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.

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.

Cineforum UER – REPLICAS: Are you your body?

Cineforum UER – REPLICAS: Are you your body?

By Claudia Fini

On November 20th, we presented the Cineforum on Replicas, the new film directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and starring Keanu Reeves. Replicas tackles the modern concept of artificial intelligence as the translation of human cognitive faculties in an artificial medium. Keanu Reeves plays the role of Will Foster, an employee of the futuristic company Bionyne, whose purpose is, in fact, to transplant the neural network of human consciousness into artificial humanoids. After a car accident that causes the death of his wife and his three children, Foster manages to clone their bodies and transplant their entire consciousness so that none of them has memory of the accident and can continue to live as a replica of the original person. In Replicas, the body thus becomes a chrysalis, a mere item of clothing to change at the time of death, while the mind turns into a set of files to be backed up each time the body medium has to be replaced.

There are many recent film and television productions that deal with the theme of artificial intelligence and mind-body dualism. From The Matrix to the Netflix series Altered Carbon, it’s no wonder how, in the age of technology and information, such parables are at the centre of our most ambitious narrative constructions. And what is more ambitious than immortality? From the practice of mummification of the ancient Egyptians, humanity has always been fascinated by the concept of eternal life. But if once the imagination of men pictured fountains of eternal youth and a body that would never age, now this takes a back seat and leaves room for the myth of the eternal mind and consciousness.

In recent years, the technological revolution and medical and scientific innovations have become deeply intertwined with the ancient human fascination with immortality and have thus given rise to a new cultural movement based on this very premise: trans-humanism. In 1957, biologist Julian Huxley defined transhumanism as “the man who remains human, but who transcends himself, realizing the new potentialities of his human nature, for his human nature”. The romantic theme of Nature and the artificial creation that disturbs the perfect natural balance echoes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the myth of the dangerous knowledge that drives men to cross the boundaries of his existence and dare to “play God”. In modern society, where technology is advancing at a surprisingly fast pace, it is not difficult to imagine how, in the near future, we will be able to exploit novel scientific discoveries to increase human physical and cognitive abilities.

Martin Monti, associate professor at University of California Los Angeles’s Department of Psychology and Director of the MontiLab, has done revolutionary work on the human brain and post-trauma consciousness. According to Dr. Monti, the transcription of the human neural network into a new silicon-based medium is not impossible and that one day it will be possible to obtain results similar to those portrayed in Replicas. According to the integrated information theory, in fact, if we re-create the exact function and the same connections of each neuron in a chip, we could obtain an electrical circuit that is an artificial copy of the original biological system.

Figure 1 Il Professore Martin Monti nel suo ufficio a UCLA, California
XII National Congress SIHTA 2019

XII National Congress SIHTA 2019

From 10 to 11 October, our Chair fellow Fr. Prof. Alberto Carrara, LC, will participate as a speaker in the XII National Congress SIHTA 2019, “the chain of technological innovation in healthcare. The difficult balance between rapid access to the product market, patient safety and sustainability of health systems”.

He will present on “The New Frontiers of the Artificial Intelligence in Medicine from an Ethical Perspective”

The theme of the Congress is linked to the continuous and rapid innovation of technologies in a scenario of important regulatory changes: the business world has been looking for a long time with interest at HTA, or rather at the tools of evaluation and quantitative measurement of the impact that certain technologies they can have on the health of the citizens, on the budget of the Sanitary Companies / Hospitals and, therefore, on the sustainability of the expenditure derived for Institutions and families. This common thread of the event will see the deepening of two major innovations in the health field with which more and more European, national and regional institutions, companies, scientific societies and citizens will have to confront to demonstrate clinical efficacy, patient acceptability and economic sustainability: new gene therapies and artificial intelligence. Two issues that are absolutely transversal to health technologies properly defined internationally (Drugs, Medical Devices, Information Systems, Procedures) will be tackled: the promotion and evaluation of public and private investments in scientific research capable of generating true innovation for the benefit of citizens ; the sustainability and fairness of the new models of healthcare organization within the framework of regional autonomy.