Artificial Intelligence

Can a computer be more creative than a person?
Answered by Jacob Silverman
  • Jacob Silverman

    Jacob Silverman

  1. There are mixed attitudes as to whether a computer can be more creative than a person. Because computers are, at heart, a bundle of binary transistors (that is, they can only be set to 0 or 1, on or off), they're much better suited to tasks that require mathematical calculations. Even the term "logic board" -- used to describe motherboards in some computers -- gives one a sense of the nature of how computers think. They are linear machines, behemoths at algebra or mathematical calculations, but not necessarily cut out for the kind of creative, variable and even random thinking that produces a symphony or a novel, not to mention a song or short story.

    However, as part of the development of artificial intelligence, many computer scientists and other researchers are examining how computers can be creative and produce creative work. The field of research known as computational creativity takes ideas from varying disciplines -- computer science, psychology, philosophy -- and looks at how human creativity works and how this process can be replicated or enhanced by computers.

    More than a decade ago, a man named Harold Cohen unveiled a program called AARON designed to produce paintings. AARON knows about the basics of painting and human anatomy. And it does indeed produce paintings that many people have called aesthetically pleasing [source: BBC]. But even Cohen has questioned whether AARON is the artist, or if he himself is the artist for creating AARON.

    In essence what Cohen did was create the conditions out of which art, or something like it, could be produced. The problem with this kind of programming is that the more specific instructions you give a computer program, the more you guide its outcome -- one thinker in the field encapsulated this paradox as "instructions are limitations" [source: Think Artificial]. Some computer scientists, then, are working to create computer programs that write their own code. Another path being explored is "genetic programming," in which computer programs are designed to mimic our genes -- including genetic mutations and producing offspring.

    While paintings, music and other forms of art have been produced by computers, they remain subject to the question of whether they truly qualify as art, as creative work -- i.e., are they novel enough? Save a true manifestation of artificial intelligence, these questions will likely persist in response to any computer-created work.

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    (Don Farrall/Getty Images)

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