The impossible task of making creative A.I.

Artificial Intelligence is rapidly creeping into every fold of our daily lives, from helping us with music recommendations to preventing suicides through early signal detection. It is also treading precariously into the creative fields, which undoubtedly represent its biggest challenge to date. As we are already discovering, A.I. is both incredibly adept at producing creative work, whilst simultaneously making it impossible to love.

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The death of the creator

In 1967, French literary critic Roland Barthes published a controversial essay entitled “The Death of the Author”, in which he argued against the practice of assessing an author’s background and motivations in any interpretation of a piece of literary work, instead arguing that text and author are separate entities entirely. The text, once created, lives separately from its creator, and its meaning is assigned by the reader rather than the author. At university, where I studied English Literature, this was the first essay we were assigned to read, and it changed everything. Its power is fully evident when you extend its domain beyond literature, to all the creative fields. Art’s meaning is endowed by the audience, not the artist. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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“Desert” by Autumn de Forest, aged five

Expecting the unimaginable

Many products launch with a high price tag, of course, as the producers seek to recoup some of the early production costs from early adopters who will pay more just to be first to own. Creative products are no different: books start in hardback at comparatively high prices and then progress to cheaper paperback formats; movies launch in premium-priced cinemas before ending up on a rental service like Amazon Prime. Hype and demand for a particular object or gadget is only partially tempered by high prices, as those who are put off initially tend to wait until the price drops, delaying their gratification rather than dismissing the product entirely.

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Not the friendliest character
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A piece of art by AARON, the painting robot

Consumer takes all

The philosophical ins and outs of the debate around whether a computer can really be creative are outside of the scope of this article. The fact is that most definitions of creativity validate AARON’s paintings, No Man’s Sky’s planet designs, and Google’s poetry. Roland Barthes, in his essay, described a literary text as “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture”. A.I. machines crunch through millions of lines of published literature (“centres of culture”) to generate lines of poetry (“tissue of quotations”).

CEO & Founder of Firedrop.ai. I write about technology, artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship and other stuff. https://firedrop.ai

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