The creativity of artifacts: oxymoron, paradox, or a new frontier?

The creativity of artifacts: oxymoron, paradox, or a new frontier?

By Claudia Fini, Chair Intern 

The seminar presented by Professor Maria Addolorata Mangione, MD, PhD is part of the third specialization course in Neurobioethics organized by the Research Group in Neurobioethics of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights. The seminar is characterized by a specific identity that addresses the implementation of artificial intelligence in the artistic field. It offers a reflection that combines sociology and philosophy to guide the application of artificial intelligence to the arts.

The expertise of artificial intelligence is exponentially improving. Digital systems have been equipped with increasingly sophisticated techniques for the analysis of situations of different orders and can reveal patterns even unknown to the human mind. In addition, these operations are carried out at speeds that exceed our cognitive abilities. We have gradually assigned a new position and a new vocation to digital technologies and their promises: that of enunciating the truth. This change has quickly led to an altered anthropomorphism driven by the continuous attempts to emulate human cognitive faculties and transcend their limitations. The phenomenon, however, remains fragmentary. Rather than accept the totality of human abilities and faculties, artificial intelligence is only concerned with the reproduction of specific tasks.

Artificial intelligence applications are being increasingly adopted to aid human decision making. Although AI has the concrete potential to improve human life and activities in countless ways, its implementation depends heavily on the trust placed in its performance. Human trust in technology is based on our knowledge of how these systems work and our assessment of their safety. To trust judgments based on algorithms, we must make sure that these are accurate and rational as well as safe and ethical. In this context, the Neurobioethics group of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights aims to provide answers to difficult ethical questions on the role of artificial intelligence and its relationship with humanity and society.

Aesthetics and art are apparently very far from those issues that directly involve the reality of existence. At the same time, however, these disciplines extend to a border area, namely the world of symbolic and mythical productions. The advent of artificial intelligence and algorithms in art meets a blank canvas, leaving ample room for a range of almost infinite possibilities. Despite the ability of technology to perform the purely procedural aspects that characterize a specific form of art, AI is not yet able to reproduce the genius and creative flair that characterizes each artist when committed to the creative process.

Rodin’s The thinker recalls that integral anthropology to help us shed light on a universal path for the elaboration of our reflections. It is a muscular figure, in which great attention has been given to the definition of the details of muscle tension. Rodin’s stylistic choices underline the close link between the intellectual activity and the body of the person, therefore the substantial union between the spiritual or intellectual soul and the body. Rodin’s The thinker reminds us that the person is the totality of body and spirit and cannot be traced back or reduced to one dimension.

 

AI and literature

Figuratively speaking, in 1967 Roland Barthes suggested that “the reader’s birth should be redeemed by the author’s death.” As artificial intelligence takes its first steps in narrative writing, Barthes’ metaphor might one day become a reality. An interesting project undertaken by Philip M. Parker, Marketing professor at INSEAD Business School, perfectly illustrates the literary applications of AI. Parker’s invention consists of a computer program capable of writing books on different topics in about 20 minutes. So far, hundreds of thousands of books have been created by the patented algorithm with Amazon listing over 100,000 books attributed to Parker’s business and ICON Group International Inc.

The system automates the writing process by creating information databases and identifying templates for the information to be packaged in the form of a coherent text. Since digital e-books and print-on-demand services have become very popular, topics can be listed on Amazon without being “written” yet. The system’s success (and cleverness) relies on the artificial emulation of the human literary process. Typically, this would have been done by several experts for each given subject requiring an exponentially higher amount of time and resources, all factors that are cut down to zero through Parker’s technology.

This prompts us to the question: can artificial intelligence produce creative works like a human being? Although a novel is a work of fiction, it is no secret that some genres lend themselves to predetermined formulas, such as romance novels. On the one hand, a novel written by an AI system would maintain its ultimate aim of entertaining the reader. On the other hand, to express not only original but deep personal content, investigations of a sociological statistical nature are not sufficient; what is necessary is a profound knowledge of the human soul and the dynamics of social relations. The very nature of human experience is found in literature, often represented as a crystallized emotion. The interest in AI is, therefore, reformulating the ongoing debate on what it means to be human, questioning our concepts of personality, imagination, and knowledge. AI is both the apotheosis of the logical scientific reasoning of the Enlightenment and, perhaps, also its damnation.

