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AI can’t draw hands!

Column by Paul de Kort

Figure 1: AI Drawing Hands

It was 'breaking news' on the internet earlier this year: AI is generating very believable images of people in all sorts of situations, but a closer look reveals that AI is generating human hands with 6 or 10 fingers, or countless fingers tangled in an inextricable knot. 

The immediate reaction is that we need to teach AI better. But it is my position here that AI's inability to generate credible human hands touches on a fundamental distinction between AI and human intelligence.

Figure 2: Pablo Picasso, Le Rêve, oil on canvas, 1932

Picasso painted his girlfriend Marie-Thérèse with six fingers on each hand. Picasso was not mistaken, he did this on purpose. He wanted us as viewers to interpret this in our own way, with our own vision and experience. The strange form of the right half of her face was intended as open for a multiple interpretation….

Figure 3: MC Escher, Drawing Hands, lithograpy,1948

Escher, unlike AI, could draw hands very well, and in this 1948 lithograph he is celebrating the pleasure of 'hand drawing', in both senses of the word. 

AI generates an abundance of images at lightning speed and does so (for us) virtually without resistance. But anyone who paints, models, or plays a musical instrument knows that the goal is not in the result (which is often disappointing), but in the process, the frustration, the victory, the sense of triumph when we have overcome the resistance.

The technology philosopher Éric Sadin argues: "(...) ten-year-old students no longer write essays but give an AI system a task - to produce a piece of work that should have been the result of an inventive, creative activity. Learning the language, exercising the mind, putting effort into something. Sweating, toiling, suffering. Writing is not easy, but it is also the reflection of our individuality, of every being: speaking in the first person, expressing ourselves in our own way, at our own level, both in everyday life and in great novels.”  (NRC, 18-11-’23)

This is why Sadin believes that generative AI threatens human expression, one of the most fundamental aspects of being human.

With AI, we tend to limit intelligence to the purely cerebral gathering and processing of information, with an emphasis on the intellect. As mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose argues, "it's not about artificial intelligence, it's about artificial cleverness." Computers are much smarter than humans in this respect, so if we overemphasise this, we run the risk of underestimating ourselves and our human intelligence. And that is where the danger is hiding, according to Penrose. (VPRO Tegenlicht, ‘Technology as Religion’)

Felienne Hermans, professor of Computer Science Education at the VU, Amsterdam, argues; “That we know how to ride a bike or how to make something with our hands. A machine cannot do that. You can give all kinds of detailed instructions on how to cook a dish, but that doesn't mean you can make that dish well. Because there is something in good cooking that we can't quite put into words. Intelligence has many forms and in AI almost all of them are left out. That's problematic because that's how you create a very cerebral world.

(Correspondent, Maurits Martijn: Een mens is niet zo voorspelbaar als een baggerpomp, 01-12- ‘23)

Figure 4: Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), ±10.000 BC, Santa Cruz Argentina

Our human intelligence is constantly fed by our senses and the most sensitive tactile organs are our hands and especially our fingertips. With these we are constantly probing our surroundings and gathering information about our environment. 

It is a misconception in the AI debate that human intelligence is a purely cerebral affair, our intelligence is in our whole body and our hands play a crucial role in receiving information and expressing our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Figure 5: The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, fresco painting (detai), 1508-1512

We use our hands all the time when we communicate, to reinforce our words or put them into perspective. Hands, both our own and those of the people we communicate with, are always in our field of vision. We almost always perceive hands; we can literally dream them. That is why we see it immediately when something is wrong, the position of the fingers, the proportions, an expression, a gesture.

AI has no hands!

Paul de Kort is landschapskunstenaar en geeft les aan WageningenUR en Academie van Bouwkunst Amsterdam 


Martijn, M. (2023, 30 november). Een mens is niet zo voorspelbaar als een baggerpomp (en vijf andere inzichten over kunstmatige intelligentie). De Correspondent.

Van Heezik, C. (2023, 18 november). ‘De sleutel tot de toekomst van de mensheid zou niet in handen moeten zijn van zo’n klein clubje techmiljardairs’. NRC.


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