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November 08, 2008

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It seems to me that the mind is just a generator of random ideas based on things experienced recently, where the ideas are checked in various layers for how much sense they make and passed to the conscious mind when they have already passed some filters. In essence, our thinking process is a combination of semi-random idea generation and tweaking, combined with validation and testing.

There seems to be no reason why the same could not be implemented in a machine. People who argue that machines cannot do random stuff have apparently never dealt with cryptography.

I don't think that you'll be able to develop a wholly deterministic machine that will surpass a human mind though. You need the random search to find _a_ solution to problems where a good enough solution is relatively easy, but an optimal solution is impossibly tough.

I don't think that you'll be able to develop a wholly deterministic machine that will surpass a human mind though.
It's not clear that human minds aren't wholly deterministic, themselves.

denis, are you positing that pseudo-randomness is not enough, and you need true randomness? Perhaps you're even trying to claim that P does not equal BPP?

This is unimportant, but in the original human experience of milk, somewhat-spoiled milk was not in fact bad to drink. Old milk being actually rotten came as a surprise to my family when we moved to North America from Eastern Europe.

I'd like to bring up a wonderful field to keep in mind when you try to bring randomness and random solution generation into creative processes: genetic algorithms.

Genetic algorithms show two interesting things, relative to randomness. First, genetic algorithms are scored based on how much faster they are than generating random solutions and checking them. Second, you don't actually need randomness to implement genetic algorithms!

All you need to pull off a genetic algorithm -- or any similar search algorithm -- is /a means of generating solutions similar to your current best solution(s)/. This process does not have to be random! If your algorithm enumerated all of the neighboring solutions to a given solution, and tried them in turn, it would work just as well (more or less) as a genetic algorithm which mutated its solutions randomly.

I agree. Creativity is not just being random. The old masters used measurement and perspective when painting their masterpieces, they didn't just sit there and hum and at the sky and wait for inspiration to strike them.

I think the idea that creativity is somehow mystical comes from a religious model of the human body. If you think your body has causal flesh and a supernatural/acausal soul, and that creativity comes from your soul (the part that is "you") then it follows that creativity comes from the acausal.

"So do we reason that the most unexpected events, convey the most information, and hence the most surprising acts are those that give us a pleasant shock of creativity - the feeling of suddenly absorbing new information?"

This is very cool.

This post reminded me of the discussion of creativity in Carse's Finite and Infinite Games. He wrote that finite games are games (in a loose sense) with definite rules, with beginnings and ends, for which one can speak of preference orderings and optimizations. Infinite games have no end but may include finite games, and can be played but not won; they are played for the sake of playing. It makes no sense to talk about optimizing on an infinite game.

Modern art's surface-level boundary breaking can certainly be thought of as a winnable competition, but I'd be much more hesitant to say the same of all of human life, the higher-level creative process that gave rise to modern art and the problem of transportation. I'm not convinced that optimization captures all the important properties of intelligence (or creativity). Perhaps someone with a better understand could elucidate this for me?

Paul: It makes no sense to think of life as optimization of a utility function over three-dimensional slices that stays the same over all time, since there's no end state we want and no fixed state we want the universe to be locked into; but we can talk about stable preferences over broad ranges of 3D states (e.g. 'freedom good'), changing preferences over detailed 3D states (e.g. 'I want to win this finite game'), or (most primitively, the way I like to think of it) stable (rather, timeless) preferences over detailed 4D histories of the universe.

The field of writing still has a lot of unnecessary rules. I was so glad when "ain't" became acceptable. Now I create words and break rules at will. I do take the position that not all creativity is art.

Modern Art cannot delight the untrained senses of a mere novice.

Whatever gets sophisticated critics to praise your rule-breaking is good Modern Art, and whatever fails in this end is poor Modern Art.

Both these statements are complete bullshit, as any visit to a modern art* gallery will confirm.

I think what you're trying to mock is conceptual art, a small sub-field of modern art, but your straw man bears so little resemblance to anything that actually happens in the art world that it's impossible to be sure.

*Scare caps are as bad as scare quotes.

I'm getting Deja Vu again. Are you recycling bits of older posts or other things you've written?

It's important to state that we do not see so much as recognize. Before data from the eyes is processed it is synthesized with memories, and so as much as 80% of what we 'see' is simply an exercise in matching visual data with memory data.
This goes some way to explaining why being a tourist can be mentally exhausting; work cannot be outsourced to memory, but rather the mind works double-time to both take in full-bandwidth visual data and to store new information. Quite apart from this, basic values -- normally guarded closely by confirmation bias -- are being challenged. Travel broadens the mind in the same way that flooding broadens a river.

This tendency, to recognize rapidly, works against creative thought in everyday life. Creativity is bedeviled by routine, even routines that once successfully generated fresh concepts, and eventually elements of chaos are required to shake off the recognize-and-dismiss pattern that comes to us so easily.

It makes no sense to think of life as optimization of a utility function over three-dimensional slices that stays the same over all time, since there's no end state we want and no fixed state we want the universe to be locked into [...]