 

 

AI and painting

From the teardrop drawings of Pollock to Warhol’s pop art, artists have always been searching for new ways to advance their creativity. It could be argued that removing the human being from the artistic process could open up a new frontier of art where AI plays a central role for the overcoming of artistic obstacles. This new frontier of art, of course, opens the door to many philosophical debates about the concept of inspiration, experience, and copyright. The advent of AI in art could lead to a radical change in artistic and imaginative thought. Moreover, in an artistic environment dominated by artificial intelligence, it could be challenging to identify an exact creator. Although ethically dubious, this phenomenon opens the door to a future in which our imagination may no longer be the obstacle to the creation of art.

Harold Cohen, a former artist, and professor of the University of California of San Diego, started working on an artistic creation program called AARON in 1973, while he was a scholar visiting the Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Lab. AARON’s ability to paint has improved year after year, learning more difficult and complex techniques from its creator. AARON learned to place objects or people in 3D space in the 1980s and was able to paint in colour from 1990 onwards. AARON does not paint with pixels, but through a machine that allows him to mix the paint and to obtain still lifes and portraits of human figures without photos or other human inputs as a reference. Over time his paintings have made their way into many of the world’s major art museums and into the hands of private collectors at the cost of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

If AARON has the potential to represent the future of art, the Ai-Da project appears even more futuristic. Defined as “the world’s first ultra-realistic humanoid robot artist” by its creator Aidan Meller, Ai-Da can draw creatively thanks to its integrated artificial intelligence (AI) technology. This production is possible thanks to its ability to receive visual data through cameras located in its eyes and virtual information processing algorithms that allow the establishment of coordinates for the realization of artistic work. Ai-Da can use a pencil or a pen producing sketches similar to historical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and Alan Turing.

The Ai-Da project is defined as revealing as its main objective is that of opening a discussion on the relationship between artificial and organic life. The very concept of life opens many debates in the world of philosophy and art. In these debates, the purely biological vision that life can be studied and identified exclusively by scientific and experimental disciplines collides with a multidimensional approach for which various levels of life are identified: animal, human and spiritual.

AI and music

The idea that music can be composed by artificial intelligence is intriguing as daunting to many. AI software for music production has reached such advanced levels in recent years that they have become routine tools used by producers to aid in the creative process. This development raises the question: Could artificial intelligence someday replace musicians?

Despite AI’s apparent novelty, it has long been utilized in music. In 1976 Ray Kurzweil presented a machine that could read the text on a page and pronounce the words aloud on the NBC Today show. The device was originally designed for the blind, but over time it became an innovative musical instrument based on artificial intelligence models. Kurzweil’s K250 synthesizer debuted in 1984 as the world’s first keyboard input instrument with the ability to generate the sounds of various acoustic instruments. Later, in the 90s, David Bowie helped develop an app called Verbasizer, capable of processing literary material and randomly reordering it to create new text combinations. While in 2016, Sony researchers employed a software called Flow Machines to create a Beatles-style melody, which was later used by composer Benoît Carré for the development of a pop song called “Daddy’s Car.”

The impact of these developments will profoundly affect all human endeavours, including music. Music will remain the communication of musicians’ emotions and human intuitions to an audience, but the concepts and process of music will undergo a profound transformation.

ISTAT Study in the frame of the meeting “The epidemic at the time of artificial intelligence”

ISTAT Study in the frame of the meeting “The epidemic at the time of artificial intelligence”

By Claudia Fini, Chair intern

The Neurobioethics Group of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University (UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights and the Science and Faith Institute) and the BrainCircle Italia presented the digital meeting entitled ‘The epidemic at the time of Artificial Intelligence’, a day of reflection born from the urgent need to develop, in relation to the contingent situation, a series of reflections on the possibility of using artificial intelligence and technology to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) epidemic, which has spread in Italy in recent months, has sadly resulted in a large number of deaths officially certified as positive for the virus. In China, the final study of the World Health Organization has recorded 3,259 deaths with a mortality rate of 3.8%. The same mortality in Italy has been shown to have increased to 9% with a peak of 12.1% in Lombardy.

The factors that contribute to the calculation of such data are many. It must be considered that in Italy, the mortality rate is higher due to the presence of an older population and the lack of testing for milder cases which are solely isolated. The development and distribution of official statistical knowledge is therefore of clear importance in measuring the performance of the economy and the community.


