The Last Doge of Venice

A story set in distant future. Capitalism and technology have taken over creativity. AI is now able to create art, so they say. But art is not merely a collection of words, strokes of brush on a canvas, or synchronous collection of sounds. AI can identify patterns and mimic it, but it can not create art. One man, in this dystopian world stands to keep the flame of creativity alive. This is his story.

Arun S is a physicist by day and a poet by night.

Day one

Art was the last market to be gifted to the machines by man for he found it hard to mimic his own complex emotions in basic binary. But this did not stop the claws of development from catching up. This seemingly impossible task was conquered with the invention of the “Perfect Artist” supercomputer in the summer of 2133. Given a set of parameters, this supercomputer was programmed to spit out “artistic masterpieces” by the hour. Creating a new tune was just a matter of trying out a never-ending permutation of all the notes known to man till just the right tune was chanced upon. Paintings were made by combining and recombining the entire spectrum of shades found beneath the sky. Poems were written nay mass produced. Art as it was known, changed dramatically. The next renaissance they called it. Just like how the horse cart was abandoned when the automobile was invented, creativity went from a needed skill to lines of code. After a matter of a few decades, man stopped creating art for now it was a machine’s job. There were no artists left in the world.

Except me.

Old fashioned, mad, hopeless, crazy were just some of the many titles my fellow citizens have awarded me over the years. But I never cared, for the only title that ever mattered to me was the one I inherited.I was the last doge of the floating city. Over time, even this illustrious title had degraded to a common meme of the bygone internet era. I come from a forgotten lineage of patrons of art in Europe where once, to be an artist was to recreate history in a canvas of his choosing, be it palace domes or marble homes. I was one of the very few who felt that this thirst to mechanize everything man could lay hands was going in a direction that would end up in a catastrophe of proportions we couldn’t fathom. Even after countless protests and petitions my voice was silenced and man kept marching happily on his path to destruction while I could only sit on the sidelines watching with despair and frustration.

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Gray Tree — Piet Mondrian

Day three hundred and ten

A lot had changed after the unification of the art and machine. With man losing interest in creating art, the world slowly began to lose colour, it was now a grey graveyard where beauty once reigned. And the most saddening part was that nobody cared. For you see the way the machine works is, by sheer brute force of trial and error it finds what it feels the user needs. But then came a point where the user actually stopped needing anything — they simply lost interest. Soon the Perfect Artist slowed down its mass production of art and one fine day it just stopped, for a computer algorithm decided that no combination of colour nor any permutation of notes was good enough for us and that humanity as a whole stopped “needing” art anymore.

Oh yes there were attempts to revive the super computer, new codes and theorems were formalized to try to get it working. But the trouble is no one actually remembers how to weave words together to form lyrics and songs, nor do they recollect the way the colours brought paintings to life. Creativity was an attribute that had gone extinct in the human race. The company behind the Perfect Artist gathered geniuses from all corners of the globe and formed an elite task force to come up with a solution to the problem. Though note that, the problem was not the extinction of art but merely a malfunction in their prodigious machine. And I, being the sole voice of resistance to this travesty, soon found myself working willingly with the team. All the other members were scientists and programmers trying to find flaws in the seemingly perfect code, but I… I took the road not taken. I knew the answer was not going to come from mathematics or physics, it was going to come from history, the history we had utterly disrespected and neglected. For a while, the others looked for a way forward. I turned back to trace our way backward.

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The face of war — Salvador Dali

Day seven hundred and twenty

It has been almost two years since the company had commissioned the team and we have arrived at no logical statement to the problem. At least that is what the others feel. I, on the other hand, still stick to my original statement, that there exists no logical solution to this problem; the only way to revive the lost arts is to answer the question “what is art”. In search of this answer, I traveled far and wide, to times when paintings were not mere computer-generated pixels but were the result of the blood, sweat and tears of human artists. I sought access to the forsaken archives which still hold the ancient texts in their physical forms, where the extent of ones and zeroes hadn’t reached yet. The language which conceived the words of the bygone poems and odysseys seemed so alien to me. Did man once actually have the capability to temper words into pieces of beauty? At times, I wonder what will the neuron scans of the human artists of the past show us! What is it that makes them bend reality at their will? The first records we have of man show us that even then when we were but simple Neanderthals, we had in us the ability to carve into rocks and the desire to paint rudimentary shapes on simple cave walls. What did we have then, in the beginning, that we have now lost at the pinnacle of evolution? Will I discover the meaning of colour again? The answers, I believe, lie in Robert Frost’s words and Picasso’s strokes.

