I work on artificial creativity. That’s my main focus of research and development. Some people fix cars, others collect dolls. I work on making machines capable of original thought. The strange thing is that I haven’t been letting it shine through on Think Artificial, mainly because I’ve been searching for the right way to talk about it. But from now on there’ll be regular coverage of this important and almost magical concept. Will computers ever be capable of invention?
Now we know. Cross a genetic algorithm with your favorite toy from childhood (Lego!) and you get intelligent, biologically reminiscent structures. Dr. Pablo Funes and his team at the Dynamical & Evolutionary Machine Organization devised a very cool simulator that can be told to create Lego structures of various kinds, such as bridges, using evolutionary algorithms. The creative aspect provides interesting food for thought: the system is given a goal and the solution design is entirely dependant on the machine.
There are so many venues for artificial creativity, in fact, as many as we can imagine using our own creativity. Generating stories is one of them and a popular one at that, as many open-source lexical databases have become available in the past few years.
MakeBelieve is one of these creative system. In short, MakeBelieve uses ConceptNet, an open-source common sense database to generate short stories of various sorts. Created in 2002 by Hugo Liu of the MIT Media Lab, the system works interactively: The user initially writes a short sentence and MakeBelieve attempts to write a following story.
It’s hard to imagine what on Earth bird’s nests have in common with artificial intelligence. Yet, I found myself today calling half of Reykjavik looking for someone who owns or has access to one.
[This is Part II of my Meeting with the President, read Part I first]
Some of you might have noticed that I didn’t mention anything about security last time. Well, that’s because there wasn’t any. Not that I know of, anyway. Iceland is extremely peaceful when it comes to harassing politicians, so during a small gathering like this one nobody’s worrying. Amazing, I’m proud of it.
Last time I left off where I was being led into another room, this was the main ceremonial area — with a podium set up (but oddly, no chairs). We didn’t have to wait, it was shortly announced that the President would now do a speech. I was pleasantly surprised by the humorous remarks during the speech, one of which went something like
“We Icelanders have always been inclined to make discoveries — but have the habit of not telling anyone about them. Leifur Eiriksson discovered America … and then just went home again to take care of the farm.”
The speech was also inspiring, or maybe it was just because it was coming from my countries leader, someone I respect — it’s hard to make a distinction (is it the speech that makes a President, or the President that makes the speech?). Meanwhile, the group were standing around (no chairs, remember) and I was anxiously trying to look normal. Insomnia had been having its go at me the night before, so that was kind of throwing me off balance.
One thing that really struck me as odd during all of this were the reporters. Man, are they rude. One of them was playing around with his phone during the speech, occasionally letting out interrupting beeps and bleeps. Another decided to unwrap some candy with snarkly noises, and yet another had fun taking pictures with his phone with the camera-clicking sound turned on (you know, that fake “cli-click” sound).
Well, to slice off some uninteresting tidbits, let’s skip to the next fun thing. The President and the First Lady stepped back, and the director of the Icelandic Student Innovation Fund introduced all of the nominated projects, and I must say that he did a pretty good job with mine, giving me some extra attention. My project was on my theory of creativity, how it works and where it came from. I created a simulation in which A.I. agents showed creativity — so it almost made me burst out with laughter when the director ended his speech with:
“Quite remarkable, and I must say that, in a way, I hope he doesn’t get much further with his research, otherwise he’ll become like god almighty!”
At that moment I’d sort of realized that since he was making such an effort in describing my project, I probably wouldn’t receive the main award. As was actually to be expected as this award takes practicality and applications to industry greatly into consideration; my project is still in its initial stages and largely theoretical. But since then I’ve been humorously referring to myself as Hrafn Almighty. After this final comparison of me and my god-like future, the President stepped forth with my plaque (I can’t find the word for it, honorary plaque?). I’d been hoping to get a picture of me shaking hands with him before this post, but couldn’t and compensate with this one below. I’m the one on the far left. The President on the far right.
