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Creativity Ex Machina?

But the kind of thinking that goes into chess, stacked against the full power and range of the human mind, is far from the whole story. Nineteenth century mathematician Ada Byron, known as Lady Lovelace, was perhaps the first to suggest that creativity is the essential difference between mind and machine-the defining essence that goes beyond what even the most sophisticated algorithm can accomplish. Lovelace argued that computing machines, such as that contrived by her contemporary, Charles Babbage, can’t create anything, for creation requires, minimally, originating something. Computers can originate nothing; they can merely do that which we order them, via programs, to do.

A century later Alan Turing, the grandfather of both AI and computer science, responded to Lady Lovelace’s objection by inventing the now-famous Turing Test, which a computer passes if it can fool a human into thinking that it is a human. Unfortunately, while chess is too easy, the Turing Test is still far too difficult for today’s computers. For example, deception-which a potent computer player in the Turing Test should surely be capable of-is an incredibly complex concept. To urge a person to mistakenly accept a false notion requires that the computer understand not only that the idea is false, but also the myriad subtle connections that exist between the idea and that person’s beliefs, attitudes, and countless other ideas.

Though the Turing Test is currently out of the reach of the smartest of our machines, there may be a simpler way of deciding between the strong and weak forms of AI-one that highlights creativity, which may well be the real issue in the Strong vs. Weak clash. The test I propose is simply: Can a machine tell a story?

Although the virtue of this test might not seem obvious at first glance, there are some interesting reasons for thinking that it’s a good index of “mindedness.” For example, the dominant test of creativity in use in psychology-Torance Tests of Creative Thinking-request subjects to produce narratives.

Nor is the presence of narrative in these tests arbitrary; many cognitive scientists plausibly argue that narrative is at the very heart of human cognition. Roger Schank, a well-known cognitive scientist at Northwestern University, boldly asserts that “virtually all human knowledge” is based on stories. His fundamental claim is that when you remember the past, you remember it as a set of stories, and when you communicate information you also deliver it in the form of stories.

But perhaps most significant for this discussion, the story game would strike right to the heart of the distinction between Strong and Weak AI. Humans find it impossible to produce literature without adopting the points of view of characters, that is, without feeling what it’s like to be these characters; hence human authors generate stories by capitalizing on the fact that they are conscious in the fullest sense of the word-which is to be conscious simultaneously of oneself, of another person, and of the relation (or lack thereof) between the two persons.

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