13 March 2019, The Tablet

On the make

On the make

The Creativity Code
(FOURTh Estate, 336 PP, £20)
Tablet bookshop price £18 • Tel 020 7799 4064

There is widespread angst about the future consequences of Artificial Intel­ligence (AI), which appears set to create redundancies across many fields of employment. But is it possible, asks Marcus du Sautoy, that AI is destined to compete with visual artists, composers and writers? And would that not rob humans of their uniqueness?

Du Sautoy is a mathematician and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, successor in that post to Richard Dawkins. He has tended to avoid his predecessor’s attacks on religion; but this book takes him into realms where science has views on what it means to be human. He starts his lively book by explaining the algorithm: a set of instructions whereby a machine achieves a pre-set goal. Codes are the written instructions; the code-maker is the programmer. Until recently it was assumed that computers were constrained by a programmer’s instructions: they do what they are told. But AI systems have inbuilt self-learning capacities, based on complex “search trees” and “neural nets” that mimic animal nervous systems, enabling capacities independent of the ­programmer. AI machines appear to develop “minds” of their own.

Du Sautoy focuses on Demis Hassabis, an AI wunderkind who led the team that created AlphaGo, the AI system that trounced Lee Sedol, the Korean Go champion, three games to four in March 2016. Go, the 3000-year-old board game, demands high levels of intelligence and apparent “intuition”, even “creativity”. Was this a prelude to AI being capable of producing independent creative art?

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