If that was true, it would represent a refutation of Dewar's maximium entropy principle - as applied to biology. Unfortunately, the logic doesn't seem to make any sense. Water can still act to maximise a utility function by flowing downhill - although it has no thought of the distant ocean.

If you are constantly surprised by solutions that are high in you preference ordering but low in your search ordering, that is a problem with your search ordering. If your search ordering is correct, creativity is useless.

Eliezer,
For systematic approach to creativity you need to inform yourself about Genrich Altshuller's TRIZ - the easiest way to do that is to have a look at the TRIZ journal at www.aitriz.com (Altshuller's deepest book that has been translated from the Russian into English is 'Creativity as an Exact Science').

And, on reflection, since you want to build an autonomous optimiser in the form of self-improving AI - and now I understand your concern that it might become a paperclip maximiser since autonomy includes the ability to select ones own goals, and why would they be such as to permit us to pursue our human goals - you might want to look at another optimising system, Eli Goldratt's 'Theory of Constraints'

HTH

Here is the ultimate work of Modern Art, that truly defies all rules: It isn't mine, it isn't real, and no one knows it exists...

It's...it's beautiful.

Great post for the most part, though I do have to agree with Tim's straw man alert.

Something I learnt while studying postmodern fiction (yeah Eliezer, that's right): Art can be referential, or memetic, or both, or neither. Most is both, in that it (very roughly) is 'like' reality (i.e. it's memetic) and 'seeks to tell us something about' reality (i.e. it's referential). However, there's some really interesting stuff that is neither - defying ideas like logic, causation and induction (let alone plot, character etc) and blatantly having no regard for what Eliezer would call terminal values. (Except, in some cases, at a meta-level outside the text. But not in all cases.) Read up on Alain Robbe-Grillet's fiction and Sam Beckett's 'Trilogy' (and later poetry) for a start. Oh, and John Cage - yes, even 4'33.

Randomness, noise and so on can be astonishingly beautiful, in art or in nature, even to the novice. Or do you think that there are two parts of your brain, one which finds a painting beautiful, and one that finds the night sky beautiful? Yes, there's some high-minded bullshit out there, but as Tim says, please don't draw false boundaries simply to justify your profound bottom line.

And beware of putting a nuts-and-bolts heuristic in place of a sense of aesthetic beauty. You may then find yourself conflicted between finding something beautiful and being unable to understand why. And that truly would be a tragedy.

To all defending Modern Art: Please point to at least one item available online which exemplifies that which you think I'm ignoring or missing.

Eliezer: "To all defending Modern Art: Please point to at least one item available online which exemplifies that which you think I'm ignoring or missing."

This Al Held piece. Upon first glance, it's just a white canvas with a black triangle at the top and the bottom. This is not True Art, you say--but then you read the title, and it all makes sense! Clever! Shocking!

Art! (Hat tip Scott McCloud.)

Not meant as a critique of your piece of conceptual art, but usually all blank paintings have some kind of story behind them.

Robert Rauschenberg: Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953)
http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue8/erasuregenteel.htm

You might also get a kick out of The Clockworks Project:
http://www.museumofconceptualart.com/clockworks/clockworks.html

Abstract synthesis. There.

Please point to at least one item available online which exemplifies that which you think I'm ignoring or missing.

Here are the four exhibits I saw last time I went to SFMOMA:

http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/232
http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/266
http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/264
http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/292

All of them "delight the untrained senses of a mere novice" (not so much on a computer screen--these are large and/or detailed works). None of them was there because "sophisticated critics praised their rule-breaking."

Those exhibitions are gone, but if you go down to SFMOMA and see whatever's on now, I'm confident the same will be true.

And, sticking to conceptual art, I'll happily defend John Cage's 4'33": a few sentences on a piece of paper that read like a stunt, but when actually experienced gave me a new understanding of the process of listening. If that's not "a skillful archer send[ing] an arrow into an exceedingly narrow target," I don't know what is.

The same is true of LaMonte Young's X For Henry Flynt. But you have to hear it. Reading about it won't do much for you.

The ongoing popularity of Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" and Escher's "Ascending and Descending" as logic/science illustrations would seem to indicate that rationalists are comfortable enough with conceptual art when it suits them.

"If you are constantly surprised by solutions that are high in you preference ordering but low in your search ordering, that is a problem with your search ordering. If your search ordering is correct, creativity is useless."

...
Yeah, and optimization is trivial, just use the correct search ordering.

If your search ordering is correct, creativity is useless.

Perhaps, but then would having the correct search ordering be isomorphic to already knowing everything? No free lunch theorem mumble mumble.

To all defending Modern Art: Please point to at least one item available online which exemplifies that which you think I'm ignoring or missing.

Funny -- I didn't actually read the post as an attack on Modern Art. The point seemed to be that, appearances to the contrary, Modern Artists are in fact trying to hit a narrow target, albeit not the one you might at first think. It is presumably this attempted optimization that makes Modern Art (to the extent such a thing does in fact exist) a worthwhile or interesting activity to those who practice it.

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