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Can Computers Create Art?


Paperback, 152 pages

ISBN 0974853488

ISBN-13 9780974853482

Digital technology dominates our hyper-mediated culture, and some evangelists are arguing that in only a few decades it will completely surpass human abilities in power. But will computers be able to replicate and transcend every aspect of human intelligence? In particular, will computers really emulate the artistic urge, and create original works of their own? Can Computers Create Art? turns the argument on its head. Looking at the philosophical underpinnings of computer technology, Morris contrasts these to theories of creativity, with particular reference to 20th century trends towards abstraction and media spectacle. In a wide-ranging analysis bringing together computer science, art theory, philosophy of the subject and neuroscience, Can Computers Create Art? uncovers the assumptions behind digital technology, and how it exemplifies the metaphysics of Western culture. James Morris is a lecturer in media theory at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication in Kent, England. In a previous life, he spent five years as editor of the UK’s number one-selling monthly computer magazine.

Customer Reviews:

  • What does it mean to be human?

    «Can Computers Create Art?» raises the question what it means to be human. James Morris, a lecturer in media theory at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication and former editor of the UK's «PC Pro» magazine, opens his book by ushering in a host of contemporary philosophers who delineate the traits of human existence: consciousness, intelligence, undecidability, intuition and a sense of what is beautiful. In its essence, the human brain is still a black box whose behaviour cannot be accurately predicted.

    With this in mind, Morris proceeds to examine the initiatives for computer-generated art taken by Brian Eno, Harold Cohen, and
    Karl Sims, among others. He argues that all such endeavours are based on the wrong premises, originating primarily in the idea that binary and Von Neumann machines constitute an adequate representation of the human brain: «Traditional research [has] focused on bringing together enough data and processing power to mimic the human mental faculty as a computational device, without paying much attention to whether or not the brain really does function exclusively in this way.» He defuses the belief held by AI optimists, such as Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil, that given enough computing power computers will one day exceed or supersede human intelligence. «Computers operate on what happens [...]. But the mystery exposed in art is that something happens at all [...].» Thus, if anything, the artwork would not be that which the computer produces but the software written to produce it.

    While artwork evolves in the process of creation and never has a predefined output, a computer can only run a predetermined
    code even if this code includes random operations. Artistic creation transcends systematic algorithmic computation and «art offers the clearest argument that science has its limits when applied to humanity». We can only program our image of humanity, not humanity itself. Morris thus rephrases the question as to whether computers can create art and leaves it open: «Why do we need to recreate ourselves artificially when we can do this so well biologically?» An insightful read, spanning philosophy, neuroscience and computer sciences.

    (Courtesy of SWITCH. Review first published in SWITCH Journal, October 2009.)
    source: Amazon, by user: A3L9QPMBIM1VHD
  • not can, but, why?

    Morris' introduction begins with concerns. He is concerned about the function of humanity and with the state of art. Morris posits that during the current moment, digital technology has deeply infected human culture and human life; for those who are fully integrated within digital culture, there is no possible extrication of computers from life. There is no aspect of human life that is, as he says, "immune." Morris then goes further to compare the democratization of technique that the ideology of computing has brought about to the effect that the printed book had on the written word. The artistic technique that once took years or lifetimes to achieve for a select few is now made widely available to anyone with access to a computer.

    Furthermore, Morris' concern about the possibility of autonomous creation of art by computers would not only send shockwaves that would alter the human perspective, but essentially would negate humanity as unique. We would no longer be useful, no longer special, and perhaps we would no longer exist. What is digital computation doing to art? What is it doing to the human brain capacity--our computational speed, memory capacity, neural networks? How will the function of humans in the artistic process be affected? One of the most crucial meta-questions he poses in the introduction and tackles toward the conclusion of the book is, why do humans create machines that simulate brain processes so well in the first place? From where does this desire stem and what does it call into question about us and our relationship with ourselves?

    Before directly addressing his concerns and attempting to answer any of the multitude of questions he poses, Morris begins with a great series of definitions. He defines art and its function in society. Morris defines subjecthood and later introduces the term "superject," referring to a subject who remains in a perpetual state of transcendental flux. Morris goes on to discuss and define perspective. Taking a most interesting step, Morris defines what a human being is, so as to establish boundaries between a human being and a computer and later to serve as a foundation for his exploration of what would be required of artificial intelligence to fully replicate a creative human.

    Within the description of a human, Morris addresses how the computer and digital technology in general has thrown into question the very nature of the body and the brain. For him, computers have enabled a body that's not the body and a body without parts. Computers have allowed us to, through a particular externalization, extinguish and replace the human body. Referencing sources such as Heidegger, Lyotard, Schirmacher, Hegel, and Deleuze, among others, and drawing from schools of thought such as psychology, metaphysics, phenomenology, mathematical communication theory, and neuroscience, among others, Morris constructs a model or projection of the human brain, human intelligence, and human creativity. There are diagrams that illustrate how neural pathways are generated and mapped and seeks to prove that computers work in the same fashion. He adds compelling research and statistics that demonstrate how computers are increasing brain capacity; his meta-argument there being we create computers that mimic our brains, and the brains we create influence our brains which should in turn improve the artificial brains we would create subsequently. This is a recursive process. The challenge, curse, and hope is to conceptualize human intelligence, as well as human creative and learning capacity in such a way that we literally can make computers precisely like human brains. What happens after that?

    There are set of most useful arguments and questions located in the introduction and the chapter on "technofear." Morris is concerned with how many decisions and which decisions we leave up to the computer. Another meta-question we can derive is whether we can program human creativity and subjecthood into computers; some are already capable of consciousness. What are potentially frightening are computers that can mimic intelligence, learn from mistakes (pattern recognition), and ones that produce independent, creative, unique thought. Another question for the reader is where is the art in computer assisted art creation? Is it in the process, the program, the human interface with the program, or in the final output? An essential aspect of his book is relationships: art to the world, art to the human, the human to the self/subjecthood/soul, the computer to art, the computer to human, but for Morris all of these questions come back as a reflection of the metaphysical alienation between ourselves and ourselves. Computers are what he calls "a metaphysical image of human thought as an algorithmic computational system." Ultimately, he's hopeful and the future is not bleak. The final thought he leaves us to contemplate is not, as the title of the book asks, do computers create art, but why do we want them to?
    source: Amazon, by user: AR63ENC45XVVG
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