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Can computer algorithms replace the skills and
creative brilliance that are inherently human?
Algorithm-based applications
can compose music, grade papers,
write news reports, and even
create a movie
Creativity can be enhanced or stiñed,
depending on how one chooses to
use the new technologies that will
continue to shape our modern world
While technology can enhance
output in the different creative
ñeIds, the human spirit that
permeates through works of art
cannot be replaced
a July article in Technology Review, author
Christopher Steiner asks the question,
“Can Creativity be Automated?` with
the advent of complex computer algorithms that can
determine which songs will hit the charts, grade English
papers, produce sports reports based on box scores, and
compose classical music. In disciplines where creativity
rests at the core, what is in store for the world’s creative
set as technologies penetrate their respecti·e Felds more
and more?
Hit song recognition and music composition.
Author of “Automate This: How Algorithms Came to
Rule Our \orld,` Steiner discusses the diííerent ways
in which algorithms are being used to produce material
that would normally have only been done by a human. In
By Marishka Noelle M. Cabrera
:NKcenSEI8KVUXZ tAugust 20-September 2, 2012
Fnding hit songs, íor instance, the company Music Xray,
whose technology can “detect musical hooks that are
destined íor the charts,` are connecting musical artists
with recording deals.
According to Steiner, the algorithms of Music Xray
founder Mike McCready use Fourier transforms, which
isolate a song’s base melody, beat, tempo, rhythm,
octave, pitch, chords, progression, sonic, brilliance,
and other factors that catch a listener’s ear. Once the
properties ha·e been identiFed and analyzed, the song
is then compared with hit songs of the past. “Hit songs
tend to be grouped in clusters, reveal similar underlying
structures,` he obser·es, adding, Get close to the
middle oí one oí those clusters and you may ha·e a hit.`
The literally manufactured pop star. In Tokyo,
e·en pop stars can be manuíactured, not just Fgurati·ely
but literally. Aimi Euguchi is a “perfectly-formed fake
singer [that] was made up of the very best of pop
pedigree,` as described in a June 2011 article in The
Telegraph. Computer scientists did a cut-and-paste`
by plucking notable facial features from members of
the Japanese girl group AKB 48 and putting them
together to create their new member. “Skilled computer
scientists,` the report says, used detailed imaging to
highlight the points on the real-life girls' faces before
their best features were captured and digitally implanted
onto Aimi's ·irtual íace.`
The computer-generated mash-up, a June 2011
Washington Post article notes, is another example of
the Japanese pop (or J-pop) trend towards virtual or
Fctional pop stars. Other artists oí the kind are the
all-girl band Ho-kago Tea Time and hologram pop star
Hatsune Miku.
What is an algorithm?
Wise Geek defnes an algorithm as "any set of
detailed instructions which results in a predictable
end-state from a known beginning." If the algorithm
is not properly defned, the result will be incorrect.
A computer program, for instance, is a series of
instructions listed in a specifc order designed to
perform a specifc task.
In his speech on TEDTalks in July 2011, algorithm
expert Kevin Slavin tackles how we are living in
a world that is increasingly being controlled by
algorithms. He describes algorithms as "basically
the math that computers use to decide stuff," and
talks about its "transition from being something that
we extract from the world to something that actually
starts to shape it."
An August 2011 BBC story, which cited Slavin`s
talk, also raises concern over these "invisible
computations." From the feld of web retailing to
fnancial markets, movie making, and information
search, algorithms are controlling almost all
aspects of modern life, while doing it "in a far more
subtle way than science fction would have us
believe." The article reminds readers that while
algorithms may be "cleverer than humans," they
don`t necessarily have the sense of perspective that
humans have.
Virtual pop star Aimi Euguchi is created using
features from “genetically blessed” members of
Japanese girl group AKB48. Video from YouTube
Automating creativity
27 cenSEI
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music composition. In music composition, artiFcial
intelligence may have a thing or two to contribute as
well. A February 2010 feature on composer David
Cope in 3DFLÀF6WDQGDUG shows how a software program
can compose music that Cope himself would have
composed, as well as music that resembled the chorales
of Johann Sebastian Bach. A bad case of composer’s
block brought Cope to consider the idea of using
artiFcial intelligence to compose music in his style.
What Cope developed in his computer program
Emmy, short for Experiments in Musical Intelligence
(EMI), was a way for software to derive the rules
of Bach in composing music—both the classical
composer’s standard techniques and how he broke
them. He converted 300 Bach chorales in a database and
wrote a program that “segmented the bits into digital
objects and reassembled them the way Bach tended to
put them together.`
The algorithmically generated movie. What
can one do with 3,000 video clips, 80 voiceovers,
and 150 pieces of music? Why not make an
algorithmically generated movie, i.e., director
Eve Sussman’s experimental cinema project,
whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir? According to a January
story in Wired, the program that drives whiteonwhite,
which screened three times at the Sundance Film
Festival in January, operates in such a way that each clip
has a speciFc tag that triggers the selection oí a next
clip, and the music and voiceover are assembled in a
similar way as well, making each showing different from
the next. 1hat's what the Flm company was hoping
íor,` a February article from DVICE adds, “believing
the random pairings of the clips helps create the
suspense in the plot along with the en·ironment.`
The Wired story notes, “Sussman hopes the randomness
gives whiteonwhite the kind of unpredictability that only
reality can oííer.`
Digital photo evaluation on the way. If
algorithms can string together scenes based on tags for
Flm-making, in photography, algorithms can deem one
portrait to be of higher quality than another. Document-
management company Xerox developed a technology
that can sort photos according to their content and
aesthetic qualities, such as lighting and composition.
