Lav Varshney featured in 2017 World Science Festival
CSL and ECE Assistant Professor Lav Varshney participated in a panel at the 2017 World Science Festival that aimed to "explore the roots of creativity in humans and computers, what artificial creativity reveals about human imagination and the future of hybrid systems that build on the capabilities of both." Wired covered the panel, and an excerpt from the article appears below. Watch a recorded version of the panel here.
Artificial intelligence's path towards creativity probably won't ever fully explain how it evolved in humans. At most, it will give neuroscientists like Tse ways to examine the problem laterally. But it could help scientists understand creativity's theoretical limits. Lav Varshney, another member of the onstage panel, is working on a mathematical theory of creativity. "The way I've been defining it is things that are both novel, and of high quality in their domain," says Varshney, an engineering theorist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. For example, a new kind of food.
In the case of cuisine, Varshney says he trains his AI to measure "goodness" based on things like hedonic psychophysics—a branch of research that studies the molecular properties of human flavor perception. He does similar work in fashion, feeding his algorithm information on color matching, and so on. And according to his research, creativity has theoretical limits. Varshney says that as you increase the value of both quality and novelty, you get more and more noise. That is, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish the newness, and the goodness, of a thing. This probably explains why the avant garde is so ... well, avant garde.
Like Engel, Varshney is also teaching algorithms to compose music. On stage, he demonstrates one that is learning to compose in the style of Bach. But, he points out, this is not pure creativity. The computer learns by having another algorithm—a teacher—progressively introduce constraints—here are different available instruments, these are chords, this what it means to sing in soprano. In essence, the algorithm is replicating Bach's creativity based, not evolving its own creative genius. As such, AI algorithms are best suited to be creative collaborators.