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Os Retirantes — Candido Portinari

Day One thousand four hundred and fifty four

The world has moved on. The team has been disbanded for lack of results and everyone has been repurposed to other “pressing” tasks. The universal record of known words has officially shifted the word “art” to the “words not in use” section. Years of scouring the forsaken archives resulted in nothing. I then moved on to the remaining phonic libraries still left in the world. Even there, it was hard to find songs without the machines’ touch in them. In a vast ocean of artificial songs, finding the genuine ones was as futile as searching for fresh water in the poisoned seas of the world. It was only by extreme good fortune that I chanced upon a folder named “trash” in one of the older phonic libraries. It contained everything except what it meant to contain. From Lady Gaga to Wolfgang Mozart, there, I found the legends. Hoping to find some solace, my questioning soul dwelled deep into the musical cosmos. Will I find the lost meaning of art in these symphonies of emotions? Only time will tell.

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Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man — Salvador Dali

Day Three thousand six hundred and forty two

One month. The best diagnosis that the healers could come up with was not concerning which ailment had struck me, but only how much more I had to suffer in this mortal shell. For all humanity has come through, after all the incurable diseases have been cured, we still find ones we can’t cure now and then. Either enter the cryogenic chambers and possibly wait for a future in which they might’ve found a cure or accept my fate and prepare for the end. My choice? Well my choice was clear. The answer I had been seeking for a decade had been found, my purpose had been achieved. I no longer had the desire to see man funnel further into the pit he had dug for himself. After ten long years of struggle, I had found the answer to the question that had been eating my soul throughout my life, to the question that might’ve guided me to the state I am in right now. The forgotten texts of the forsaken libraries, the discarded songs of the out-of-place phonic libraries, the ruined paintings in the deep vaults — all point to this one conclusion. The reason why the Perfect Artist stopped working.

The true reason behind why a painter could produce such masterpieces was never because he knew how to manipulate his brush. Singers did not just spit out their iconic songs because they had stunning vocal ranges nor did musicians create orchestras out of thin air just because they commanded their instruments in a way nobody could. The only reason why the artists did what they did was because they understood what art actually was. It was never a way to attract the masses nor a path to monetary heaven. Art was a way for man to express himself. The fundamental skill that every true artist possesses is command over his emotions. The only way in which truly ground-breaking artworks were produced was when the artist’s raw emotions were channeled and let loose on their canvases. The most beautiful artworks produced are seldom technical masterpieces and are almost never too complex to comprehend, they were always true portrayals of the artist’s emotions. Art was the common man’s platform to divinity paved by his emotions. When man surrendered his right to expression to a machine he created, to a slave he brought to life, he brought to motion a chaining of events leading to the beginning of the end. For, no matter how complex a machine you design, a machine will never understand what it is to express because it does not have anything to express. Art lost its soul that fateful day in the summer of 2150. Man created machines and commanded them to do wonders they can never understand. For when emotions were given on a silver platter to an emotionless entity, art was thrown unceremoniously out the back door from where it never returned.

Let this be my final message to the world. To revive the Perfect Artist is a meaningless task for it never actually lived to be revived. If there exists a single soul in the world who wants to revive art then let it be known that the only way to do it is to revive humanity and let out the ravaging emotions that humanity had suppressed all this while.

A month later, a diary labelled “The diary of the last doge of Venice” appeared at the doorstep of the CEO of Perfect Industries. The CEO gave it to his deputy who gave it to his deputy who fed it to his virtual assistant. The virtual assistant from its expert analysis of the document came with the following conclusion. “Report inconclusive, no structured solution found. Suggested method of approach — code emotions, machine might work”

The very next day, Future Industries gave out a press release, “Skilled coders needed. Work for creating emotions set to begin in the near future. Perfect Industries promises to usher in the third renaissance with a revolutionary invention that would change the world.”

Arun S

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