The Painting Fool is one of a growing number of computer programs which, so their makers claim, possess creative talents. Classical music by an artificial composer has had audiences enraptured, and even tricked them into believing a human was behind the score. Artworks painted by a robot have sold for thousands of dollars and been hung in prestigious galleries. And software has been built which creates art that could not have been imagined by the programmer.
Human beings are the only species to perform sophisticated creative acts regularly. If we can break this process down into computer code, where does that leave human creativity? ‘This is a question at the very core of humanity,’ says Geraint Wiggins, a computational creativity researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London. ‘It scares a lot of people. They are worried that it is taking something special away from what it means to be human.’
To some extent, we are all familiar with computerised art. The question is: where does the work of the artist stop and the creativity of the computer begin? Consider one of the oldest machine artists, Aaron, a robot that has had paintings exhibited in London’s Tate Modern and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Aaron can pick up a paintbrush and paint on canvas on its own. Impressive perhaps, but it is still little more than a tool to realise the programmer’s own creative ideas.
Simon Colton, the designer of the Painting Fool, is keen to make sure his creation doesn’t attract the same criticism. Unlike earlier ‘artists’ such as Aaron, the Painting Fool only needs minimal direction and can come up with its own concepts by going online for material. The software runs its own web searches and trawls through social media sites. It is now beginning to display a kind of imagination too, creating pictures from scratch. One of its original works is a series of fuzzy landscapes, depicting trees and sky. While some might say they have a mechanical look, Colton argues that such reactions arise from people’s double standards towards software-produced and human-produced art. After all, he says, consider that the Painting Fool painted the landscapes without referring to a photo. ‘If a child painted a new scene from its head, you’d say it has a certain level of imagination,’ he points out. The same should be true of a machine.’ Software bugs can also lead to unexpected results. Some of the Painting Fool’s paintings of a chair came out in black and white, thanks to a technical glitch. This gives the work an eerie, ghostlike quality. Human artists like the renowned Ellsworth Kelly are lauded for limiting their colour palette – so why should computers be any different?
傻瓜绘图软件的设计者Simon colton急于确保自己的创造不会遭受相同的批判。与以往的“艺术家”如Aaron所不同的是,傻瓜绘图软件只需要极少的指令,它能够通过从网上搜寻材料来确定自己的绘图概念。这个软件配有独立的网络搜索,巨细无遗地搜寻所有社交媒体站点。它现在也开始展现某种想象力,能够从头创作一幅画。它的原创作品中,有一系列模糊的风景画,描绘着树木和天空。有人可能会说看上去很呆板、机械,但Colton却觉得这样反应了来自于人们评判电脑作品和人类作品时的双重标准。他说,无论如何,想想看傻瓜绘图在画这幅风景的时候,可没有参照过任何照片。“如果一个孩子用他脑海里的画面画了幅画,你就会说他有一定的想象力”,他指出。“同样的标准应当也适用于机器。”软件错误有时也能带来一些意想不到的效果。傻瓜绘图有一系列椅子的画,画出来只有黑白两色的,多拜技术故障所赐。这使得这些作品有一种怪异而鬼魅的特质。人类艺术家如声名显赫的Ellsworth Kelly经常被褒扬用色克制—那为什么到了电脑这里就不行呢?
Researchers like Colton don’t believe it is right to measure machine creativity directly to that of humans who ‘have had millennia to develop our skills’. Others, though, are fascinated by the prospect that a computer might create something as original and subtle as our best artists. So far, only one has come close. Composer David Cope invented a program called Experiments in Musical Intelligence, or EMI. Not only did EMI create compositions in Cope’s style, but also that of the most revered classical composers, including Bach, Chopin and Mozart. Audiences were moved to tears, and EMI even fooled classical music experts into thinking they were hearing genuine Bach. Not everyone was impressed. however, Some, such as Wiggins, have blasted Cope’s work as pseudoscience, and condemned him for his deliberately vague explanation of how the software worked. Meanwhile, Douglas Hofstadter of Indiana University said EMI created replicas which still rely completely on the original artist’s creative impulses. When audiences found out the truth they were often outraged with Cope, and one music lover even tried to punch him. Amid such controversy, Cope destroyed EMI’s vital databases.
像Colton这样的研究者并不认为我们应当直接用人类艺术的标准来衡量机器创作,毕竟人类“有着数千年的时光来发展艺术造诣”,虽然有些人着迷于电脑将来可能创作出新颖而又精妙的作品,正如人类最好的艺术家一样。到目前为止,只有一台机器几乎做到了。作曲家David Cope写出了一个叫音乐智能实验(EMI)的程序。它不仅仅能仿作Cope的曲风,连最负盛名的古典音乐大师如巴赫、肖邦、莫扎特的曲风也能模仿。听众们听着它的作品感动泪流,连古典音乐专家都没能发觉所听曲目并不是真正的巴赫作品。当然,也不是所有人都买账。有些人比如Wiggins也曾攻击过他的作品是伪科学,并谴责他刻意隐瞒自己软件的运作方式。同时,印第安纳大学的Douglas Hofstadter说EMI的模仿完全有赖于原作者的创作灵感。而当听众们发现真相时,他们通常会对Cope恼羞成怒,有个音乐爱好者甚至要冲上去揍Cope。在这样的争议中,Cope销毁了EMI的关键数据。
But why did so many people love the music, yet recoil when they discovered how it was composed? A study by computer scientist David Moffat of Glasgow Caledonian University provides a clue. He asked both expert musicians and non-experts to assess six compositions. The participants weren’t told beforehand whether the tunes were composed by humans or computers, but were asked to guess, and then rate how much they liked each one. People who thought the composer was a computer tended to dislike the piece more than those who believed it was human. This was true even among the experts, who might have been expected to be more objective in their analyses.
Where does this prejudice come from? Paul Bloom of Yale University has a suggestion: he reckons part of the pleasure we get from art stems from the creative process behind the work. This can give it an ‘irresistible essence’, says Bloom. Meanwhile, experiments by Justin Kruger of New York University have shown that people’s enjoyment of an artwork increases if they think more time and effort was needed to create it. Similarly, Colton thinks that when people experience art, they wonder what the artist might have been thinking or what the artist is trying to tell them. It seems obvious, therefore, that with computers producing art, this speculation is cut short – there’s nothing to explore. But as technology becomes increasingly complex, finding those greater depths in computer art could become possible. This is precisely why Colton asks the Painting Fool to tap into online social networks for its inspiration: hopefully this way it will choose themes that will already be meaningful to us.