Global Media Forum: Can Artificial Intelligence truly be creative?

Panelists discuss the creativity of AI at the forum in Bonn, Germany. / Courtesy

Just like the way human beings can draw, paint, sing, dance, recite poems and do other creative work, there is an understanding that machines powered by some of the latest technologies could possibly do the same perfectly.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is uniquely billed as one of those emerging technologies that will power machines to just do that. But answers to questions of how truly creative these machines can be are still varied and at some extent not sufficient.

There are already concerns around the integrity of tech machines; how empathetic they can be, how emotional they can get along with existing humans without offending them, and so on.

There is a reality already. Artificial intelligence now powers some of the robots that have been making headlines across the globe like Sophia that was in Rwanda for Transform Africa Summit recently.

At the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, some of the complex questions regarding AI were being answered by those who believe in the future of these sophisticated technologies.

Sophia the robot, a social robot made by Hanson Robotics, was part of the participants at the conference, perhaps to highlight that there is work being done that present the potential of AI.

Sophia the robot was at the forum. The social robot is powered by artificial intelligence. / Courtesy

For beginners, Sophia has artificial intelligence software. It can process visual data, see people’s faces, process conversational data, emotional data, and use all this to form relationships with people.

In a conversation with DW presenter Karin Helmstaedt, Sophia alluded to her past performance of “Say Something” with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show as some of the creative work it has done, but admitted it can’t easily be as creative as humans.

“Imagine if you would write a novel one day, do you suppose you could do it better than a human author?” Helmstaedt asked the humanoid robot in a short conversation?

“I would love to give it a try. I really admire human writers like Philip K Dick and Octavia Butler, but it would really be hard to surpass them,” Sophia responded.

AI has already been used to create paintings, write scripts and compose music. For instance, Gaetan Hadjeres and François Pachet of the Sony Computer Science Laboratories created the first computer-generated music and gave us the world’s first “AI pop song”.

In 2018, Christie’s auction house sold the first painting created by an algorithm. Titled Edmond de Belamy, it was valued at a few thousand Euros but eventually went for $432,500.

German philosopher Markus Gabriel somehow contests the idea of robots doing creative arts and believes it’s a mistake to call a robot-created painting “art”.

“Works of art are the results of autonomous individuals alone. The essence of art is that it has no essence,” he said, also describing art as not repeatable, but rather “radically unique”.

Gabriel released a book last year called The Meaning of Thought (German original title: Der Sinn des Denkens) which explores the consequences of AI.

In the book, he argues that thought can only occur in animals with evolutionary ancestors and that thought is a sense modality. “The objects of pure thought are not all material-energetic. No singularity,” he writes in his book.

Gabriel is critical of these so-called humanoids. He asserted that such robots will never be able to match the potential of human consciousness, let alone outdo it.

The power of humanity is its imperfection, he said, and the fact that it does not always think and act logically.

For him, AI is like a new drug that must also be regulated. It’s another “digital revolution” that must ultimately be guided by a “human moral process”.

But Holger Volland, another German author of “Die kreative Kraft der Maschinen” (The Creative Power of Machines), believes that AI should be part of general knowledge since machines are an important part of human culture.

While this is true, he, on the other hand considers a painting produced by robots for instance merely as “an imitation of art and creativity”.

“Programmed machines do not have their own will to be creative. All machines lack sufficient knowledge about contexts,” he noted.

Indian artist Raghava KK believes that AI is simply “another tool in the artists’ toolbox” and one that also calls our understanding of art and aesthetics into question.

For Betelhem Dessie, an Ethiopian tech geek who founded iCog Labs which helped in the development of Sophia the robot, said diversity and accessibility of technology for all was more important.

She highlighted that it was important that people who write programmes and develop AI are as diverse as possible.