Saturday, 2 October 2010

2nd International Conference on Computational Creativity (ICCC'11)

The call for papers is out for the 2nd international conference in computational creativity, to be held in Mexico in April 2011.

I'm planning to submit a paper containing my thesis work in a 'nutshell' (well, the work up to December 2010, when the submission deadline is).

Should be pretty good practice for summarising the key points of my thesis - plus if it gets accepted it will be a great way to promote what my thesis is going to be about, and get some feedback before submitting, with the people who are the target audience for my PhD. So far, people I've spoken to in this research community have been quite interested in what I'm doing, so hopefully there will be a good level of interest in my work at this conference.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The first step on a long road, paved with LaTeX tiles and with a gleaming thesis at the end

Today I wrote the first words of my thesis.


For a while now I've had a thesis plan and a collection of chapter headings and subheadings - but no content. Now today I've started filling in the content.

What I've written today is very much for a first draft, full of [*** NOTES AND REMINDERS ***] and other aesthetically pleasing annotations. I should imagine that at least half of what I've written gets moved around, edited, or discarded, as I get more used to thesis writing.


The first steps have now been taken on this PhD writing-up journey. After an apprehensive start of not knowing what on earth I was going to write as the first words, I just wrote something. Anything. Then changed it. Lo and behold, I'd started writing up. It feels good!

Monday, 19 July 2010

expertise of programmer vs expertise of the programmer's program

It's not often I directly disagree with Maggie Boden but...
"only an expert in a given domain can write interesting programs modeling that domain"
[Margaret Boden 1994, What is Creativity? in Dimensions of Creativity p. 115]

(my brain is now busily plotting how to write a painting program)

A question of definition

Some questions have been going around my head recently, in the context of what creativity is. These questions have been along this theme: Are the defining characteristics of creativity actually just multiple recastings of the same thing?

  • Can a discovery be useful but not interesting
  • Similarly, can a discovery be interesting but not useful?
This was inspired by Colton et al 2000, which looked at how 'interestingness' was evaluated by mathematical discovery systems. Here are some more developed thoughts: 
[Q. Can a discovery be useful without being interesting? I think NO in this domain because if some previously undiscovered concept or conjecture is useful then it has interest because it can be used. 
Q. How about in other domains? Depends on what interestingness means in those domains. 
Q. How domain-specific is interestingness-and how generalised can it be?
In pure maths something is interesting if it helps you progress, therefore interestingness and utility are tied together this way. 
Q. In other domains, can discoveries be useful without being interesting? yes e.g. if they are a means to an end and if it is not your primary concern - I guess this applies to maths too - most maths conjectures are not interesting to me - unless I can see them being useful to me or in solving a notorious problem.
Q. Can things can be interesting without being useful e.g. Doug Zongker's "Chicken" paper is interesting but not useful except as amusement (so does it have some value here in its humour - which is of course its main purpose? Hmmm I can't think of things which are interesting but not useful in some sort of way...)]

Continuing on this line of thought:
  • Is there any difference between things that are surprising and things that are novel [and can I just use novelty to explain both?]
[Surprisingness is linked into novelty - if something is seen before it is less surprising. But there is more to surprisingness than this  - e.g. the result of a process may be surprising not because it is unseen but because it is derived in a different way - so... in a novel way...?]

Colton, S. and Bundy, A. and Walsh, T. (2000) On the notion of interestingness in automated mathematical discovery. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (53) pp.351-375
Zongker, D. (2006) Chicken Chicken Chicken: Chicken Chicken. Annals of Improbable Research (12) pp.16-21

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

43 Dodgy Statements on Computer Art - Brian Reffin Smith

Some really interesting statements here, whether or not you agree with all of them. From Brian Reffin Smith's blog. My favourite is #41...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Empirical approaches to Performance: Empirical Musicology II conference

Empirical approaches to Performance: Empirical Musicology II conference (25-26 March 2010, School of Music, University of Leeds, UK)

empirical: "based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic : they provided considerable empirical evidence to support their argument." 
musicology: "the study of music as an academic subject, as distinct from training in performance or composition; scholarly research into music."
(Definitions taken from New Oxford American Dictionary 2nd edition © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.)

Whilst musicology can traditionally be highly theoretical, this interdisciplinary conference emphasised an empirical approach, presenting a diverse range of different scientific/practical approaches to the study of music. Focussing on music performance, the conference brought together people from a variety of academic backgrounds to share knowledge and methodologies across disciplines.

The chosen two keynote speakers (Eric Clarke and David Temperley) represented two areas of the spectrum of research covered during the conference. From his standpoint as co-editor of Empirical Musicology: Aims, Methods, Prospects (2004, Oxford University Press) and as an influential musicologist in this field over many years, Eric Clarke gave a historical and critical overview of the use of empirical methods in music research, leading to a project he is currently involved in, the AHRC Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP). David Temperley brought to his keynote his expertise on probabilistic methods of music analysis and music cognition, discussing how musicians control the flow of musical information during performance.

