What is beauty?

In his latest column, Perry Nightingale, Executive Creative Technologist at Grey London, looks at how our relationship with new technology is changing our perceptions of beauty, in potentially harmful ways

Is beauty a fixed universal thing? A defined value set in cosmic stone somewhere? Or is it something we each get to define? And if it is, how do our brains actually do that?

I have no idea, obviously, but I wanted to write about it because I caught a glimpse in the last few weeks of how machines can begin to see it. I have been teaching myself to code AI, through languages like Torch and Tensorflow, and the image above is a piece I made a few weeks ago. You’re looking at a face an AI has created out of the idea we have of ‘attractiveness’. If you zoom in you can see the eyes and the teeth look a bit weird but at a glance its pretty convincing.

Sometimes, not very often, you make something you’re proud of and you can’t stop looking at it. This image was one of those times for me. For me it’s not necessarily the face that’s beautiful, or even the intricacy of the code that went into it, it’s more what a huge idea this is. It’s a new sort of being in a way. It’s part person, part concept. Not built out of biology or designed by a human, but created from something abstract. Created by a machine out of the human idea of beauty.