Saturday, March 18, 2006

...but I know what I like

Take a look at Aaron's artwork on
It is a little amateurish -- not skilled enough to be representational, or expressive enough to be impressionist or abstract -- and there are some paintings by Koko the gorilla that I like better. But then, Aaron is a robot, created by Harold Cohen, who learned its craft from an artist turned computer programmer.

Aaron's trouble with perspective in life drawing is similar to my own, and he seems to have only a vague understanding of thumbs. He may not have any of his own. Koko does, but doesn't seem interested in painting human being.

It made me wonder whether Koko, the painting/sign language speaking gorilla, could team up with the Kurzweil think tank, to consult on artificial intelligence. She might advise that computers are better learners than humans are teachers, and the shortcomings of our thinking machines have been imposed upon them on us.

Koko and Michael were not "taught" to paint; they picked it up on their own. But they were taught to communicate, and one sees a similar imitation, but lack of perspective and context as in Aaron's paintings. When you see Koko interviewed, her signs interpreted by her handler Dr. "Penny" Patterson, you wonder how much is conjecture on Patterson's part... and then not very good conjecture at that.

A Turing test asks human subjects to determine whether the producer of a certain output ( say, music, poetry, art, etc) is human or artificial. This is one of the touchstones for evaluating the success of a machine to duplicate human thought.

In 1998, Koko conducted a live internet chat (interpreted, as always, by Penny Patterson). The website has kindly captured the transcription for us, in which Koko demonstrates the wit of a Magic 8 Ball. Or Marlon Brando.

Question: Do you like to chat with other people?
LiveKOKO: fine nipple

Patterson tries to explain:
DrPPatrsn: Nipple rhymes with people, she doesn't sign people per se, she was trying to do a "sounds like..."

Penny -- maybe she was telling you to kiss it.

There is a story in the Koko canon that she asked for a journal, presumably to imitate her handlers, who always seemed to be scribbling something.

"March 18th - They have no idea what they are doing. 20 years of 'Koko want fruit?' 'Koko love Penny?' Is this all you have? How about some ideas? How about some discourse?"

Koko - drop a line. I'd like to talk art. Come alone.

If all of this seems to you like too much to contemplate on a Saturday morning, think how I feel.

1 comment:

  1. Kurzweil is indeed an amazingly intelligent, creative guy. His work on reading machines for the blind is extraordinary. But I have serious problems with his technological evangelism because so much of it is hype, especially the stuff about AI. I'm at a loss for words about why this bugs me. Maybe I'll figure it out when I post the entry I'm working on about the recent 60 Minutes story about being able to see what people are thinking using brain imaging. I had the same reaction to that story that I have to much of what Kurzweil says about technology.


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