Can Robots Be Creative?

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In light of the up and coming remake of Kipling’s classic, The Jungle Book, cinema addicts might contemplate that Hollywood filmmakers have lost their ability to write creative, unique scripts. We’ve all, at some point, wondered whether human creativity is endless… or will it one day just fizzle out?

We will never know if this question ever crossed the minds of engineers Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin, or it was just a boyish strife for cool robotic experiments that kindled their interest. Regardless of which, they ended up building a machine able to generate creativity. Their brainchild—*cough* brain robot *cough*—Jetson (who eventually renamed himself Benjamin), was infused with an enormous depository of sci-fi movie scripts, and asked to write a new one.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, Jetson (AKA Benjamin) completed the job in hand. While it’s difficult to say how well it did—the resulting movie’s weirdness is best judged subjectively—robots can, as demonstrated, write movie scripts with a creative bearing. Is this the beginning of a new era? Is it nearly time to hail our new, artificially intelligent overlords?

Talented bots

Moving fast from the basic calculator to multi-tasking artificial minds, robots are already showing a glimpse of their creative potential.

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Take another good example, Emily Howell—a bot created by David Copem—which (who?) writes original, truly appealing melodies. Emily “listens” to the works of the world’s most gifted composers and imitates them by producing new singles every other day. The most amazing thing is that Emily isn’t the one and only artist on the robotic block. Mubert, an artificial composer of electronic tracks and Emily’s direct competitor, also claims to be “the future of music”.

Another artistic robot is called Lsjbot. “He” was created by Swedish developer Sverker Johansson as a writing bot for Wikipedia. It now churns out more than 10,000 articles per day! It’s an insane number of articles, were it written by a flesh-and-blood writer, but for an artificial intelligence, there are almost no boundaries.

There are almost no boundaries for an artificial intelligence.

Ambition and stakes are now so high, even the most sacred of works have been targeted for artificial creativity: Harry Potter books. A LSTM recurrent neural network wrote the ninth book about Hogwarts, using the previous ones as an example. Good news for the admirers of J.K. Rowling’s earthborn talent—the robotic version sucks. Phrases, mostly, don’t make sense, but in all fairness, the neural network managed to mimic the rhythm and style of the original book. With all its robotic determination, we might also see the tenth book coming soon–and, probably with a more meaningful plot.

Time to sound the alarm?

We have already accepted the fact that some professions soon may be seized by robots—factory workers, couriers and even sports commentators. However, creative jobs were always considered to be safe. Why wouldn’t they be? After all, bots can’t duplicate the human flight of ideas, right? It’s clear to say, with the previous examples shown above, that apparently, they can.

Having all those composer-bots and writer-bots, aren’t we in danger of losing this battle for creativity? Nobel prize winner Douglas Hofstadter thinks that the scale is still weighted in the favor of humans. In his opinion, Emily is just modelling creativity, however, “she” can’t model humans motivation and talent…yet! Michael Osborn, Oxford University Professor, shares this opinion and says that bots can hardly surpass humans in our ability to find inspiration and set goals. Robots are still human-controlled, they need algorithms and programming to be creative, whilst we can come up with genius ideas out of blue. We are safe for now. But what’s coming next?

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Maxim Orlovsky, neuroscientist and the founder of laboratory for cognitive architectures bicalabs.org and IT company qoderoom.com, forecasts a surge in robotic creativity. Bots are already showing vague attempts to be creative. There is a good chance that their potential will evolve over time.

Although we’d like to imagine talent as lightning of creativity, striking through our souls, it actually has robust physiological origins. Dr Orlovsky says that noises in the neural networks can indirectly become a source of emotions and even creativity. It means, that complex AI networks can derive genuine talent from the chaotic neural processes. If this is the case, then robots will become more creative with the development of technologies.

The future of creativity

What’s the bottom line? Are bots substituting us in creative tasks or does art still remain the mirror of a creator’s soul? Probably, we can’t step back from where we are—robots are already writing, drawing and singing their way through creativity. However, Dr Orlovsky believes that this is not a question of competition.

Creativity is a boundless field, which can fit any number of players. Even in the pre-robotic age, Tesla’s discoveries were not competing against Einstein’s theories or trying to steal fame from Bach. Creative processes are based on synergy—the bigger the number of people (and maybe robots) that create something, wider opportunities open up for the future artists.

We can’t step from where we are. Robots are already singing their way through creativity.

Whatever innovative robots that may appear on the scene, representatives of the creative professions are safe and sound, Dr Orlovsky says! With the potential to develop a robots imaginative side, the result could be the unity of a hybrid mind. This could skyrocket creativity, opening up brand new horizons for us all!

For now, though, we can enjoy watching the future shape in front of us. And always count on a couple of artificially intelligent terabytes to help us meet the deadlines.