A comprehensive, entertaining overview of the nature of creativity in the age of machines.
As we all know, machines are getting smarter. They're also getting more creative. A robot equipped with sufficiently cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning technology can now behave in almost human-like fashion. It is that 'almost' that is one of the tenets of this book. Can machines write good jazz music? Can computers create art that is better (subjectively) than da Vinci or Dali? More importantly, should the art that machines create even be measured in this way? Will computers eventually produce works of art unlike that of any human? Should they be judged on their own merits, not tied to an increasingly redundant human comparison? Is the endgame of AI development simply to replicate the human experience - e.g. to save us from having to do boring, repetitive tasks and jobs by creating a virtual version of ourselves - or will development inevitably continue exponentially, such that computers ultimately surpass human ability and go (far) beyond anything that humans are capable of? It still seems unlikely, writing this here in 2019, that a humanoid robot in the physical realm will be able to pick up an acoustic guitar and start fingerpicking a clear mountain-folk melody any time soon. However, in the virtual, digital realm, things are much easier for the AI artist. Given unlimited computing power, an AI bot can happily churn through millions of songs, paintings and novels, analysing the form, content and structure of each and learning as it goes about what exactly constitutes 'good art'. It's effectively our lifelong human exploratory and cognitive experiences crammed into the blink of a CPU-driven eye. Beginning with the comically crude results of very early AI-as-artist experiments, we are now at a point in robot history where some very passable artwork is being produced in all creative fields. In 'The Artist in the Machine: The World of AI-Powered Creativity' (The MIT Press, £22.50, ISBN 9780262042857), author Arthur Miller asks - and answers, thankfully - many of the key questions central to this field of research. Will computers ever think like us? Could they ever have flashes of inspiration or come up with eccentric, crazy ideas? Could they invent something no one ever thought of before and never thought was needed? Could they dream up the plays of Shakespeare? Do they even need to? Miller has a long-held fascination for all aspects of creative thinking, especially as it pertains to creativity in art on the one hand and science on the other. His previous book - 'Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art' - looked at how art, science and technology have become slowly and inextricably fused together in the 21st century. Now, in this latest work, Miller is focusing on the potential of artistic machines and where they might go from here. Sufficiently trained and appropriately empowered, will computers 'learn' to function in new and different ways, coming up with ideas just as great or solutions just as effective yet different from the ones we humans might have come up with? Do machines have a mental life? Can machines be creative, have consciousness? What do we mean when we talk about being creative? Miller talks to scientists working at the outer limits of computer thinking, those people developing AI specifically to create art, literature and music. Along the way, sharing insights gleaned from his interviews, Miller considers what makes us creative. The early part of the book actually makes for a very readable thesis on the nature of human creativity and creative inspiration, with several chapters almost serving as a manual for refining one's own creative spark. Miller then moves on to a history of artificial intelligence - those "first inklings of computer creativity" - and highlights the landmark events in AI history: 'Deep Blue Defeats Garry Kasparov'; 'IBM Watson Becomes Jeopardy! Champion' and of course that high-water mark of AI cognitive development, 'AlphaGo Defeats the Reigning World Go Champion'. DeepDream, the AI computer vision program created by Google engineer Alexander Mordvintsev, also gets its due here. The neural network program is one of the more widely recognised exponents of AI in art, its nightmarish hallucinogenic visual results produced by algorithms which identify and enhance the patterns it finds in existing real-world, typically banal, images. This art section of the book - 'Portrait of the Computer as an Artist' - is followed by sections devoted to music and literature. In 'Machines That Make Music: Putting the Rhythm into Algorithm', we hear about a robot jazz band; music that is “more Bach than Bach”; an AI take on folk music, 'The Drunken Pint', and the AI 'Eduardo Miranda and His Improvising Slime Mold'. It is worth mentioning at this point that supporting audio and video, as well as full-colour examples of the black and white images in the book, are available online, if you want to see and hear for yourself some of these cutting-edge AI creative works. Meanwhile, in the literature section, we read about 'Computers That Weave Magic with Words', 'Computers with a Sense of Humor', AI as poets and the 'problems of creating rounded stories. It is all much the same type of challenges posed to any creative writing workshop, the key difference being that those 'attending' here are not human. The closing section of the book considers the more esoteric and philosophical aspects of AI and creativity, giving due consideration to the problems inherent in developing machines that can accumulate life and world experience, becoming virtually senient beings that feel emotion. Can computers actually 'think' in the sense of human consciousness? Also, can we - or should we - apply the standard hallmarks of human creativity to computers, given how different machines are? This brings us full circle to one core premise of this book: the nature of creative AI and what man's developmental needs or goals for it should be. Are we looking for more of the same or something entirely new? 'The Artist in the Machine' arrives at a crucial juncture in the history of AI creativity to examine the prevailing state of the art and to consider the road(s) ahead. If you are at all interested in the journey of artistic robots, from first flashes to final destination, this book is your ideal travel companion. books reviews artificial intelligence robots robotics android robots art music volume 14 issue 10 Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day. 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