In light of this emergency, the National Institute of Statistics Istat has activated a series of actions aimed at ensuring the continuity and quality of statistical production, directing the collection of statistical data on sustainable acquisition techniques with methodological solutions and innovations for the use of data sources in full protection of workers’ health.

Mortality information is an essential element in defining the dynamics of the current pandemic in relation to past events. In his speech, the president of Istat Giancarlo Blangiardo illustrates how, through time, the mortality trend in Italy has been characterized by a series of peaks among which the first appears in 1918, followed by other peaks in 1956, 2015 and 2019.

The current rise in mortality due to the Covid-19 epidemic recalls, at least in the tones that emphasize the socio-health system, the global pandemic known as the “Spanish flu” which, in Italy, manifested its most devastating effect in 1918. Despite the apparent similarity, the comparison between the two pandemics must be carried out carefully. Not only has there been an extraordinary technological leap and medical and health knowledge gap between the present and 1918, but we have also to consider that the post-war years represented a particularly difficult period at a global level, with a population weakened from the end of the war. All this is present in a 1925 essay by Giorgio Mortara that concludes that the “Spanish” pandemic brought about 600,000 deaths.

Covid-19 dramatically affected the elderly component of the population in a similar way to past events that occurred in 1956 and 2015. In 1956, an influenza element, accompanied by record winter minimum temperatures, caused an increase in mortality of around 50,000 deaths compared to the previous year. Similarly, in 2015, mortality saw an equal increase of 50,000 deaths, especially among the elderly, caused by a particularly harsh winter associated with a hot summer, as well as by the refusal to vaccinate by a large percentage of the elderly population.

By observing past mortality peaks, Istat has identified possible changes with respect to the aging process and the seniority rate. According to a first scenario, a 29% increase in mortality is assumed consistently for a period of three months. This first option is relatively favourable and reflects the changes in the risk of death of people over the age of 60 in correspondence with the rise in mortality of 1956. This scenario proposes a relatively limited number of deaths, a slowdown in life expectancy without however changing the aging of the population which will increase moderately. A decidedly more pessimistic alternative is to assume a 63% increase in the probability of death for the population over the age of 65, on a constant basis for a quarterly duration. This increase corresponds to what has been calculated by comparing the probability of death in 1918, the year “disturbed” by the “Spanish” epidemic. A third scenario, perhaps more realistic, and in any case closer to the current reality, consists in starting from a 44% increase in mortality for individuals over the age of 65 observed in March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This phenomenon would however, progressively diminish over time, ultimately returning to typical values. The fourth and last scenario resumes the previous model assuming an equal increase in mortality of 44% for two months (March-April) followed by + 22% for May-June and finally 11% for the quarter from July to September. As a variant of the previous scenario, the optimistic approach could be reduced by assuming a more advanced progression of the adverse effects of the pandemic.

The epidemic in the time of artificial intelligence

The epidemic in the time of artificial intelligence

By Prof. Fr. Alberto Carrara, LC, Chair Fellow

The mysterious American writer Emily Elisabeth Dickinson (1830-1886) is mostly known for her unusual life, spent mainly reclused in her house in Amherst, where she was born. Her work, in addition to her well-known poetry on the brain “The Brain is wider than the Sky”, has one poem dedicated to the storm.

Translated by Eugenio Montale in 1945, this poem, number 1593, reads:

There came a wind like a bugle;

It quivered through the grass,

And a green chill upon the heat

So ominous did pass

We barred the windows and the doors

As from an emerald ghost;

The doom’s electric moccason

That very instant passed.

On a strange mob of panting trees,

And fences fled away,

And rivers where the houses ran

The living looked that day.

The bell within the steeple wild

The flying tidings whirled.

How much can come

And much can go,

And yet abide the world!

The world learned about the Coronavirus on January 12th, 2020 when the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised it as “2019-nCoV” (i.e. new Coronavirus 2019) and its related pathology “COVID-19”. The Coronavirus has spread globally as a “storm” striking a globalized and technologized world that moved frantically and almost unstoppably towards the achievement of its growth, production and efficiency objectives, rewarding with fame the typical “hard” and “soft skills” of our industries 4.0.

For months, silence, isolation, the desert of our cities, the solitude of our monuments have become our existential “storm”.

In an evocative, though eerily empty Piazza San Pietro, on March 27th, Pope Francis described this tragic moment with these words:

“Dense darkness has thickened on our squares, streets and cities; it has taken over our lives filling everything with a deafening silence and a desolate void, which paralyzes everything in its passing: you can feel it in the air, you can feel it in people’s gestures and looks. We found ourselves afraid and lost”.

