Creative limits of current AI algorithms


What are the creative limits of today’s AI systems, and can we humans surpass them? And where does the Greek prophet Tiresias come in? A guest post by Joël Doat.

 „Die Zukunft wird […] zum modellierten Raum der Gegenwart.“
(“The future becomes the modelled space of the present.”)

Barbara Eder, Sehen wie Teiresias

With this sentence, Barbara Eder takes up a central theme of the debate surrounding algorithms and data in artificial intelligence in her recently published essay “Sehen wie Teiresias” (“Seeing like Teriesias”). Can machines predict the future or are they just creating probabilistic fictions?

Dystopian headlines promise the demise of creativity when such modern artificial intelligence can take over increasingly complex tasks. But with a deeper look into Eder’s used sources, not only further we can find the limits of artificial intelligence, but we can derive some opportunities, which the individual human being can still use for himself. Because, in the end, the machine is still an image of ourselves: understanding and transcending our own limits always enabled new ways of creativity. These are the opportunities which the machine does not yet know.

At the beginning, Eder reviews the essay “Tiresias, Or Our Knowledge Of Future Events” from Alfred Schütz, the founder of phenomenological sociology. While this is being discussed in more detail in the next section, afterwards, we will also review the “classic” paradigms of contemporary machine learning: supervised, unsupervised, and reinforced.



The Past is in the Future

But what would be if we started from the assumption that such a system is able to depict every possible creative product, including the one that didn’t exist yet? So, we come into the position of Schütz to interpret again the ancient Greek saga about Tiresias – a man who saw Athena naked and went blind. As compensation for his misfortune, he was given the gift of experiencing the future. Then, as a blind seer, he is condemned to perceive the future without his own present.

Schütz uses this mythical figure to explore the ways in which human knowledge of the future is determined by past experiences. In this analogy, his purely phenomenological position of our daily experience emphasises the paradoxes we encounter when assuming our predictions of the future are correct.

The most important concept from Schütz’ essay is called “anticipated hindsight”. A phenomenon he derives from the story when comparing our perception of the world with anything Tiresias might have seen. Since we can’t see the future, any forecasting or future prediction is nothing but a hindsight that we transposed to the frame of the future. Schütz also describes it as the impossibility to describe the categorical membership of an event before we experienced it.

“Once materialized, the state of affairs brought forth by our actions will necessarily have quite other aspects than those projected. In this case foresight is not distinguished from hindsight by the dimension of time in which we place the event.”

Alfred Schütz, Tiresias, Or Our Knowledge Of Future Events

Our prediction about the future only exists in correspondence to what we already know from the present and the past. More concretely, what we imagine of the future always depends on the understanding of the existing information we processed. Thus, that limits our expectations of the future to a mere projection of experiences.

As implication to the original question, AI that is just trained in terms of past information (or current information in case of recurrent machine learning) just projects this knowledge base into anything potentially created with it.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top