Can machines be creative?

cmIn my last post I talked about creativity being an “in demand” skill. One of the reasons for it to feature in the list of top 5 is because we believe that machines do not possess this skill. At least, not yet. In this piece, I delve into the one question that has led to significant debate for over a hundred years (over 170 years, actually) – Can machines be creative? After all, they are designed by human beings. It is easy to believe that they do not have their own sense of identity or a ‘brain’ that allows them to be creative. Yet, this may not be true.

Before I jump directly into busting that myth, let’s take a minute to discuss how we define creativity. I’ll do the easy bit and quote some definitions from dictionaries. Creativity can be defined as (a) the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work or (b) the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination. Now one would imagine that as machines lack imagination, they are not creative. Yet if a machine was to compose original music as good as Beethoven or paint as well as Picasso, would you call it creative? If humans did the same, it is likely you would.

Lady Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer raised the question of artificial creativity all the way back in 1943. She said that machines could not have human like intelligence as long as they only did what humans intentionally programmed it to do. A machine must be able to create original ideas if it was to be considered intelligent. This gave rise to the Lovelace test, designed in 2001.  The reason the Lovelace test is often quoted as better than the Turing test is because the Turing test can be passed with common trickery. The Lovelace test can only be passed if a machine originates a “program” (e.g. an idea, a novel, a piece of music) that it was not engineered to produce. The machine’s designers must not be able to explain how their original code led to this new program. In short, to pass the Lovelace Test a computer has to create something original, all by itself.

I will refrain from commenting on if machines have passed the Lovelace test. I will merely point you to a few links and let you decide for yourself. Maybe even encourage you to prowl through the internet for examples, for the best way to convince you, is to let you decide. What I can say is I have found enough examples to believe that machines are already creative and we should be prepared to have the next greatest musical hit or piece of art be created by a machine even if it does not find mass acceptance. But first the links. Here are two that you may find amusing – and (keep refreshing to see more).

I could go on about evolutionary/genetic algorithms and more but I am still new to it all. What I am questioning, however, is what our jobs will really look like 10 years hence. When we talk about future-skilling, which skills are we really talking about because it sure isn’t creativity? When it truly comes to man and machine, what will lead to competitive advantage? I know at this point you are expecting me to provide an answer but I do not have one. What I do have are more questions; questions that can only be answered if all HR professionals consciously dedicate a portion of our time into understanding the world of technology a little better.

I love AI, machines and all things technology. Yet, I am also vaguely aware of their potential and the last thing I want is for Elon Musk’s fear of us turning into house cats come true. A wise woman once said, ‘It is better to get ahead while you can.’ (Ahem!)

P.S: If you are intrigued, you may want to watch this video from the recently concluded Tech HR 2019 Conference by People Matters where Hod Lipson talks about AI.


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