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Exercising creativity

“Creativity is the skill of the future.” Composing music is a fantastic way to exercise our creative muscles.

by June Kinoshita, Executive Director

There’s a lot of discussion these days about the importance of creativity. “Creativity is the skill of the future,” proclaims a 2018 article in Forbes. So many skills that were once essential for a livelihood have been replaced by machines, computers and now, AI. Artificial intelligence. What remains unique to people are personal histories, their embodied experience of the world, empathy, social intelligence, and originality.

Composing music is a fantastic way to exercise our creative muscle. It is about expressing a feeling or story in order to make a connection and evoke a reaction from the listener. Musical sounds are not necessarily representational, so you can invent your own sonic vocabulary. Music is wonderfully freeing because it is abstract. You can only judge it on its own terms. Is it pretty? That’s great. Does it set your teeth on edge? Intriguing! Does it fill you with emotions you can’t put name to? That’s powerful. 

Traditional music pedagogy puts up many barriers to composition. We designed Hyperscore to lower those barriers so that more people can have access to music as a creative pursuit. Technology can be a powerful ally of human curiosity and creativity. But we don’t want technology to replace activities that are meaningful to humans. It’s a delicate balance that we work hard to maintain with Hyperscore.

Because our roots lie in the MIT Media Lab, we are of course thinking about AI. In what ways can AI enhance musical creativity? In what ways could AI undermine it?

Curious to see how good AI is in another domain, writing, I tested the capabilities of ChatGPT, an AI-powered conversationalist. I asked it to “write a 100-word creative story about my cat Muji that makes some logical leaps.” Here’s what it came up with:

“Muji was an adventurous cat with a curious mind. She was always exploring her surroundings and getting into mischief. One day, while out on a walk, Muji spotted a bird perched on a tree branch. Without hesitation, she leapt into the air, determined to catch the bird. To her surprise, the bird flew away, leading Muji on a wild chase through the neighborhood. As she chased the bird, Muji made all sorts of creative leaps and bounds, jumping over fences and scampering up trees. Eventually, the bird led Muji to a beautiful garden where she was able to catch it and bring it home as a prize. Muji was proud of her catch and couldn’t wait to show it off to her humans.”

I would give this a B or C (if I were feeling cranky). It’s a serviceable story stitched together from clichés and a literal reading of “logical leap.” A real child would likely have injected more personality into their cat, sharing their pet’s singular quirks and inventing an adventure that would have surprised and amused the reader. 

I’m reassured that machine intelligence won’t pass the Turing Test for now, at least if it were pitted against a bright eight year old. That’s probably to be expected, because current AI systems are designed to trawl huge amounts of publicly posted factoids and phrases and come up with an anodyne result. (I do wonder how older students would do, after they have been pumped full of received wisdom, rubrics, and recipes for “correct” writing….) 

It wouldn’t surprise me if engineers are already working on AI systems designed to generate something unexpected when commanded to “think outside the box.” AI challenges us to ponder what each of us puts out into the world that is unique to the individual and adds value to others’ experience. Someday soon, AI will be able to simulate creativity. We will be forced to ask, is creativity the pinnacle of human endeavor? How will our definitions of creativity shift? What is the relationship between creativity and art? What is art in an age of ingenious machines? How might we envision worlds where we collaborate with these machines in transformational and truly equitable ways? That’s a topic for a future blog post…

Image credit: “Thinking outside the box, musically,” generated by DALL-E.

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