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Can computers claim creativity over humans at work?

In a movie version about the rise of computers among humanity, Elon Musk would be played by Edward Norton. Mark Zuckerberg would be played by Jesse Eisenberg (because he was so good the first time round). The story would be about how two rich and powerful men duke it out over artificial intelligence. There would be dirty antics, probably. And evil robots, for sure.

And it would all culminate in either the end of civilisation as we know it or lots of happy people picnicking in the sun while robots do their tax returns and assemble their IKEA bookshelves. Either way, this is the Hollywood version. In real life our relationship with new technologies is far more nuanced.

While debate rages about new technologies, particularly AIs, infiltrating our workforces and making humans redundant, the notable exceptions seem to be jobs involving creative thinking. Why? Because when it comes to creativity, us mere mortals still have the edge over computers.

Professor Stefan Greuter from the School of Communication and Creative Arts leads the development of creative technologies research and development. So he knows a thing or two about the confluence of technology and human creativity.

Firstly, what is creativity?

‘Creativity is a process,’ Prof. Greuter says. And one not limited to the field of art and design. It can be found across many different practices and industries and, accordingly to Prof. Greuter, can be described loosely as the ability to think laterally and to problem solve in a way that produces results in innovative or different approaches.

Can AI be creative?

It sure can.

‘Artificial intelligence agents are already generating poems and paintings, some of the paintings are so intriguing that they are even going for auction,’ Prof. Greuter says. ‘The generation of artwork via algorithms has a long tradition in the field of computer science and the creative arts.

‘We have also seen evidence of this in electronic games where algorithms can generate entire universes that are filled with planets that feature unique landscapes, flora and fauna for the player to visit. These experiences are based on algorithms encoded in software that follow a fixed process – the keen eye can often recognise the repetition in the art that is generated.

‘What is new in AI is machine learning algorithms can analyse the work of artists and learn about the style and composition. It can then generate new works of art based on this information,’ Prof. Greuter explains.

'Artificial intelligence agents are already generating poems and paintings, some of the paintings are so intriguing that they are even going for auction.'

Professor Stefan Greuter,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

OK, but can AI be creative in the same way that a human can?

That’s a different story.

‘It’s very difficult for an AI to come up with something that’s completely new,’ Prof. Greuter says. ‘The outcome is usually based on various inputs that the AI is trying to processes and then trying to mimic.

‘Once these processes are known and encoded in software, we may get variations, but they don’t usually result in something that is totally unexpected at this point in time.’

So what is the value of creative thinking in this brave new world?

Some people, like Musk, believe that AI has the potential to replace us as the most intelligent beings on the planet. Some believe that, like our worst science-fiction nightmare, AI could become hostile and exterminate us all. But, will they ever really be capable of completely replicating nuanced human skills like creativity?

Prof. Greuter likes to think that the future of humans and technology is symbiotic. He advocates for a future ‘where both humans and AIs or computers will collaborate and problem solve together in partnership. Rather than believing that AIs are our ‘creative competitors’, he believes that we can we can learn to collaborate with intelligent systems to extend our creative potential.

Prof. Greuter says that today’s problems are becoming increasingly complex and require interdisciplinary efforts to arrive at a solution. As such, we need creative thinking skills to tackle and solve these types of problems. And the need for these skills stretches across all disciplines and industries.

So, to be a creative thinker is to be in demand in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

How can you sharpen your creativity?

Creative study and practice helps develop a level of critical thinking that can then be applied to many different occupations and industries.

And inversely, exposure to different experiences and disciplines can help hone creativity. According to Prof. Greuter, ‘people who have had more exposure to other fields can often suggest solutions that are outside of their own discipline and thinking, and this leads to creative outcomes.’

As for new technologies, he recommends keeping an open mind. ‘There’s always something new coming out. Rather than feeling threatened, explore the positives and think about how you can harness the potential of new technology to improve your work.’

There was once a time when you had a creative passion or you had a job, and ‘ne’er the twain shall meet’. Happily, those days are behind us. Creativity is finally getting its due. With the rise of new technologies and all the possibilities they bring, it’s not a moment too soon.

Looking to develop your creative skills to boost your future career? Check out Deakin’s Explore tool to find careers that suit your skills and interests. Or, read about what it’s really like to be a public relations manager

Discover and develop your creativity for a career in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

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Professor Stefan Greuter
Professor Stefan Greuter

Professor of Screen and Design, School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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