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24 November 2015

Drop the idea that computers are not creative

Written by: Victoria Bentall, Associate Director at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

Back in September when it was front page news across the UK that intelligent machines and artificial intelligence (AI) would take our jobs, most of us managed to find some hope in the fact our job was too unique for a computer to do it, but is that really so? I went along to a talk from Professor Lord Giddens at the London School of Economics looking at sociology and the digital revolution, and according to him we should “drop the idea that computers are not creative.” Hang on a minute, does that mean they could take my job?  

He referenced David Cope who writes classical music using computer algorithms and programmes. The experts cannot tell it from a human-written piece, and I certainly cannot. Listen for yourself. 

Professor Giddens also talked about computers that write poetry. This poetry, like the classical music, cannot be distinguished from human-created verse. It doesn’t stop there, stand-up comedians can now be robots. Computer generated jokes are getting more complex, simple examples include: What is the difference between leaves and a car? One you brush and rake, the other you rush and brake! Terrible, I know.

You may have a greater understanding of classical music than me and can tell the difference between David’s computer generated music and that of Vivaldi. You may also wince at the terrible AI generated jokes, but quantum computers are coming and therefore the possibilities are exponential to what we are seeing today. Only last week did the Guardian report that the University of New South demonstrated a quantum version of computer code being written onto a silicon microchip with the highest ever recorded degree of accuracy. 

I question how long it will be before we will be visiting art galleries with works entirely computer generated. One may even exist now. What I want to know is how this will impact our engagement with the piece? We will know there is no real heart or soul to it, it is just an image generated by a computer. It is here where I am questioning how far technology will take us. Whilst technology has the skill, will it not rip out the heart of what makes something special, and therefore does it start to become devoid of meaning?

Whilst a computer may be able to write poetry, create classical music, paint a picture and tell a joke, for it to have integrity I believe this needs to come from the heart. I am all for a technological revolution and love watching and exploring as it unfolds, but there are some things we should keep a human heart in. If we fight for this it may just be where some of our jobs stay.

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