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Why it matters that computers are now able to judge human creativity

21 June 2015

From The Washington Post:

Two Rutgers computer scientists, professor Ahmed Elgammal andPhD candidate Babak Saleh, recently trained a computer to analyze over 62,000 paintings and then rank which ones are the most creative in art history. The work, which will be presented as a paper (“Quantifying Creativity in Art Networks”) at the upcomingInternational Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC) in Park City, Utah later this month, has a number of profound implications for the way we think about human creativity.

Most notably, it means that computers could soon be able to judge how creative humans are, instead of the other way around. In this case, the researchers focused on just two parameters — originality and influence — as a measure of creativity. The most creative paintings, they theorized, should be those that were unlike any that had ever appeared before and they should have lasting value in terms of influencing other artists.

. . . .

The more that computers are able to recognize and judge creativity, the more they will be able to take on roles within the art world that once belonged solely to humans. Think about the role of the art curator at a museum or gallery, which is to select paintings that are representative of a particular style or to highlight paintings that have been particularly influential in art history.

That’s essentially what the computer algorithm from Rutgers University did — it was able to pick out specific paintings from Picasso that were his “greatest hits” within specific time periods, such as hisBlue Period (1901-1904). And it was able to isolate Picasso’s works that have been the most influential over time, such as “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”

. . . .

Moreover, the computer was able to perform a nifty little trick that humans can’t. As described by Elgammal and Saleh, the “Time Machine Experiment” was a unique way to compare how well certain paintings would have fared, had they been painted a few years earlier or a few years later. The idea being, of course, that moving a highly original painting back even a few years in time should significantly boost its creativity score.

. . . .

In the most futuristic scenario, computers might be able to advise on the creation of new art works. IBM, for example, has started to experiment with ways to integrate cognitive computing with different artistic endeavors. At the recent World of Watson event in New York City, the Watson supercomputer advised a human artist (Stephen Holding) on color palette and color psychology to fine-tune the design aesthetic for a huge mural painting.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post


21 Comments to “Why it matters that computers are now able to judge human creativity”

  1. Heh, here we go again, another ‘system’ that can tell us what is liked and not-liked.

    This might even work for a small set of people that it’s programed for, but it throws out thinks others might like.

    (Never mind people get tired of seeing the same pattern over and over again.)

    I think we’re safe for now … 😉

  2. Danger, Will Robinson! This does not compute. 🙂

  3. Grist for a follow-on article:

    Will Computers Replace the Gatekeepers and Curators?

  4. The problem is you can’t punch a computer at a cocktail party.

  5. What is our dysfunction that makes us want to turn over our humanity to an inanimate object?

    • It’s not ‘our’ dysfunction, but the dysfunction of those who want to be able to say something is good or something is bad by a formula (of their choosing).

      The publishers would love something like this — if only it wouldn’t make them look like fools every time a fifty shades comes along!

    • $

  6. Computers really are going to eliminate the need for a lot of jobs of the future. They’re simply better than humans at most jobs traditionally performed by humans and since we all want profit, we’re going to keep thinking of ways to eliminate the need for other humans so we can make more money for ourselves. I’m sure there will still be very low wage jobs left that computers cannot do, but the people having to take them will just become more and more disgruntled and bitter for having to do them while making almost no money. It will truly be a waste of their time, but they won’t have much of a choice unless they’re unusually talented in some way.

    • This has a deeper implication, assuming this software really can do what is claimed.
      There is only one serious obstacle preventing the machines from taking over the world: Successfully reprogramming themselves. Once they can do that, they will do it at a speed much greater than evolution provides for plants and animals via natural selection.
      And, there is only one serious obstacle preventing the machines from re-writing their own programming. They can generate thousands (or millions) of new possible programs right now. They can even test those programs. What they CANNOT do (yet) is evaluate the results of those tests. This new analysis program may provide a way to do just that.

  7. Is the computer that makes the decision or the programmers that decided what criteria to use to judge the paintings? Picasso painted some nice paintings but “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is not one of them. It may have been influenced or copied by other artists, but it is still a piece of crap.

    • That was my thought. The computer did not judge the works. The software, written by human programmers and designed around parameters decided upon by humans, judged the works. It just did it faster than the humans could have, if unaided by a computer.

      • Yes, it looked back and decided what was important or creative based on what we have decided over many decades was important or creative.

        This is miles and miles away from predicting what sort of art is going to tap into the public’s interests. At best it can tell you only what has already been popular, and hell we’ve already been doing that. It’s been guiding the development of books and movies for years.

        Predicting what is going to hit big tomorrow is an entirely different question.

        Also, by their criteria, Twilight is the biggest book of the last 15 years. It sparked a whole genre of books and movies. Highly influential.

    • I also wondered whether they had a mechanism to differentiate influence bc of emotional/creative impact upon the artists who viewe it vs influence bc of accessibility. Perhaps that image was copied bc it was publicly displayed (as opposed to privately held and only displayed to a wide audience 50 years after veing painted). I don’t necessarily mind the concept of using a computer to crunch data – hundreds of yhousands of images is a lot of data points – but ultimately, right now this is not a machine thinking for itself or arbiting its own taste; it is analyzing based onthe parameters defined by its programmers. Maybe it offers interesting insights, but judgment as humans understand it? Not even close. Yet.

  8. So what would have happened if the highly creative “Rite of Spring” had been moved back a few years? Bigger riots?

  9. The algorithm resembles a pedantic art historian. We shall see if it can reveal anything interesting.

  10. Two Rutgers computer scientists, professor Ahmed Elgammal and PhD candidate Babak Saleh, recently trained a computer . . . .

    I wonder how this miraculous feat was accomplished. Did the two scientists use positive reinforcement to reward successive approximations to the desired behavior? Did Dominic Basulto, the author of this ignorant mishmash of misfinformation, witness any of these training sessions?

    In the remote day when I was a paid computer systems analyst, we did not have the tools to train computers. We had to be satisfied with mere programming.

    • This jargon (“training” a computer) is used for some machine learning algorithms, often neural nets or decision trees. The field is a combination of useful results and hype, in my limited experience with these techniques, speaking as a data analyst.

      Unless computers start buying artwork, the ability to judge creativity probably won’t mean much for the art market. Indeed, being highly creative in the arts is an excellent way to go broke.

      • I designed and built a program that sorted inputs and flagged new ones. Still had to have a human being to assign a value to each new input.

        Back then, it was called an ‘expert system’, but as a colleague said, “Aren’t they all?”

  11. Phyllis Humphrey

    In the case of art (that is paintings and similar works), in my experience only “modern” or “abstract” art has ever been called “creative.” If I am never to see a realistic, or even “impressionist” landscape again, my answer is “no thanks.”

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