I shook his hand and he congratulated me on my achievements, handing me the framed plaque with his signature, while the (rude) reporters snapped their pictures. The main award went to a project on health sciences and genetics, I had a chance later to look briefly through the report on it and must say that from the looks of it, it deserved to win. Of course it was a bit dissapointing (I’m human, after all), but I’m working on AI because I’m interested in it, enjoy it, and think that I can make a contribution to science. That in itself is very rewarding and this was pure bonus The President added after the ceremony that due to the extreme quality of all the projects, he’d felt more like he was handing out a Nobel Prize.
A month back I got the news that I had been nominated for The Presidential Award for Innovation for my project “Creativity in Artificially Intelligent Agents“. The project was a software platform I created for researching creativity through artificial intelligence, built around a theory I’ve been working on for the past years on the nature and origin of creativity in natural animals. On february the 28th I made my way to Bessastadir to meet with Mr. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the President of Iceland, to attend the award ceremony. For keepsakes and in case someone is interested in knowing what it’s like to meet a President, I thought I’d document that day here on inkblot earth.
The day started, of course, with getting properly dressed and groomed. It’s not everyday I get to meet the President … and my regular activities in front of the computer seldomly require a specific dresscode, so it was fun to invest time and care in getting ready.
It’s about a half an hour drive from where I live to the Presidential Residence, Bessastadir, where the ceremony was to take place. We were the first ones to arrive (Me, my female counterpart and my brother), although somebody had been waiting in their car — seemingly afraid to go in first? Very strange. In any case, I’d never been there before and the view is fantastic from there. You can see over a large part of Reykjavik.
Walking in we met what must have been the Japanese embassador leaving from a meeting, his chauffeur waiting in the car. The doorman was a nice (albeit a bit muscular) fellow, which mysteriously I never saw again that day.
Upon walking in, I immediately noticed the architecture, which isn’t exactly modern (see an outside picture below). Bessastadir have of course been renovated, but the house and its foundation is really old, from Wikipedia:
The main building at Bessastaðir was built in 1761-1766.
They also mention:
Archeological excavations have shown that the first inhabitants of Bessastaðir settled there before AD 1000, and ever since the site has been inhabited. In the 13th century the great writer Snorri Sturluson had one of his farms there.
A picture on the wall showing farmers doing Icelandic farmer’s wrestling in the hallway also added to the feeling of being in the 13th century, and not in the home of Iceland’s President. Now I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was able to take my mind off things while we waited by looking at some of the pictures they had in the ‘reception area’. These included pictures of the President with G. W. Bush (with a gigantic US style christmas tree in the background), Nelson Mandela, Vladimir Putin, Junichiro Koizumi and Bill Clinton (you can see some of these here).
About 10 minutes in it was starting to get a bit crowded. The other nominated projects were done in groups (I did mine alone), so there was a crowd there — journalists and news reporters were also anxiously running around. Finally they opened a door and asked everyone to please come in. I can’t remember exactly why, but I couldn’t get a view of where we were being led exactly. There were a couple of steps there down onto a lower floor-level and I was trying to keep an eye on my footing so I wouldn’t trip going down (people were moving along pretty close to each other, with the occasional bump). When I looked up again, to my surprise, the President and the First Lady stood only a meter away with their hands extended. Thankfully I’ve had some experience in meeting important people under pressure, so I was able to quickly shift into “Greeting Mode” and greet them properly despite my surprise. I wanted to say more, but this wasn’t the the time nor place for chit chat, the line of people pressured me into moving forward into the next room.
[Read Part II: Hrafn Almighty]
Last morning I got woken by a very nice call. It was the Icelandic Student Innovation Fund announcing that the project I did last summer, called Creativity in Artificially Intelligent Agents, has been nominated for a Presidential Award for Innovation. Having just woken up (I’m pretty much non-functional before my cup of coffee) my mind went blank and at first all I could utter was “Noh” — which is the Icelandic equivalent of “Oh, that’s great”. It’s great to receive recognition for doing things you’re passionate about.
So the 28th of February I’ll be meeting with the president of Iceland at the award ceremony. The picture below shows the president of Iceland (Ólafur R. Grímsson) and Bill Clinton meeting at the White House in 1997 during Clinton’s presidency.