As discussed in a Nov. 2011 article in Technology Review,
the technology is said to be in its prototype stage, but
when further developed, it should have the potential to
aid users in tasks such as selecting which digital photos
should go into an album or sorting photos based on
selected characteristics. The technology can even be an
added feature on a camera, where low-quality photos
can be deleted quickly, thus saving on storage space.
The system builds on the knowledge about the quality
of photos being chosen for public display or tagged as
high-quality in photo-sharing site Flickr.
"What they show is that now you don't need a human
to select images that are going to be judged beautiful,"
Aude Oliva, associate professor of brain and cognitive
sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT), says in the report.
The ñIm project whiteonwhiteaIgorithmicnoir was
made with an algorithm that selects and strings
together tagged scenes, music, and voiceovers to
create a unique movie every time. Video from DVICE
:NKcenSEI8KVUXZ tAugust 20-September 2, 2012
Automated news-writing and English-
composition grading. Apparently, algorithms can
automate some news-writing as well. A company called
Narrative Science specializes in helping companies
“leverage their data by automatically creating easy-to-use
and consistent narrati·e reporting.` An April feature on
the company in The Atlantic says the Chicago-based
startup’s innovative platform “writes reported articles in
eerily humanlike cadence.`
The article cites Forbes magazine, which avails
of what Forbes writer Lewis Dvorkin calls “computer-
generated company earnings pre·iews.` ,Click on
this link to access a Forbes blog featuring
earnings previews automatically generated by
Narrative Science.)
“Wherever there is data, Narrative Science founders say,
their software can generate a prose analysis that's robust,
reliable, and readable,` the article adds.
Algorithms can assess English compositions
as well. According to an April article in Inside
Higher Ed, a study by researchers at the University
of Akron in Ohio found that “automated essay
scoring was capable of producing scores similar to
human scores for extended-response writing items
with equal performance for both source-based and
traditional writing genre.` lunded by the William
and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the study compared
software-generated ratings given to compositions by
high school students to the ratings given by trained
human readers.
Rather than unleashing, is technology
undermining creativity? The digital age has
brought about solutions and technologies that enable
people to pursue a myriad of creative endeavors, and
yet the networked generation`s ability to multitask` and
their constant need íor instantaneous action` may be
hindering creativity, an April article in Mashable posits.
Automating news photos?
No way, insists a pro
Digital photography, which has all but subsumed
flm-based photography in everyday life, has
given rise to free or affordable apps (applications)
such as Instagram and Hipstamatic, which
make ordinary photos look artsy, poetic, and
yes, creative. These apps provide mobile device
users with the option to flter images so they can
resemble images shot on vintage flm stock or with
the use of expensive lenses.
The trend, of course, has met with the dismay of
at least one professional photographer. In a
February CNN opinion piece, Los Angeles-based
news and features photographer Nick Stern
shares his thoughts, warning the media to be
cautious about using app-doctored photos of news
events, as they fail to convey the true story behind
the images.
"The app photographer hasn't spent years
learning his or her trade, imagining the scene,
waiting for the light to fall just right, swapping
lenses and switching angles," Stern laments. He
says a camera should let you produce an image
conveying the emotion of the scene and "take the
photograph naked."
When a media organization uses an app-
doctored picture in a news report, "it's not the
photographer who has communicated the emotion
into the images," but rather "an app designer .
who decided that a nice shallow focus and dark
faded border would bring out the best in
the image," he maintains. "Since when did we
trust app developers to bring us the news?" he
asks rhetorically.
The article features a recent global study commissioned
by software giant Adobe, in which three-quarters
Automating creativity
29 cenSEI
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The infographic found in MashabIe iIIustrates ñndings of a gIobaI study
on creativity conducted by software giant Adobe
oí respondents íeel their creati·ity is being stined.
An accompanying infographic shows only 39% of
respondents describing themselves as being creative,
and only 1 in 4 believing that they are living up to their
creati·e potential. 1he Fndings were based on a sur·ey
of 5,000 adults from the United States, United Kingdom,
Germany, France, and Japan.
Automation still has its
limitations. In a TCR article
entitled Man ·s. Machine` ,August
6-19, 2012), Tanya L. Mariano
writes about the rise of the robotics
industry and the trend toward
robots taking over human jobs, as
in manufacturing and agriculture. In
creati·e Felds, howe·er, we may not
be seeing a robot takeover just yet.
A July Tecca article reprinted in
Mashable compiled a list of eight
human jobs that will survive a global
robot takeover. Among the jobs
predicted to endure were writer and
artist, as these disciplines still have
real human experience, savvy, and
imagination at their core.
Indeed, the magic and mystery of
the creative mind cannot be replaced
by artiFcial intelligence that easily.
The intelligence, imagination, and
inspiration to create works of art,
whether in writing, photography, or
music, still lie within the spirit of the
human being.
For Cope, his software is only a
tool. “All the computer is is just an
extension oí me,` he says. 1hey`re
nothing but wonderfully organized
shovels. I wouldn’t give credit to
the shovel for digging the hole.
\ould you·`
Automating creativity

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