Music, Movies & Horseradish Brownies: Are Computers More Creative Than Us?

Everyone’s familiar with self-driving cars by now, and you may have even heard that your iPhone can diagnose skin cancer. These exciting advances are proof that computers can learn pretty much anything as long as, like human children, you teach them well, and, as Whitney Houston would say, let them lead the way. But can a computer “learn” the art of storytelling? Will any AI ever match up to the musical genius of Mozart or create a meal as delicious as Julia Child could? The answer: well….kinda. In this “Chocolate Chicken Chicken Cake” episode of Sleepwalkers, hosts Oz Koloshyn and Karah Preiss talk with special guests filmmaker Oscar Sharp and programmer Ross Goodwin, who created the all-AI written film Sunspring, as well as Sebastian Thrun of Google X and Janelle Shane from AI Weirdness, to find out if any bot could ever replace Beyonce.


Computers can do a lot, but they’re still reliant on their programmers to not only feed them the right data, but also sift through what comes out to find the good stuff. For example, Janelle Shane gave her program hundreds of recipes to learn from, she and baked whatever it told her to make. Unfortunately, the computer’s recipe for a flourless chocolate cake included a surprise ingredient: a cup of horseradish. That program is unlikely to win any prizes at a bake sale, but what we can learn from these kinds of mistakes is fascinating. She says, “I look at what kinds of recipe titles it comes up with. They're things like, Chocolate Chicken Chicken Cake, and another one that's Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Cake. And there was a lot of cheese in these recipes, too, so it was kind of revealing about what sorts of things we cook with. And we like chocolate, cheese, and chicken, apparently.” Same with music and movies: the cliches fed into the programs were very revealing about extremely human biases. Beyond writing good music or screenplays, these programs can reveal to us who we really are.

So does this mean we’re going to see a robot Bruno Mars dominate the charts in the near future? Probably not. As Cristobal Valenzuela, creator of an app for computer programs called Runway, says, don’t worry about AI coming for your creative job. “Start thinking about them as not like, something that's going to destroy our creativity or going to replace writers and artists or whatever. This is going to be a typewriter. This is going to be a paintbrush, and people will start building and using it to understand their own creativity in a new way.” Listen to the episode to learn all about what these clever computers have to teach us about creativity and the human condition, as well as lots of sexy new data-driven pickup lines to add to your repertoire!

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Photo: Getty Images


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