Have you heard of artificial imagination?

imagesI recently received a business magazine in the mail that hooked me immediately with this line: “Artificial Imagination—Using digital technology to unlock human creativity.” The Summer 2017 issue of Strategy + Business magazine discusses both artificial intelligence, which I was slightly familiar with, and artificial imagination, which I was not.

Something about the term “artificial imagination” made me bristle, but as I read the article, I chilled a bit. The article began with the tale of a 2016 pop song released in Japan, “Daddy’s Car,” which was written by an artificial intelligence system. According to the article by Deborah Bothun and David Lancefield, “The melody and harmony were composed by AI (artificial intelligence), and a human musician mixed the sound and wrote lyrics for the track.”

Elsewhere in the article, artificial intelligence is referred to as “technology endowed with creative intelligence.” In a way, I’ve already seen some of this technology. I recently learned about an editing program that performs many of the same functions I provide as a fiction editor. It looks for misspelled words and poor grammar. It looks for word repetition. It looks for passive sentence construction and slow plotting.

But when I tried a free sample of this editing program for myself, I could also see its drawbacks. The program couldn’t tell me whether it was okay to break a grammar rule in a particular case, as a human could. At no point in the sample edit did it say, “What a great line!” That’s something I try to do for the authors I work with as a way of encouraging them. I got the feeling the program would let me know what was unquestionably incorrect, but I found no way for it to let me know what was beautiful, or moving, or meaningful—or even confusing and in need of clarification.

Still, I agree with the article’s premise that AI needn’t be automatically seen as a threat to human creativity. I like the idea of using AI to give me more time and energy to pursue the creative endeavors I most enjoy. As the article states, “AI gives humans more space to generate more value—to unleash creativity, to exercise judgment, and to think about the flow of their work rather than the processes that govern it.” And I’m certainly all for unleashing creativity—in myself and others.

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