Art, consciousness and A.I.

After I looked at the pictures (seems like there are new ones?) on Eric Wayne’s post “Google Deep Dream Getting Too Good“, I decided to read the post. This is my usual pattern, whatever jumps out at me first gets attention, and then maybe sooner or later the rest of me catches up, unless of course some other novelty comes along. So here perhaps an offhand personal example of the attentional component of consciousness. I decided to write this post because Mr. Wayne has brought up some interesting topics about art, consciousness, and A.I.

There are scary aspects to “Deep Dream”. As a model of a neural net, it is overkill in human terms, when compared to a model of the cortex of brains. Deep Dream has 10-30 layers, and what Jeff Hawkins , author of “On Intelligence” and developer of the Palm Pilot (among other things), says is that the basic computational unit of the human cortex (the cortical column) has only 7 layers. But still we are talking about artificial architectures derived from anatomical observation of the “real world”. And we are still spoon feeding Deep Dream big data and constraining it’s outputs to conform to our purpose. And now there are several tie-ins to Google’s code that allow you to upload photos of Fluffy and Uncle Joe and let Deep Dream churn away on them and spit out something kinda trippy. So I would say the scariest aspect of this sort of A.I. (and perhaps the scariest aspect of tech in general) is that it is in the service of human intent. Aerial drones are sophisticated model airplanes, the scary part is how they are used by people.

There have been other “art machines” or code based attempts at producing a machine or program that produces what one may consider “art” You could argue that art like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that such attempts are constrained by the developer’s purposes and biases. There is a rather sophisticated program called “Aaron”, the code originally written by artist Harold Cohen before the internet existed, described in Volume 4, issue 2 of the Stanford Humanities Review, . Cohen’s summarizing paragraphs bear quotation :

AARON exists; it generates objects that hold their own more than adequately, in human terms, in any gathering of similar, but human-produced, objects, and it does so with a stylistic consistency that reveals an identity as clearly as any human artist’s does. It does these things, moreover, without my own intervention. I do not believe that AARON constitutes an existence proof of the power of machines to think, or to be creative, or to be self-aware, to display any of those attributes coined specifically to explain something about ourselves. It constitutes an existence proof of the power of machines to do some of the things we had assumed required thought, and which we still suppose would require thought, and creativity, and self-awareness, of a human being.
If what AARON is making is not art, what is it exactly, and in what ways, other than its origin, does it differ from the “real thing?” If it is not thinking, what exactly is it doing?

There is also the problem of embodiment. Can something without a physical existence in the real world be considered conscious? Do we need a body to be conscious? I would argue that for our particular brand of consciousness, what we recognize as “conscious” is something rooted in physicality and temporal experience.

There are also the problems that neural networks may only be modeling a coarser feature of the brain that is more familiar and researched than more “esoteric” models such as those of Hameroff and Penrose , where we consider structures within a single neuron (called microtubules) as perhaps “quantum processors”. This article will probably blow your mind : This all sounds pretty cool and amazing, especially since I don’t understand most of it, but be forewarned that this seems to be more speculative than substantive according to critics of the theory. (see for just one of many critiques of Hameroff/Penrose)

I would like to also make the heretical suggestion that perhaps consciousness is a state of matter.  Please see :

Neural Algorithm of Artistic Style” :

‘Nother Addendum: Deep Dream backstory


2 thoughts on “Art, consciousness and A.I.

  1. “perhaps consciousness is a state of matter.” Perhaps it is, but is there any instance of consciousness in which the matter in question isn’t configured into an extraordinarily elaborate brain? Since matter without a brain does not produce consciousness (or are you suggesting it does?), it seems much more to the point to say that consciousness is a state of the brain, or more specifically a state of awareness. More to the point still it is a state of subjectivity. In order for there to be subjectivity there needs to be awareness, and for that senses, and hence the body. Consciousness would seem to arise out of a brain with senses situated in a physical world.


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