Computers Shown More Creative Than Humans

UC Santa Cruz professor David Cope has been working on software, called Emily Howell, that generates original and modern music. Using algorithms that mathematically mixes, recombines, and alters musical combinations, his music can often convincingly mimic the styles of the great classical composers such as Mozart and Bach. So if a machine can be as creative as we are, is a "soul" really needed to be artistic?

1 min read
Computers Shown More Creative Than Humans

Photo: Catherine Karnow/Miller-McCune

UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor David Cope has for 20 years been working on software, called Emily Howell, that generates original and modern music. Using algorithms that mathematically mixes, recombines, and alters musical combinations, his music can often convincingly mimic the styles of the great classical composers such as Mozart and Bach.

That said, his work has generated a hostility from those who believe creativity is something a machine could never have, arguing that only humans can compose music with 'liveliness' and 'soul'. What I particularly find interesting about the article Triumph of the Cyborg Composer is that it shows the strong prejudices we have against anything that belittles the meaning and spirituality of our lives. The world is flat, earth is the center of the universe, and we all have souls that can't be bestowed onto robots.

What attracted me to this article wasn't the enjoyable music examples by Emily Howell that you can download, but this precursor to the modern-day Spanish Inquisition us robot creators and AI researchers will perhaps one day face.

    "We are so damned biased, even those of us who spend all our lives attempting not to be biased. Just the mere fact that when we like the taste of something, we tend to eat it more than we should. We have our physical body telling us things, and we can't intellectually govern it the way we'd like to," he says. In other words, humans are more robotic than machines. "The question," Cope says, "isn't whether computers have a soul, but whether humans have a soul."
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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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