Will Computers Become the Artists of the Future?
Can true art be produced according to set, inflexible logical and mathematical rules? A new exhibition called Automatic Art in London's GV Art Gallery explores this question with a 50-year retrospective of art that follows formal, often arbitrary rules.
Examples include a kinetic painting by Paul Brown which changes depending on the spectator's movement:
A photographic print of a computer animation software based on mathematical principles that the artist, Stephen Bell, calls "animals"; this particular work explores predator-prey behavior:
And a project called "Drawing by Numbers" by Julie Freeman and Simon Emberton, which "is designed to demonstrate the conversion process from an analogue life drawing to a digital drawing that is described in code" and is ultimately "a collaborative effort between the original artist, the artist that has written the code, and the machine that has executed that code":
The exhibition also includes a 1973 academic paper by Ernest Edmonds and Stroud Cornock called "The Creative Process Where the Artist is Amplified or Superseded by the Computer." This paper states, "the advent of computing stimulates a desire to re-examine the subject of creativity... the traditional role of the artist is... called into question; it may no longer be necessary to assume that he is a specialist in art - rather he is a catalyst of creative activity." Essentially, the artist becomes a gardener rather than a creator; he or she sets the initial conditions for creation and then tends to it and guides it in the right direction.
It's possible that as computers become more advanced, they will not only become artistic collaborators with humans, but become artists themselves. A true artificial intelligence that can learn and think for itself is becoming more and more of a possibility with each passing day; a computer recently passed the Turing test, for example, which was considered by many to be the "holy grail" of artificial intelligence. However, we still have a long way to go before we build a Terminator-like sentient robot; the Turing test is actually an extremely low bar, as the computer only needs to fool a human into believing that it is also human for a matter of minutes. And even if we are able to create an autonomous, learning robot with some version of free will, art is likely the most elusive capability for artificial intelligence. Creativity is often touted as the defining characteristic of humanity, partially because it has proven difficult to quantify. According to artificial intelligence researcher Selmer Bringsjord, who is attempting to create a more appropriate test for true artificial intelligence than the easily cheated Turing test, "Until a machine can originate an idea that it wasn't designed to... it can't be considered intelligent in the same way humans are."
There are many artificial intelligence researchers who are currently exploring the concept of computational creativity, or the endeavor to build a computer that has creative capabilities comparable to humans. Some of the questions that must be answered in order to achieve this include whether creativity can be objectively defined, whether a "creative" robot reflects the creativity of the robot itself or the creativity of the programmer/designer (which would also cause theological issues to arise), and whether a machine that by nature does what it's programmed to do can be considered "creative." Of course, there are many philosophers and artists alike who would argue that humans are comparable to machines in the sense that they are "programmed" by their biology, and there are researchers who argue that machines will not necessarily only do what they are programmed to do. If the latter notion turns out to be true, then computational creativity seems much more in the realm of possibility.
Another obstacle towards creating an artistic artificial intelligence may involve the difficulty in programming emotions. We've created robots that can perform amazing feats, such as recognizing and responding to human emotions. But programming a robot to recognize emotions is a far cry from programming them to have feelings of their own. If art is about expression, then robots will never be able to truly create art without the help of a human until it has autonomous thoughts and feelings to express.