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Computers and Creativity

by Jon McCormack & Mark d'Inverno, Editors
Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg, 2012
430 pp. illus. 96 b/w & 51 col. Trade, $129.00; ebook, $99.00
ISBN: 978-3-642-31726-2; ISBN: 978-3-642-31727-9.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


This is a challenging, thought provoking, and important book. Challenging because it forces us to confront issues about our relationship with intelligent machines; thought provoking because it asks many difficult questions, some of which do not as yet have answers; and important because it tackles the issues of machine intelligence and artificial creativity in a non-trivial, non-hysterical profound manner.

As the title suggests the main thrust of the book is exploring the relationship of computers and creativity. There are two significant approaches discussed. Firstly, how can human creativity be aided and augmented by using computers either as creative cohorts or as stand-alone machines, although still not autonomous? Secondly, if it is indeed possible, how would we build robust autonomous AI machines that are capable of being creative and able to evaluate original works they create and also those of their human associates?

Refreshingly there is no techno-messianic hype at all in this book. All chapters are written by leading researchers (25 in all) working at universities, literally at the coalface one might say.  This approach leaves no room for flights of science fantasy and ill-founded speculation, which I have found is almost endemic in much of the Extropian style literature regarding human-machine integration. Considering the complexity of the subject matter and its theoretical underpinning, every chapter is extremely well written in a way that makes the book thoroughly accessible to expert and educated layperson alike.

Computers and Creativity is divided into four parts comprising 16 chapters. I will list the titles in full as they provide prospective readers with a good overview of the range of research and topics covered.

Part 1 – ART
The Painting Fool: Stories from Building an Automated Painter
Creative Ecosystems
Construction and Intuition: Creativity in Early Computer Art
Evaluation of Creative Aesthetics

Part 2 – MUSIC
Musical Virtuosity and Creativity
Live Algorithms: Towards Autonomous Computer Improvisers
The Extended Composer
Between Material and Ideas: A Process-Based Spatial Model of Artistic Creativity
Computer Programming in the Creative Arts

Part 3 – THEORY
Computational Aesthetic Evaluation: Past and Future
Computing Aesthetics with Image Judgement Systems
A Formal Theory of Creativity to Model the Creation of Art
Creativity Refined: Bypassing the Gatekeepers of Appropriateness and Value
Generative and Adaptive Creativity: A Unified Approach to Creativity in Nature, Humans and Machines.
Creating New Informational Primitives in Minds and Machines


Computers and Creativity: The Road Ahead

(This Epilogue is only very short but asks some of the hardest questions we'll ever have to answer regarding the human-computer encounter.)

The book has a slight bias towards visual art and music but is equally mindful of and useful for creativity studies in all areas of human endeavour. As Boden mentions in the Foreword, "If I had to pick just one point out of this richly intriguing book, it would be something the editors stress in their introduction: that these examples of computer art involve creative computing as well as creative art” (p. v).

Some of the researchers are sceptical of the possibility of creating a truly autonomous creative machine that will function similarly to humans in respect of creativity and also be capable of emotional involvement with works of art. Others believe we will create such machines, though they may not be exactly like us––that is, they may have their own ways of creating art completely independent of their original builder/programmer intentions. Will we be able to recognise and appreciate such creations?  You will have to read the book yourself to try and assess this somewhat bizarre possibility.

I found all chapters interesting and believe they have added much to the project of producing creative computers, fully autonomous or not. However, chapter 13, Creativity Refined was almost like an epiphany for me in that the concept presented (removing value from creativity) seems to be an original and essential answer if we are to progress in creating true machine creativity. “This chapter introduces a new definition of creativity that is independent of notions of value or appropriateness. These notions, we argue, have encumbered previous definitions and confused the production of software-based creativity” (p. 339).

The concept for Computers and Creativity originated at the 2009 interdisciplinary seminar organised by the book's editors and Professor Margaret Boden, held at Schloss Dagstuhl-Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik in Germany. The seminar was attended by artists, designers, architects, musicians, computer scientists, philosophers, cognitive scientists and engineers. The finished book is the result of subsequent group discussions and extensive review work over the ensuing years. I thoroughly recommend this book to the widest possible range of practitioners, theorists and students in the field of artificial intelligence related to creativity and the arts.

Last Updated 5th February 2013

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