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The Creativity Code

How AI is learning to write, paint and think

By Marcus du Sautoy
15-minute read
Audio available
The Creativity Code: How AI is learning to write, paint and think by Marcus du Sautoy

The Creativity Code (2019) explores the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence and its recent venture into creative fields such as art, music and literature – previously thought to be exclusively human territory. Author Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a journey from the origins of our own creativity to a future of art-making algorithms in a quest to answer the existential question: Can machines be creative? 

  • Anyone interested in artificial intelligence 
  • Lovers of art, math and music
  • Futurists who like to speculate about the coming union of human and machine

Marcus du Sautoy is a British mathematician and author of the best-seller The Music of the Primes (2003). On the strength of his writing about science, he was appointed to the Simonyi Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, a post previously held by Richard Dawkins.

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The Creativity Code

How AI is learning to write, paint and think

By Marcus du Sautoy
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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The Creativity Code: How AI is learning to write, paint and think by Marcus du Sautoy
Synopsis

The Creativity Code (2019) explores the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence and its recent venture into creative fields such as art, music and literature – previously thought to be exclusively human territory. Author Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a journey from the origins of our own creativity to a future of art-making algorithms in a quest to answer the existential question: Can machines be creative? 

Key idea 1 of 9

Creativity is about exploring, combining and transforming existing structures to make something new.

Let’s face it: in many ways, computers are smarter than people. They can store more facts, crunch bigger numbers and they’re better at spelling. Perhaps the one thing we humans can still take solace in is our creativity. Surely a machine could never come up with a joke, compose a symphony or write a book – or could it? To answer this existential query, let’s first take a look at what we mean when we talk about creativity.

Being creative means coming up with something new, surprising and valuable. French painter Claude Monet is famous for his beautiful paintings of water lilies – but his paintings are more than just beautiful. Layering flecks upon flecks of color instead of using traditional brush strokes, Monet showed the world a new way to appreciate the interplay of light and color. This novel painting style, called impressionism, inspired generations of artists and helped pave the way from figurative to abstract art.

Just as our ideas about art have changed over the centuries, so too have our ideas of creativity constantly evolved. We often measure a creative act by how much it differs from those that have come before. Consider early twentieth-century composer Arnold Schönberg. Composers before Schönberg took for granted that a central key, or tone, was the basis for any composition. Schönberg boldly disregarded this rule to invent atonality – bringing the world unexpected listening pleasures. Cognitive scientist Margaret Boden calls this type of rule-breaking transformational creativity. Transformational creativity can completely overturn what we think is possible in a given discipline.

In addition, Boden identified two other types of creativity. She says that Monet’s work exhibits exploratory creativity – that it explores what is possible within the rules of the discipline. Monet still depicted water lilies in a figurative way, but he did so in a completely new, impressionist, manner.

Combinatorial creativity is the ability to merge structures that, on the surface, might not belong together. Contemporary architect Zaha Hadid translates her love of abstract art into impossible-looking, curvaceous buildings. The Heydar Aliyev Centre that she designed in Azerbaijan, for instance, looks less like a building than an oversized seashell. Her buildings are also a great example of the practical applications of creativity. Creativity, it turns out, isn’t just for artists.

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