Can Artificial Intelligence be Creative? by Hüseyn Panahov

Posted in Recent Blog Posts Spring 2022 The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , , ,

The below image was produced by the Deep Dream Generator, an AI project sponsored by Google, when I put in the photo of the Healy Hall. I chose the “Starry Night” painting of Van Gogh as an overlay, and the program combined the two pictures and produced this result. I find it aesthetically pleasing and might even hang it in my room. It is not a completely original work, but an imitation. However, do not all students of art learn by imitation? Can Artificial Intelligence be creative?

AI-generated Painting of Healy Hall at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

The XX century breakthroughs in technology have inspired many ideas about the prospective of machines to replicate the functions of human mind. One of the most interesting subtopics in this approach is about artificial creativity. There are many experiments to test the creative potential of Artificial Intelligence. For example, in 2019, Google collaborated with artists to create a platform, which generates a unique short poem within seconds, when you enter a word in English.

Creative souls and glory seem,
Submissive and subtle and soft and serene.
– AI Poem Generator

These two lines were produced by AI poem generator when I put in my keyword, creativity. The algorithm has learned to write poems “by reading over 25 million words written by the 19th century poets.” I think if we could ask Socrates, he would say no muse has inspired AI yet.

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More than 2000 years ago, Plato made many interesting references to the notion of creativity in the Socratic dialogues, even though there was no word for creativity in ancient Greek. For example, in Meno, Socrates claims that “when poets produce truly great poetry, they do it not through knowledge or mastery, but rather by being divinely “inspired” by the Muses”. In another dialogue Socrates contemplates about the origins of new knowledge, which can be interpreted as creative thinking. Socrates wondered how can new ideas develop from those already established in the brain?

When asked by Meno, “will we say, of a painter, that he makes something?”, Socrates responded “no, he merely imitates”. In this regard, AI can be very good at imitating and learning from human creative productions. In 2018, an AI generated portrait of “Edmond de Belamy” was sold for $432,500 in New York. Today, there are online art galleries, which sell paintings created exclusively by AI, and an average price of a painting is $600. Despite the breakthrough advances in artificial creativity in recent years, AI’s potential to match human creativity is still a big question.

Humans have been creative since the beginning of days, and it has been one of the driving forces behind our evolution. Various researches have demonstrated that a number of animals have creative potential, but none of them can be a rival to human creativity. Now, whether AI can be creative like us depends largely on the latest achievements of the Artificial Intelligence and how we frame the philosophical meaning of human creativity.  

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Merriam-Webster dictionary defines creative as “having the quality of something created rather than imitated,” and specifies that the first use of creative in English goes back to 1678. Across the globe, ancient cultures did not have a word to express creativity. In Medieval Europe Latin word “creatio” was used only in the religious context of God’s creatio ex nihilo, or “creation from nothing”, and did not apply to human endeavors. The modern notion of human creativity emerged only in the age of Enlightenment in Europe.

As we know from history, the Enlightenment age was shortly followed by the First Industrial Revolution, which set off the clock for the emergence of the artificial intelligence.
As the Liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!

– Lord Byron, 1816

This is the first stanza from the inflammatory “Song for the Luddites”’ written by Lord Byron in 1816. Luddites were a radical anti-technology movement in the 19th century England. Byron was not a Luddite himself, but had sympathies for their cause. Interestingly, Lord Byron is also the father of Ada Lovelace, who is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. Lovelace is credited for creating the first algorithm that was put to use in her friend Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engines. Lovelace also proposed that “until a machine can originate an idea that it wasn’t designed to, it can’t be considered intelligent in the same way
humans are.”

In 2001, this approach inspired a group of engineers led by Selmer Bringsjord to come up with the Lovelace test, which many computer scientists consider a better replacement for the outdated Turing test. A computer can pass the Lovelace test only if it produces an outcome it was not programmed to. For example, a novel idea or an original painting. However, there is one more condition of the Lovelace test: the software output should surprise the human designer of the program. She should not be able to tell how the program achieved that outcome.

Today, there is need for more philosophic inquiry to define creativity, which would also enable more distinct thresholds for scientists working on artificial creativity. In 2000, World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov (originally from my hometown Baku) lost to chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue. Whether Deep Blue has passed the Lovelace test is an open question. Obviously, its designers at the Carnegie Mellon University cannot beat the world champion in chess, but their brainchild can. Do you think AI can be creative?

Connect with Hüseyn:


ART AI (2021). About.

Devlin, E. (2019, May 2). Create a personalized poem, with the help of AI. Google.

Kaufman, S. B. (2014, May 12). The Philosophy of Creativity. Scientific American Blog

Miller, A. I. (2020, February 1). Machines have learned how to be creative. What does that mean
for art? Salon.

Pearson, J. (2014, July 8). Forget Turing, the Lovelace Test Has a Better Shot at Spotting AI.

Plato. The Republic. (1998). The Project Gutenberg.