Dear Lee,

Happy New Year! It’s easy to look back and see how the stories in our newsletter have changed these past 45 years. Our tools have gone from typewriters to computers, from books and newspapers to online and cell phones, from carbon paper to copy machine copies, and from letters to faxes and email. But we wrote about the same types of collectibles and antiques. The major changes were the prices.

A favored, affordable antique years ago was an 18th-century English plate. In the 1980s it could be a Watt Apple pattern plate. Today, it would be an Eva Zeisel dinner plate. The 18th-century plate is out of favor and costs less than it did 45 years ago. And a special, rare baseball card that was free with a pack of gum is now worth over $100,000.

But what about expensive paintings? Instead of lush landscapes and beautiful women we already have pictures of newspaper comics or paint drippings. But be prepared! They have already sold the first highly regarded artwork that was made by artificial intelligence (AI), not the human mind.

I’m told it was created by an algorithm, “an algebraic formula with many parentheses.” The “directions” have two parts – the Generator, which makes the new image, and the Discriminator, which decides if it is a picture by a human, or one made using data gathered from more than 15,000 paintings that we admire. The resulting pictures that fool the Discriminator into thinking the new picture was made by a human, are a success.

An AI picture was recently offered for sale in a Christie’s auction with a $7,000 to $10,000 estimate. A phone bidder bought it for $432,500, no doubt because it’s the first example of a new scientific achievement. The “Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” (yes, they made up a name and history for the strange man pictured) has blurred features, a very round face, strange eyes, a tiny nose and a stocky body. But it could have been the work of a contemporary artist making a statement by creating a slightly distorted, unfinished-looking 18th-century-style portrait. We doubt that AI will replace live artists any time soon. But maybe some live artists will try to draw like machines and replicate an Edmond de Belamy?

Photo courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGE LTD. 2018