Creativity in the Age of Artificiality

Explore the evolving understanding of human intelligence and AI. Discover how the "bow tie model" of cognition and the concept of "affordances" reveal uniquely human creativity. Learn about Artificiality—the future fusion of biological and artificial intelligence reshaping our reality.

An abstract image of a bow

As AI gets more capable, a question we are regularly asked is: what remains "uniquely human"? A decade ago, the answer was clear because the divide between humans and machines was stark. Now, with machines showing high levels of combinatorial creativity, adult-level theory of mind, and increasingly capable reasoning and planning, it's harder to see what makes humans cognitively unique. The discourse is confusing—some argue that current AI architectures will lead to superintelligence and possibly machine consciousness, while others believe new inventions beyond deep learning and massive scale are needed for true AI intelligence. Needless to say, this dichotomy is unhelpful.

Another reason this question is difficult is that our understanding of human intelligence keeps evolving. It's not just advances in neuroscience; there's a revolution at the intersection of philosophy, information science, complexity science, and synthetic biology. These fields are redefining intelligence, agency, and life itself. This shift has significant implications for AI. While AI has traditionally drawn inspiration from neuroscience, we are about to see new insights emerging from these other disciplines.

Sara Walker describes life as "the process of information structuring matter over time and space," which emphasizes the importance of life itself in our conceptualization of intelligence. Michael Levin hypothesizes that a key driver of the "numerous fascinating capacities of the minds and bodies" in life forms is the essential unreliability of the biological substrate. In other words, our intelligence results from needing to compensate for the glitchy nature of flesh. This inherent glitchiness in biology fosters adaptation. Confabulation—an odd trait of both humans and AI—highlights the importance of sensemaking and prioritizing adaptive function for the future over preserving fixed meanings from past data.

The ability to improvise and make sense of your world in real time and the commitment to change (not just to persistence) over an allegiance to the detail of a past history from a fundamental biological strategy deployed at many scales, with massive impact. —Michael Levin

Intelligence, therefore, is not just a computational phenomenon but a life process, influenced by not only neurons in a network but also by biological computation, connectivity, and collectives. AI must take note of all these perspectives to truly advance. The constantly shifting frontier of how we understand our own cognition is crucial. A key mystery is what living beings do when we move outside our "data distribution" and adapt to novel situations. We know AI can't do this today, so what is it that we do?

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