“Ever since there has been Artificial Intelligence,” said Dr. Ashok Goel, TEDxPeachtree 2012 speaker, “there have been criticisms of it.” And one big criticism is that A.I. programs aren’t creative, nor can they be, creative. Only humans are creative. And therefore, the argument runs, A.I. will never succeed in reaching human-level intelligence.
Dr. Goel begs to differ, and this disagreement has fueled his life’s work. As a Professor of Computer Science & Cognitive Science in School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, the goal of making A.I.s that are creative is a driving force behind his research.
He explains the four steps he has taken to try and make creative A.I.s:
1. Understand human creativity in systems design and scientific modeling.
2. Build information-processing models of human creativity.
3. Build computational tools that aid, augment and amplify human creativity.
4. Build AI programs that are creative in their own right in that if humans were to do what they do and how they do it, we would consider them creative.
At Georgia Tech’s Design & Intelligence Laboratory, Dr. Goel and his colleagues investigated some of the fundamental processes of creativity, such as analogical reasoning; thinking of new problems in light of familiar situations; visual reasoning, or thinking in pictures; Meta-reasoning, or thinking about thinking. This pursuit was rewarding but time consuming.
Then, several years ago, Dr. Goel came across another concept, a way for artificial intelligence and human creativity to meet in a manner that can have more immediate societal impact – biologically inspired design. This is the kind of design in which we solve hard problems by analogy to nature. He gave me the example of a Namibian beetle that can harvest water from fog. The insect has microstructures on its back that attract water from the surrounding fog, and then channel the water droplets to roll down into its mouth. Scientists studied the mechanics of what the beetle did and built similar devices to do the same on a larger scale. People in Namibia now use these devices for making their own water from fog. The end result – one that impressed Dr. Goel even more – was that he could see the impact on people’s lives that biologically inspired design could make. Even better, it could potentially contribute to ecological sustainability, a cause he champions.
As Director of the Design & Intelligence Laboratory and a Co-Director of the Center for Biologically Inspired Design at Georgia Tech, he has the opportunity to not only to conduct the research, but to also engage students into the possibilities that abound when you marry a longstanding desire to see A.I.s become creative, a firm belief in the creativity of biologically inspired design, and a deep desire to preserve the natural environment.
“We want A.I. programs to emulate the creativity of nature,” Dr. Goel said, “for sustainable design and development.”
Wendy Kalman attended the 2009 TEDxPeachtree event and became hooked, volunteering each year ever since. By day, she works as a Proposal Manager and by night, consults with small businesses on marketing, public relations, writing and editing.