Creativity is sometimes taken to be an inexplicable aspect of human activity. By summarizing a considerable body of literature on creativity, I hope to show how to turn some of the best ideas about creativity into programs that are demonstrably more creative than any we have seen to date. I believe the key to building more creative programs is to give them the ability to reflect on and modify their own frameworks and criteria. That is, I believe that the key to creativity is at the metalevel.
What's the purpose of humanity if machines can learn ingenuity? The value placed on creativity in modern times has led to a range of writers and thinkers trying to articulate what it is, how to stimulate it, and why it is important. It was while sitting on a committee at the Royal Society assessing what impact machine learning was likely to have on society in the coming decades that I first encountered the theories of Margaret Boden. Her ideas struck me as the most relevant when it came to addressing creativity in machines. Boden is an original thinker who has managed to fuse many disciplines: philosopher, psychologist, physician, AI expert and cognitive scientist. In her eighties now, with white hair flying like sparks and an ever active brain, she is enjoying engaging enthusiastically with the prospect of what these "tin cans", as she likes to call computers, might be capable of.
My friend and I scuba dived in the Red Sea when we went to Israel. The most memorable part of this dive for me was looking up from the bottom and seeing the surface covered in beautiful purple jellyfish, penetrated by a few rays of sunlight. I have wondered how to describe or paint that beauty for quite a while, so I have decided to attempt a poem.
Such creative software can be used for autonomous creative tasks, such as inventing mathematical theories, writing poems, painting pictures, and composing music. However, computational creativity studies also enable us to understand human creativity and to produce programs for creative people to use, where the software acts as a creative collaborator rather than a mere tool. Historically, it's been difficult for society to come to terms with machines that purport to be intelligent and even more difficult to admit that they might be creative. For instance, in 1934, some professors at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom built meccano models that were able to solve some mathematical equations. Groundbreaking for its time, this project was written up in a piece in Meccano Magazine. The article was titled "Are Thinking Machines Possible" and was very upbeat, but surprisingly ends by stating that "Truly creative thinking of course will always remain beyond the power of any machine." Surely, though, this attitude has changed in light of the amazing advances in hardware and software technology that followed those meccano models?
To grow the kind of baby that we do, with this giant brain, who can't do anything for the first 3-5 years of life, you need a lot of input. As much as 1.5-1.7 million years ago, we start to see a shift in the fossils, which suggests that more than one or two individuals became closely involved in taking care of the young. Fast forward to the last couple hundred thousand years, and it is absolutely clear that the human success story is part and parcel of our incredible ability to "take a whole village" to raise a child, as the old saying goes. The nuclear family--Mom, Dad, a couple kids, and a dog--is not only very recent but is not even typical of the way most people live in the world. This whole notion of a family house with a white picket fence is a very a-typical way to be human.