Computational Creativity Theory

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Computing


Computational Creativity is the study of how to build software which takes on some of the creative responsibility in arts and science projects. We are at a stage where software can generate pictures, melodies, jokes and poems, can invent new words and discover new and interesting mathematical theorems, and regularly helps scientists to make important discoveries. This kind software can be used autonomously, or in collaboration with creative people. It is also used in cognitive modelling projects, to shed light on aspects of human and animal creativity. In the last decade, Computational Creativity has come of age, as evidenced by special issues of publications such as the Minds and Machines journal and the AI magazine, and the first International Joint Conference on Computational Creativity, which replaced 10 years of successful workshops at major AI conferences.

The proposed Leadership Fellow, Simon Colton, is a recognised expert in Computational Creativity, and has been working in the field since 1996. He is unique in having been involved in successful applications of creative software to four different domains, namely mathematical invention, video game design, graphic design and the visual arts. His mathematical theory formation software, HR, has produced theorems and concepts published in the mathematical literature; his visual art software, The Painting Fool, has produced pictures that have been exhibited and attracted much public attention; and research being done in the Computational Creativity group that he leads at Imperial College is helping video games companies to design the next generation of adaptive, personalised games.

A number of authors, such as Boden, Wiggins and Ritchie, have introduced formalisms which help us to be more precise about the creativity of software. However, there is no agreed upon theory which can describe the behaviour of software with sufficient acuity, coverage and formality that enables accurate comparison of implementations. In short, we have no generic way of saying that software B is more creative than software A. This has held back our field, because with no concrete and formal measures of the creativity of the software we build, it has been hard to put forward falsifiable scientific hypotheses that one approach is more creative than another, hence it has been difficult to progress, and to show progress.

With this Fellowship, we propose to change this situation, by developing Computational Creativity Theory (CCT). This will comprise a series of models, each of which contains some conceptual definitions and some calculations involving those definitions which can be used to compare and contrast the creativity of software. The foundational models will make more precise the notion of a creative act and the impact they can have, and the more acute models will cover aspects of creative behaviour including intentionality, interpretation, imagination, appreciation and affect. To model computer creativity sufficiently well, we generalise past the merely generative and past usual AI notions of value, into new areas where software is expected to invent its own aesthetic and utilitarian measures, and frame its creations by describing its motivations, intentions, methods and innovations and by putting its work into historical and cultural contexts.

The proposed programme of research has the development of CCT at its heart. This is informed by a series of practical projects involving applications to creative language, music, visual arts, mathematics and games, and covering modes of creativity including realtime generation, assistive technologies and creative collaborations. By building and disseminating CCT, we will help to bring Computational Creativity research into a new era, where formal notions of creativity underpin software systems which really enrich our cultural lives.

Planned Impact

Creativity is a hugely emotive, loaded and often confusing and contradictory term. While the creative industries of a country are as important to its economy as its manufacturing output, we are only beginning to understand the value of innovative practice in the workplace. Scientists, educationalists, engineers, politicians, leaders of industry, philosophers and artists all study creativity for different reasons, whether it is as an intellectual challenge, to increase productivity or to drive through policy changes. The popular conception of human creativity is confused and often steeped in mythology and romantic notions based on ill-defined terms such as imagination and inspiration. Given all these factors, our study of the controversial notion that software can be creative has the potential to seriously impact business, education and culture. In particular, our proposal to impose a concrete formalism able to describe creative behaviour in such a way that numerical comparisons can be used to measure creativity, is likely to be disruptive, and to have a wide impact.

In September 2010, the British Council in Madrid organised a public event to mark its 70th anniversary. The proposed Fellow, Simon Colton, was asked to speak at the event, alongside Ramon Lopez de Mantaras, a high profile Spanish AI researcher with similar interests in creativity studies. The public interest in the notion of software being creative is sufficiently high that Spain's two most popular newspapers, El Pais and El Mundo both covered the event, and ran articles in their weekend editions which covered Colton's work on The Painting Fool project (which aims to build a software system which is one day taken seriously as a creative artist in its own right). The combined print circulation of the newspapers is around 700,000 and they are the most popular Spanish language newspapers on the internet. Hence we hope that the issues of Computational Creativity were firmly planted in the minds of tens or hundreds of thousands of people. Again, due to our covering notions of creativity, our work has similarly been discussed in the New Scientist, More4 TV news and the Metro Newspaper. We will continue to react to press enquiries by being as forthcoming as possible about our work and the creativity issues it raises. Moreover, we will pro-actively write articles for the popular and specialist press, and regularly print and disseminate summary information about our work to governmental, educational and industrial organisations, in addition to releasing iPhone/Android/iPad applications for general consumption.

Software which can act in creative ways is clearly of value to the creative industries and the wider Digital Economy. We have already collaborated on funded projects with the Emote, Introversion, Lionhead, NestorGames and Rebellion games companies, in addition to Universal Music and Sony. Two of the project partners are from industry, and we will work closely with them to embed our research ideas in their working practice. As an example of the kind of industrial impact we expect from the Fellowship, in summer 2010, the proposed Fellow was asked to sit on a steering group looking at the future of digital tools for the creative industries, organised by the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network (CIKTN). This led to the publication of a beacon project report, which was widely circulated to creative industry firms, educational establishments and governmental bodies. On the inside cover was a quote from the proposed Fellow: "We are approaching an exciting time when computers will be powerful enough, and software sophisticated enough, for computers to be our creative partners". Again, we hope that this led to Computational Creativity issues being raised in creative industry firms and wider organisations, and working with the CIKTN to meet new industry partners and disseminate our work widely form important pathways for impact that we have planned.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/J004049/1 01/10/2011 30/04/2013 £970,170
EP/J004049/2 Transfer EP/J004049/1 01/05/2013 30/09/2014 £669,632
EP/J004049/3 Transfer EP/J004049/2 01/08/2015 31/07/2017 £438,505