Artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer Alan Turing infamously asked many years ago, "Can machines think?" Today, Oxford mathematician Marcus du Sautoy poses an equally provocative question: Can machines create? In his new book, "The Creativity Code: Art and Innovation in the Age of AI," du Sautoy explores the structural nature of creativity in human endeavors, and looks at areas where AI can have the most influence. "Creativity is a code that evolution across millions of years has honed inside our brains," du Sautoy writes. "Is our creativity in fact more algorithmic and rule-based than we might want to acknowledge? Can we hope to crack the creativity code?"
As Marcus du Sautoy greets me at the entrance to New College, Oxford, his appearance is a quiet riot of colour. His clothes rather suggest someone who ran into White Stuff or Fat Face and frantically grabbed anything he could find – in this case, a salmon zip-up top, multihued check trousers and shoes that are a headache-inducing shade of turquoise. When we settle down to talk in a nearby meeting room, he repeatedly glances at a notepad – whose pages, just to add to all the garishness, are a bold shade of yellow. They are full of what look like scrawled equations, mixed with odd-looking shapes: the raw material, he explains, of a project involving very complicated geometry. "There's an infinite symmetrical structure that I'm looking at," he says, "and I think the top bit of it will tell me everything that's going on inside it. It's almost like an infinite lake, and I should be able to know everything that's happening in it by looking at the first centimetre."
Do androids dream of electric beats? In 2012, Iamus released a CD of classical music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Music critic Tom Service was somewhat dismissive, calling Iamus's composition Hello World! "so unmemorable, and the way it's elaborated so workaday, that the piece leaves no distinctive impression." But it wasn't a bad debut really--when you consider that Iamus is not a composer but a computer algorithm, developed by researchers at the University of Málaga in Spain. Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, doesn't talk about Iamus in his new book The Creativity Code, but the question he poses about such efforts amounts to this: can we call Iamus a composer?
In late May, a small crowd at St. Dunstan's church in East London's Stepney district gathered for two hours of traditional Irish music. But this event was different; the tunes it featured were composed, in part, by an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, dubbed folk-rnn, a stark reminder of how cutting-edge AI is gradually permeating every aspect of human life and culture--even creativity.