MIT Technology Review, February 21, 2019
Intelligent Machines: “A philosopher argues that an AI can’t be an artist: Creativity is, and always will be, a human endeavor.”
By Sean Dorrance Kelly
Sean Dorrance Kelly is a philosophy professor at Harvard and coauthor of the New York Times best-selling book All Things Shining.
Creativity is one of the defining features of human beings. The capacity for genuine creativity, the kind of creativity that updates our understanding of the nature of being, that changes the way we understand what it is to be beautiful or good or true—that capacity is at the ground of what it is to be human. But this kind of creativity depends upon our valuing it, and caring for it, as such. As the writer Brian Christian has pointed out, human beings are starting to act less like beings who value creativity as one of our highest possibilities, and more like machines themselves.
How many people today have jobs that require them to follow a predetermined script for their conversations? How little of what we know as real, authentic, creative, and open-ended human conversation is left in this eviscerated charade? How much is it like, instead, the kind of rule-following that a machine can do? And how many of us, insofar as we allow ourselves to be drawn into these kinds of scripted performances, are eviscerated as well? How much of our day do we allow to be filled with effectively machine-like activities—filling out computerized forms and questionnaires, responding to click-bait that works on our basest, most animal-like impulses, playing games that are designed to optimize our addictive response?
We are in danger of this confusion in some of the deepest domains of human achievement as well. If we allow ourselves to say that machine proofs we cannot understand are genuine “proofs,” for example, ceding social authority to machines, we will be treating the achievements of mathematics as if they required no human understanding at all. We will be taking one of our highest forms of creativity and intelligence and reducing it to a single bit of information: yes or no.
Even if we had that information, it would be of little value to us without some understanding of the reasons underlying it. We must not lose sight of the essential character of reasoning, which is at the foundation of what mathematics is.
So too with art and music and philosophy and literature. If we allow ourselves to slip in this way, to treat machine “creativity” as a substitute for our own, then machines will indeed come to seem incomprehensibly superior to us. But that is because we will have lost track of the fundamental role that creativity plays in being human.
Cover Image: Portrait of Edmond Belamy (2018) – Created with AI algorithms called GANs by Parisian art collective Obvious, sold for $432,500.