4 Apr 2009

Chance and Computer Creativity in Dartnall, "On Having a Mind of Your Own"

by Corry Shores
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Terry Dartnall

"On Having a Mind of Your Own"

Lady Lovelace was Charles Babbage's friend and colleague. She opined that computers can never be creative, because they "have no pretension whatever to originate anything." (29b) Many share her opintion. We seem to regard "machine creativity" as an oxymoron.

If she is right, then cognitive science will never fully simulate human consciousness on a computer. (29-30) [Hence efforts for whole brain emulation and mental uploading would fail.]

We may summarize the argument this way:

1) If X is designed to respond in a predictable way to its instruction, then X is not creative.
2) Computers are designed to respond in a predictable way to their instructions.
3) Therefore computers are not creative.

The idea of predictability is bound-up with notions of determinism. Dartnall distinguishes four types of determinist positions.
a) Determinism: every event is caused.
b) Hard determinism: because every event is caused, there is no freewill.
c) Libertarianism: some events are uncaused. Certain brain or mind events are examples. Thus we have freewill.
d) Soft determinism or compatibilism: every event is caused. But, this is compatible with freewill. For, some actions are the product of our individual personality. Such free actions are caused by our preferencies, volitions and desires. This is what we mean when we refer to 'free action.' (36a)

Dennett offers an argument supporting libertarianists. They believe there is randomness. But traditionally "random" has connoted pointlessness or meaninglessness. Yet, "the point that the libertarian wishes to make is exactly that random actions (actions that are random in the sense of being undetermined) need not be meaningless." (37a)

Dennett suggests there are two factors involved when we make decisions.
1) a "consideration-generator whose output is to some degree undetermined," and
2) a "series of considerations that are either rejected as irrelevant by the agent, or selected as having bearing on the reasoning process." (37bc)

He then quotes Valéry:
It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other one chooses, recognises what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of things which the former has imparted to him. What we call genius is much less the work of the first one than the readiness of the second one to grasp the value of what has been laid before him and to choose it. (qt in Dartnall 37c)
Dennet suggests that we place the randomness in the generative component. This way randomness will work in the service of creativity, rather than merely create chaos. (37-38)

[Consider also filmmaker Stan Brakhage's description of John Cage's creative process. Brakhage does not see chance operations in John Cage’s works, which he created using the “hazard of the dice;” for, Cage rejected almost all the outcomes, until arriving upon one that seemed to express his “soul.” It needed to be a work that, although created by chance, was still something he could authenticate with his signature and take responsibility-for. (From Brakhage, "Encounters" interview on the Criterion Anthology DVD).]

Dartnall, Terry. "Introduction: On Having a Mind of Your Own." in Artificial Intelligence and Creativity: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Ed. Terry Dartnall. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994.

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