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Creativity Does Not Follow Computational Rules

A philosopher muses on why machines are not creative

Philosopher of mind Sean Dorrance Kelly, co-author with philosopher Hubert Dreyfus of All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (2011), offered some thoughts last month on why art cannot be automated. He discounts Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity and Nick Bostrom’s “intelligence explosion” where powerful machines will do everything better than humans can. He reminds us, for example, that any type of art includes actually participating in a culture:

Claims like Kurzweil’s that machines can reach human-level intelligence assume that to have a human mind is just to have a human brain that follows some set of computational algorithms — a view called computationalism. But though algorithms can have moral implications, they are not themselves moral agents. We can’t count the monkey at a typewriter who accidentally types out Othello as a great creative playwright. If there is greatness in the product, it is only an accident. We may be able to see a machine’s product as great, but if we know that the output is merely the result of some arbitrary act or algorithmic formalism, we cannot accept it as the expression of a vision for human good.

For this reason, it seems to me, nothing but another human being can properly be understood as a genuinely creative artist. Perhaps AI will someday proceed beyond its computationalist formalism, but that would require a leap that is unimaginable at the moment. We wouldn’t just be looking for new algorithms or procedures that simulate human activity; we would be looking for new materials that are the basis of being human.

Sean Dorrance Kelly, “A philosopher argues that an AI can’t be an artist” at Technology Review

He worries about something quite different from the usual robots-are-coming scare: “It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.”

People who are bored by formula writing, elevator music, and cliches probably won’t succumb anyway.

See also: Screenwriters’ Jobs Are Not Threatened by AI (Robert Marks)

AI Hype: AI Can Write Novels and Screenplays Better than the Pros! (Robert Marks)


Who’s afraid of AI that can write the news? AI now automates formula news in business and sports. How far can it go? (Denyse O’Leary)

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Creativity Does Not Follow Computational Rules