Media and Arts

Artist program shows "creativity"

Aaron's robotic arm runs off another masterpiece. Is the human artist obsolete?

He doesn't have a beret, no ears - and certainly no tank of formaldehyde. Yet Aaron is every bit an artist. At his studio in Boston, he attracts crowds to watch him create his latest work. For Aaron is the world's first completely autonomous painting program - and perhaps the most spectacular effort yet at endowing computers with that so-elusive spark of creativity.
Aaron is the product of 26 years of research by Harold Cohen, director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at UCSD the University of California at San Diego). Cohen began his career as an abstract painter at London's Slade School, but in 1968, like so many others, he moved to California and found a new interest - computers. Cohen began his research by finding ways to translate his own artistic techniques into the highly structured computer language used in artificial intelligence programs.
By 1980, he'd developed a mark 1 Aaron, which was capable of drawing sketches on a computer screen. Cohen has steadily added more and more sophisticated concepts - like a knowledge of human anatomy - to Aaron's talents.

The biggest hurdle was to squeeze an understanding of colour - and remember, we don't even know how humans understand colour - into the straitjacket of Aaron's symbolic language. Aaron is now 100,000 lines of computer code running on a Silicon Graphics Indigo workstation. Left to its own devices overnight, Aaron produces a selection of paintings by morning.
Even Cohen doesn't know what they'll be - Aaron makes them up entirely based on the rules it has been programmed with. Cohen chooses his favourite painting, and it is sent to a smaller computer which controls the robot arm that acts as Aaron's paintbrush. Aaron's repertoire so far includes still life, figures, and landscapes. Cohen's next step is to give Aaron's style the ability to evolve: but already some of his pictures have fetched $2000 in an auction held on the World Wide Web. Who knows what will happen as Aaron's creativity develops? Perhaps his robot arm might begin seizing passing animals and dumping them in glass tanks full of preservatives.

See also:  Origamibot  Roboticelli


Sep95 p17