potential of AI to help them in their craft for decades. But never before has the field been so scrutinized and controversial. One of the earliest platforms to help bring AI art into the spotlight was BrainDrops, which launched in 2021 and has since become one of the premier AI art destinations in Web3.
To get a better sense of the trajectory of the AI art movement and why it matters, we sat down with BrainDrops co-founder and Stability AI investor and advisor Justin Trimble to talk about the platform’s origins, the impact of AI on the future of media and entertainment, and why the proliferation of AI art was inevitable.
A long-time lover of the intersection of technology and art, Trimble stumbled onto the idea of digital provenance via blockchain tech when he discovered the well-known and seminal NFT project CryptoPunks in 2017. He developed a keen interest in generative art after meeting Erick Calderon, the founder and CEO of the generative art platform Art Blocks in the CryptoPunks Discord, something he credits with igniting an interest in AI’s ability to influence the creative sphere.
“That [interaction] started me down the rabbit hole of generative art,” Trimble said while speaking to nft now. “I was really fascinated by the mechanics of not only the art but also the drop process and the minting experience. It was just exciting.”
It quickly became apparent to Trimble that the writing was on the wall regarding the potential for AI art to flourish in a big way. Inspired to help produce a unique drop for the AI art space in a way that hadn’t been done before, he reached out to artist and roboticist Pindar Van Arman in the summer of 2021 to collaborate on a release.
At this point, the AI art movement still had roughly a year to go before reaching a tipping point and spilling out onto the world’s radar. Helping to move that timeline along was the platform’s launch in November 2021, in which Trimble and co-founders Gene Kogan and Punk2153 simultaneously dropped three of the most seminal AI art collections in the movement’s history: Claire Silver’s Genesis, Pindar Van Arman’s podGANs, and Kogan’s own Brain Loops.
Combined, the three projects have done over 5,000 ETH in trading volume since their release, establishing BrainDrops as a force to be reckoned with in the process. Time has since proven the BrainDrops team prescient; the NFTs in those collections are some of the most sought-after pieces of early AI art in existence.
While BrainDrops put up some impressive sales numbers in the months following its launch, the platform saw a relative lull in activity until January 2023, when both floor prices for its collections and weekly trading volume began to skyrocket.
Trimble attributes this in part to the increased popularization and continued improvement of text-to-image AI art tools like Midjourney, DALL-E, and Stable Diffusion. While early versions of those programs’ outputs were comparatively grainy and rough-looking, they’ve come a long way in a short amount of time in being able to produce more aesthetically coherent and pleasing images.
“I think now when you look at what’s being produced, it’s just gotten exponentially better, output-wise, at least in terms of realism and being able to reflect what somebody types in as a text prompt,” Trimble elaborated.
How AI is transforming the entertainment landscape
Trimble is no stranger to thinking about the effects AI art might have on the future of media from both a creator and consumer point of view. Just as tools like Midjourney democratized imagistic creative expression on a global scale, so do further technological advancements seem poised to do the same for audio, video, and more.
“It’s not just imagery,” Trimble said. “With ChatGPT and GPT4, you’re looking at one person, if they’re super creative, soon being able to create feature films by themselves. The sky is the limit in terms of content. You’re going to see a lot more personalized content really soon, a lot sooner than people anticipate.”
This kind of revolutionary content production is something Trimble says he’s long been interested in as a potential direction to take BrainDrops.
But the BrainDrops co-founder isn’t naive to the disruptive nature of AI technology in the entertainment industry, acknowledging that it could have a serious effect on the job market for large-scale media productions.
“The people who are the best at what they do will use the tools to continue to be the best,” Trimble offered as a prediction. “But there won’t be the big teams that have always been necessary to create things. So, instead of a team of 50 to 100 developers needed to create a triple-A game or a movie, that’ll be really pared down a lot. That could be a negative for the support staff [of those projects]. It’s hard for me to say that, but I wouldn’t be involved in [AI art] if I felt like it was like an overall negative.”
The platform continues to host some of the AI art movement’s most inventive minds. In February 2023, it released AI collaborative artist Roope Rainisto’s iconic Life In West America, a collection of 500 Western-themed scenes that have come to define the genre of post-photography.
Trimble noted that the platform has somewhere between six months to a year’s worth of projects in the works to further BrainDrops’ mission, including Metalands, its latest release from visual artist Daniel Greenwood. The platform’s plans for the future are expansive, but Trimble is keeping details close to the chest for the time being.
“We have a lot of names coming up that people are familiar with and some really interesting new ideas that people have come up with,” Trimble teased. “The thing I find most exciting about is that I want to leave as big of an impact as I can so that my son can look back and say, ‘That was really cool that you were a part of this AI art movement from the beginning.’ Leaving a legacy that my kid will be proud of.”
With a track record of being one of the earliest supporters and advocates of the most influential and innovative AI artists out there, Trimble’s legacy is the last thing he needs to worry about.