3x3 Institute

Can an AI be creative?

June 2, 2023

Can an AI be creative? And can a person and an AI jointly create something and if so does the AIs actions represent a creative contribution.

What does it mean to be creative

Creativity is often defined as the ability to generate, imagine, or produce something new, original, or innovative that is also valuable or has some degree of significance. The “something” can be an idea, an artistic or literary work, a musical composition, a culinary dish, a business strategy, a scientific theory, a technical invention, or any other product of human achievement.

We don’t consider a typewriter or paint brush as a creative agent even though they may make essential contributions to the creative process. The use of computerized tools has been viewed as not rising to the level of having contributed to the creative act. A typewriter or a paintbrush is a tool that an artist or writer uses to express their creative ideas. The tool itself does not generate the ideas; it merely helps to bring them into physical existence.

For instance, the paintbrush does not decide what to paint; the typewriter does not decide what to write. These decisions are made by the human being wielding the tool. Similarly, a computer or an AI system can be seen as a sophisticated tool that people use to assist with or automate certain aspects of the creative process.

Even though a computer can generate new content based on algorithms and large data sets, this process is guided and structured by human programmers. The AI doesn’t truly “understand” or “experience” creativity in the human sense. It doesn’t have its own subjective experiences, emotions, or personal insights to draw upon. Instead, it identifies patterns and generates outputs based on its programming and the data it has been trained on.

AI creativity

As we continue to develop more sophisticated AI systems, our understanding of creativity and the role of tools within the creative process is evolving. Some see the AI’s role as primarily as an enabler or enhancer of human creativity, rather than as an independent creative entity.

As such, while AI can certainly contribute to the creative process, and even generate results that appear novel or unexpected to human observers, it does not engage in the creative act in the same way a human does. Its role is more akin to that of the paintbrush or the typewriter: a tool that, while essential, is not the originator of the creative act.

We do seem to possibly be on a path where the AI becomes the originator of the creative act. To evaluate how far we have to go we can evaluate the degree that elements of creativity are seen in AI activities or seems to be within the ability of an AI to perform:

  1. Originality: The outcome is novel, unique, or unusual. It doesn’t need to be the first of its kind, but it should bring a new perspective or a different approach.

  2. Value: The outcome is useful, meaningful, or aesthetically pleasing in some way. This is often context-dependent and can vary greatly depending on the field or culture.

  3. Process: Creativity usually involves a process of development or evolution. This might include stages of brainstorming, incubation, experimentation, refinement, and evaluation.

  4. Divergent Thinking: This refers to the ability to think ‘outside the box’, to see multiple solutions to a problem, or to generate a wide range of ideas.

  5. Convergent Thinking: This is the ability to then take those ideas and refine, combine, or evaluate them to produce a final, creative outcome.