As the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari recently pointed out, on the one hand, we are living in the best time to be able to clinically and technologically face this pandemic thanks to the development of molecular medicine, biotechnology and artificial intelligence. On the other hand, the coronavirus storm is exposing our vulnerabilities, leaving uncovered those superfluous certainties with which we have built our agendas, our projects, our habits and priorities.

SARS-Cov-2 (the new Coronavirus) has no boundaries, is not subject to barriers, nor walls, affects everyone, does not look at anyone, does not consider passports, social class and does not read the titles on our business cards. But the same reason why it spreads — our common human nature — makes us rediscover the common antidote: we are not monads closed in on ourselves, but we are all united and intrinsically connected to each other as no one can survive on their own. The Coronavirus should awake us from the deafening frenzy to which we were accustomed, and which now frightens us for its unrecognizable silence. The pandemic that struck us underlines how we are all deeply in communion with each other through the multiple interactions that connect us, so today more than ever we feel the thrill of the common bond to which we cannot escape: to belong as brothers. None of us lives alone, others’ lives are always present in mine in what I think, say, do, work. And vice versa, my life enters that of others.

“We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”

(Pope Francis, 27th March 2020).

On the horizon, we may face a significant, longer-term problem concerning the issue of surveillance and individual control through biometric recognition that states could maintain and implement even after the epidemic crisis. Harari warns us: “one of the dangers of the current epidemic is that it will justify extreme control measures … But even after it, this idea will remain”.

We are called to reinvent our relationships and to discover our deep skills, those relating to our empathic ability, to know how to be with others, to listen, to be in solidarity, but also to be morally sound and responsible.

To reflect on this existential situation we are experiencing, the Neurobioethics Group and Brain Circle Italia organized a day dedicated to the topic “The epidemic at the time of artificial intelligence. A new anthropology for a safer world?” which took place on 23rd April 2020 live from the Neuroscience and Neuroethics Facebook page.

A panel of the highest scientific and cultural depth divided into 5 sessions debated today’s epidemic contingency in an interdisciplinary discussion. Over 5,000 people followed the event.

The digital revolution has the potential to become a new form of coexistence among people who, in their fight against the new enemy presented by epidemics, prompt us to reconsider the concepts of privacy and freedom. The need then emerges for a pact between citizens and institutions to rethink the methods of application of what Hobbes would call a new “law of nature”. But how much of our identity spaces are we willing to give up to fight these invisible threats?

Prof. Claudio Bonito presented and moderated the event. After the greetings from the academic authorities, Viviana Kasam, President of BrainCircleItalia and Father Alberto Carrara, Director of the Neurobioethics Group introduced the topic at hand.

The morning (10:30-12:30) was divided in a first scientific portion with the presentations of:

Gian Carlo Blangiardo, President of ISTAT

Luca Maria Gambardella, University of Lugano, Dalle Molle Institute of Studies on Artificial Intelligence USI-SUPSI.

In the second medical-clinical portion of the conference spoke:

Matilde Leonardi, neurologist, pediatrician, Director of UOC – IRCCS Foundation Neurological Institute Carlo Besta, Milan;

Nicolino Ambrosino, pulmonologist – Maugeri Scientific Clinical Institutes

Stefano Mazzoleni, professor of Computer Science and Big Data Analytics – Bari Polytechnic.

The afternoon (15:30-18:30) opened with the legal session, with the following speakers:

Amedeo Santosuosso, scientific director, European Center for Law, Science and New Technologies (ECLT), University of Pavia;

Avv. Tania Cerasella, lawyer, member of the GdN

Avv. Emanuela Cerasella, lawyer, Coordinator of the Neurolaw subgroup of the GdN.

The technical-analytical-philosophical session followed with the presentation of:

Damiano Sabatino, CEO Travelport and Guido Traversa, philosopher, European University of Rome – Master Coordinator in Philosophical Consultancy and Existential Anthropology.

The conference Concluded with the psychiatric session in which the following speakers are present: Donatella Marazziti, psychiatrist, University of Pisa, Professor at the Unicamillus University of Rome, Head of research BRF Brain Research Onlus Foundation

Armando Piccinni, neurologist and psychiatrist, Professor at Unicamillus University of Rome, President of BRF Brain Research Onlus Foundation.