There is that future that never happened. You know the one, we are flying around with jetpacks and kids are riding their hoverboards. A future where smart glasses were ubiquitous and memory plants (a la Black Mirror) kept us all in check. Our homes we're all going to be connected and 3D printers would sit pretty next to our microwaves. And let's not forget the well mannered personal robots that were eagerly waiting to greet us at the door. Yeah, so much for that.
Big surprise that the future we thought would happen didn't. But what occurred instead still constitutes a new era. We're now in the age of the Centaur. Man and machine work beautifully (for the time being) in concert. Today we are planning and designing for the Centaur of tomorrow. This means the imminent rehaul of banking, healthcare, education, the military and beyond.
Perhaps the best illustration is the community-based navigation App, Waze. While its algorithms provide the traveler with information for getting where they want to go, humans provide the context with real-time traffic updates. And only recently have traffic police begun feeding the hungry Waze Centaur helping manage their workload, and of course, optimizing for safety.
The robots once reserved for our dull, dirty and dangerous jobs have evolved to infiltrate the creative industries. They dance, sing, paint, play, and write. They code, cook, laugh and cry too. Here's some food for thought so you are poised to work with our mechanical friends as opposed to against them.
Creatively Collaborating in the Age of the Centaur
"We're not meant to agree what Art is, that's what drives it forward. And creativity is exactly the same" says computer scientist Simon Colton. His software, otherwise known as The Painting Fool, has been an 'aspiring painter' for years. The program come artist has exhibited in Paris and has been a media darling.
Another robot-artist dubbed AARON is said to have matched (if not to soon exceed) human artistic capability. Harold Cohen, it's creator has been toying and perfecting AARON since the 1970's. He muses that he may just be the first artist who might have a, "Posthumous exhibition of new works created entirely after his own death."
One line of thinking is that much like a Renaissance workshop, the credit should go to the master and the apprentice. So in the case of Cohen, he would be credited as the master creator, and his disciple-robot merely carrying out his grand vision. The other line, of course, is that robots gain a sense of self, or consciousness, thereby approximating the human-eye or in this case the robot-eye.
Only time will tell how which of these views sticks and if robotic art can make us feel the same way as human-produced works. If history is anything to go by, we will learn and adapt to work even more intimately with our robotic teammates. Personally, I won't have a problem hanging up an art piece produced and signed by Matisse2000.
Staying Human Amidst Endless Algorithms
Writer Gillian Terzis explains that, "Humans have long entertained the possibility of communing with the machines, exploring them as servants, or using them for sexual gratification. Drones already carry out deadly wars on behalf of governments. The fascination is not always with the gadget on the or the algorithm that powers it, but about the shifting definition of what it means to be human."
This sentiment will continue to ring true. The brightest minds on the planet have come together at the Future of Humanity at Oxford to help map out the rise of our mechanical mates. They've made a myriad of predictions, one of which is that in about thirty years, 2049 to be precise, a robot will have written a New York Times bestseller. I'll admit I'm a bit more concerned about this prospect than the robot-artist icon.
Reframing Creativity and the Values we Value
The advent of machines will compel us to reframe our own creativity. Will we drop the 'artificial' in creativity altogether? Might the unpredictable and messy business of creativity move to be more of a steady and systematic one? Perhaps, creativity is, after all, a staged process. What is for certain is that the next generation of robots will urge us to rethink our meaning and contribution to both work and society. And I think it's going to make us a whole lot more human.