Column is a monthly feature that follows the lives
of creative people and explores the world of creativity.
Are Computers Creative?
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
computers create? Yes. Are computers creative? Not
yet. I could offer a definition of 'create' and
'creative' here but perhaps it's more rewarding
to ponder their difference.
Analytical Engine has no pretensions
whatever to originate anything.'
The Countess of Lovelace writing in
1843 about her friend Charles Babbage's
proposed Analytical Engine, the first
'You will be assimilated. Resistance
As technology advances, so many of us become increasingly
married to our 'technological tools of existence'.
Until relatively recently our interface with the
world has been self contained. We use our senses
to experience and explore the world, and we communicate
to others through language and gesture. As a species
we are masters of metaphor and have found this to
be our most powerful means of communicating complex
ideas and emotions.
Since the first cave paintings we have developed
our skills in manipulating the concrete world around
us to help us communicate what is of significance
to us more effectively. With the development of
the computer and its symbiotic partner, software,
we have invented tools that allow us to manipulate
and fashion our experiences and ideas in ever more
subtle and complex ways.
last ten years has seen a shift in the availability
of creative tools from the concrete to the virtual.
Software has provided the opportunity for millions
of people to explore their creativity for the first
time, away from the judgments and opinions of others.
We view ourselves as very much the masters of this
creative process as we click a button here, choose
an option there, and 'create' something new.
skill is mastery of complexity while
creativity is mastery of simplicity.'
We gain ever more sophisticated results for diminishing
effort as the world's 'creative software' caresses
our egos. I guess we should be asking ourselves,
who's doing the creating - or rather producing?
The person manipulating the software or the software
Take the common example of altering a digital photograph.
A single click of the mouse can manipulate the image
in a thousand ways. The software usually provides
the same 'template' for a given command and therefore
couldn't be considered 'creative' in the sense that
it has produced something 'new', but the results
may well be judged as 'creative' or at least 'inventive',
especially if the viewer has not seen an image or
filter achieve a particular visual effect before.
The New Symbiotic
Since the advent of computers and the development
of ever more sophisticated computer interfaces,
we have embarked on a new adventure. Our interaction
with the world is changing, and the interface between
computer and humans which began with the keyboard
is evolving in new, more intimate and profound ways.
Within fifty years our next great leap as a species
will have taken place.
Humans will fall into one of two distinct camps.
Those that embrace the new symbiotic relationship
of man and machine, and those who wish to maintain
their corporal independence. The creative endeavours
of those within the first of these camps will inevitably
lead to an increase in production and efficiency.
The 'Computer Creatives' will dominate the design
and direction of our future world.
'Computer Creatives' may for instance have small
brain implants that stimulate specific hand movements
according to particular tasks. For instance a painter
might choose from thousands of available painting
styles from a 'movement database', remotely transfer
the movement data to his implant, and begin working
within the confines of a particular style. The painter,
software, implant, and body would work as one.
are the Borg. Existence as you know
it is over. We will add your biological
and technological distinctiveness to
Borg is a creation from the makers of Star Trek
(The Next Generation, Voyager, and First Contact).
The Borg 'is' presented as a cybernetic life-form
thousands of years old which is part organic, part
artificial life (I use the word 'is', not 'are',
as The Borg is a collective, a single entity). The
Borg have one goal, namely the assimilation of other
species to further their betterment. This is in
contrast to the usual goals of expansion: the accumulation
of power, wealth, or political influence.
Born humanoid, they are implanted with bio-chips
that link their brains to a collective consciousness
via a unique subspace frequency emitted by each
drone. This collective consciousness is experienced
by the Borg as 'thousands of voices' - they are
collectively aware, but not aware of themselves
as separate individuals. Consequently, they never
speak in singular pronouns, referring to themselves
when required as merely one of many ('seven of nine',
'third of five' etc). In Star Trek, The Borg threaten
to assimilate any humans they encounter.
I've found the idea of The Borg one of the most
enduring, powerful, and thought provoking ideas
presented in Star Trek, whose mission has been to
explore our humanity and visions of the future for
over thirty five years. One of the great strengths
of imaginative investigation is to lay bare different
visions of our future existence, and by so doing,
alert us both intellectually and emotionally to
the implications of a given path.
The first stages of assimilation of the world's
human inhabitants has already begun. I'm communicating
to a collective right now. You, I, we, meet in this
sphere we call the Internet. The essential difference
from the scenario we find ourselves in and that
of The Borg collective, is that at present, we are
remote from this virtual meeting place and have
a choice about what form our 'assimilation' takes.
wrote the program; the program does
Harold Cohen, abstract artist turned computer programmer,
works in the computer science department at the
University of California, San Diego. Cohen has developed
AARON, a set of programs to produce 'drawings' and
'paintings'. Cohen's aim was not to build a creative
computer, but to cast light on the processes within
the mind of a human artist.
Each time AARON operates, it produces a new painting.
What it cannot do, however, is to break the bounds
set by its rules. Cohen does not assert AARON is
'creative', and states it will only be classed as
such when it shows signs of 'artistic development'
- creating something today that it could not have
I sense the work of Cohen and others preludes a
profound moment in our evolution. I have no principled
objection to the use of the 'intimate interface'
that could make our lives more productive and enriching.
It is probable the creative professional of the
future will adopt many new methods of working in
an attempt to outperform the competition, including
the use of cybernetic devices. It is inevitable
that computers will begin to process information
metaphorically, they will make 'jumps' from one
idea to another and in so doing, will become creative.
My concern is that we consider the philosophical
and ethical issues surrounding our new relationship
with the 'creative chip' at great length and with
the utmost seriousness, as in the world of the future
three creative forces will dominate: motherhood;
human creativity; and the cybernetic interface.
Our individuality, what makes us 'us', is about
A logical arithmetical or computational
procedure that if correctly applied
ensures the solution of a problem.
To learn and understand thoroughly;
to absorb and incorporate; to become
absorbed. From the Latin name assimilãre
to make one thing like another, similus,
A channel for communication between
a computer and a person. Through this
connection, a computer can communicate
to a person and the person can respond
to the computer.
A metaphor is a figure of speech where
X is compared to Y, and where X is said
to be Y: his skin is ice, his breath
A simile is a figure of speech where
X is compared to Y, using the words
'as' or 'like': his skin is like ice,
his breath is like fire.
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