sensible'' programming. Such a program would remember a lot about its past so that, for each new problem, it would search for methods like the ones that worked best on similar problems in the past. When speaking about programs that have that much self-direction, it makes no sense at all to say "computers do only what they're told to do," because now the programmer knows so little of what situations the machine may encounter in its future or what it will remember from its past.
A generation later. we should be experimenting on programs that write better programs to replace themselves. Then at last it will he clear how foolish was our first idea that never, by their nature, could machines create new things. This essay tries to explain why so many people have guessed so wrongly about such things.
Could Computers Be Creative?
I plan to answer "no" by showing that there's no such thing as "creativity'' in the first place. I don't believe there's any substantial difference between ordinary thought and creative thought. Then why do we think there's a difference? I'll argue that this is really not a matter of what's in the remind of the artist---but of what's in the mind of the critic: the less one understands an artist's mind the more creative seems the work the artist does.
I don't blame anyone for not being able to do the things creative people do. I don't blame them for not being able to explain it, either. (I don't even blame them for thinking that if creativity can't be explained, it can't be mechanized; in fact I agree with that.) But 1 do blame them for thinking that, just because they can't explain it themselves, then no one ever could imagine how creativity works. .After all, if you can't understand or imagine how something might be done at all. you certainly shouldn't expect to be able to imagine how a machine could do it!
What is the origin of all those skeptical beliefs? I'll argue first that we're unduly intimidated by admiration of our Beethovens and Einsteins. Consider first how hard we find it to express the ways we get our new ideas not just "creative'' ones but everyday ideas. The trouble is, when focusing on creativity, we're prone to notice it when others get ideas that we don't. But when we get our own ideas, we take them for granted, and don't ask where we "get" them from. Actually we know as little maybe less of how we think of ordinary things. We're simply so accustomed to the marvels of everyday thought that we never wonder until unusual performances attract attention. (Of course, our superstitions about creativity serve other needs, e.g.. to give our heroes special qualities that justify the things we ordinary losers cannot do.)
Should we suppose that outstanding minds are any different from ordinary minds at all, except in matters of degree'? I'll argue both ways. I'll first say "No, there's nothing special in a genius, but just some rare, unlikely combination of virtues none very special by itself." Then, I'll say "Yes,
but in order to acquire such a combination, you need at least a lucky accident and maybe something else to make you able, in the first place, to acquire those other skills.''
I don't see any mystery about that mysterious combination itself. There must be an intense concern with some domain. There must be great proficiency in that domain (albeit not in any articulate, academic sense). And one must have enough self-confidence, immunity to peer pressure, to break the grip of standard paradigms. Without that one might solve problems just as hard but in domains that wouldn't be called "creative'' by one's peers. But none of those seems to demand a basic qualitative difference. As I see it, any ordinary person who can understand an ordinary conversation must have already in his head most of the mental power that our greatest thinkers have. In other words, I claim that "ordinary, common sense'' already includes the things it takes when better balanced and more fiercely motivated to make a genius. Then what makes those first-raters so much better at their work? Perhaps two kinds of difference-in-degree from ordinary minds. One is the way such people learn so many more and deeper skills.
The other is the way they learn to manage using what they learn. Perhaps beneath the surface of their surer mastery, creative people also have some special administrative skills that better knit their surface skills together. A good composer, for example, has to master many skills of phrase and theme but those abilities are shared, to some degree, by everyone who talks coherently. An artist also has to master larger forms of form but such skills, too, are shared by everyone who knows good ways to "tell a tale.'' A lot of people learn a lot of different skills but few combine them well enough to reach that frontal rank. One minor artist masters fine detail but not the larger forms; another has the forms but lacks technique.(5)
We still don't know why those "creative masters'' learn so much so well. The simplest hypothesis is that they've come across some better way to choose how and what to learn! What might the secret be? The simplest explanation: such a "gift" is just some "higher-order" kind of' expertise of knowing how to gain and use one's other skills. What might it take to learn that? Obvious: one must learn to be better at learning!
If that's not obvious, perhaps our culture doesn't teach how to think about learning. \We tend to think of learning as something that just happens to us, like a sponge getting soaked. But learning really is a growing mass of skills: we start with some but have to learn the rest. Most people never get deeply concerned with acquiring increasingly more advanced learning skills. Why not'' Because they don't pay off right away! When a child tries to spoon sand into a pail,
(5) Of course each culture sets a threshold to award to just a few that rank of "first class creativity" however great or small the differences among contestants. This must make social sense, providing smallish clubs of ideal-setting idols, but shouldn't then burden our philosophy with talk of "inexplicability.'' There must be better ways to deal ;with feelings of regret at being "second-rate.''
|THE AI MAGAZINE Fall 1982 5|