As an educated guess I believe I was one of very few participants who was not based in a music department (unsurprisingly for a musicology conference!) although in fact, several presenters came from multi-disciplinary research groups. The level of interdisciplinarity demonstrated in the talks did ensure that I didn't feel at all out of place academically, from my standpoint as a music informatician. Many methodologies and tools were being applied outside of their traditional domains to explore a wide range of musical detail, taking advantage of what new technologies have to offer the music researcher. Those that stood out particularly, in my memory at least, were:
  • Elaine King and collaborators used a statistical ordination technique borrowed from ecology and educational research (canonical ordination, through the software CANOCO) to cluster together data from participants to extract what students considered their main motivations to prepare for assessed performances. (useful for me as I am looking at how best to cluster large sets of data to extract key themes from the data)
  • There was a (beautifully presented) talk from Tal-Chen Rabinowitch on work examining associations between musical interaction in groups of children and their emotional empathic development. To measure the children's emotional empathy, three different measures were used as a battery, of which two came from previous literature and the third was devised for this study. (useful for me as I am looking at how best to measure how creative something is)
  • Mark Doffman's presentation on jazz musicians' non-verbal communication focused specifically on how different groups of musicians negotiate how to end an improvisation. His research analysed video footage to examine the communicative behaviour of different types of jazz musicians, using this analysis to examine the musical co-ordination that was happening - (I really identified with this, having more than once been in the position of jamming with other musicians, playing a piece, and having no idea how we were going to make the piece end!)
Organised by Luke Windsor, Karen Burland and Elaine King (on behalf of SEMPRE, a society promoting reserach into music psychology and music education), this conference attracted international participants as well as a large proportion of UK-based researchers. The presentations were on the whole of a good academic standard, with excellent keynote presentations and such a variety of research presented that it was easy to find an angle of interest in most talks. It was a shame that the review process was relatively light, with no critical feedback on abstracts sent back to authors, and perhaps an abstract or two appearing in the proceedings that could have done with a little more editing than they received (although as I myself revised my abstract and title a week before the conference, I am in no position to criticise here..!) This is however only a small negative reflection on what was otherwise an excellently-organised, friendly, academically useful and thought-provoking conference.

To conclude - here is my presentation at this conference, looking at how we can empirically capture what it means to be creative as a musical improviser: 

Defining Creativity in Music Improvisation (presentation slides)
How is creativity manifested in improvisation? We have an intuitive understanding of the concept of creativity that we can use introspectively to suggest answers to these questions, both in theory and during performance. If, though, we want to program a computer to generate music in a creative way, the computer does not understand what creativity is. We cannot ask the computer to behave creatively unless we also give some definition of what such behaviour entails. So the problem becomes: how to define what musical creativity is to a computer.
This work uses empirical methods borrowed from linguistics to capture the words which we strongly associate with creativity. An analysis of the language used in dictionary definitions and academic papers on creativity, as compared to everyday language use, has produced a list of words which we commonly use to discuss creativity, e.g. innovation, openness, divergent. After conducting a survey on how these words can be applied in the context of music improvisation, I empirically derive key attributes of creativity in this musical domain which can be used to guide an artificially intelligent musical system towards generating creative musical behaviour.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Self-assessment of creativity

Interesting post at James C. Kaufmann's blog on our self-awareness of our own creativity:
The American Idol Effect: Why We're Not Too Good at Judging Our Own Creativity

I would interpret 'metacreativity' as being creative about creativity, rather than being aware of the extent of your own creativity. However there are some useful links in here on experiments investigating how students rate their own creativity compared to the 'expert' opinion (in these cases, the teachers). I wonder if there has been any work on people being creative outside of the student/teacher domain?

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Creativity and Cognition conference October 2009 - feedback

The conference overall: A real eye-opener for the types of research going on under the banner of 'creativity'. The conference was single-stream, meaning no picking and choosing of what papers to go to see, just one presentation at a time, which you could choose to attend (or not).

There were disappointingly few people there working in computational modelling or creative computer systems, or in the psychological processes behind creativity, and a surprisingly high proportion of people working in design.

Once I got used to the balance of papers, though, I found the conference much more useful - I could allocate intense concentration to the most relevant papers and just sit back and enjoy the other presentations and pick out some bits that were useful to me. Quite often I found that a talk which seemed completely irrelevant to my research had some quite nice general observations that fitted in with my growing ideas about how creativity is more than just producing an end product, with process, producer and the surrounding environment/audience/influences taking an important role too. (In fact one of the graduate symposium papers, by Carly Lassig, gave a really useful reference to this: a paper by Rhodes).

Graduate Symposium
: This is the way for PhD students to do conferences! Organised by Celine Latulipe and John Thomas, the symposium was held the day before the main conference and was a closed session, with only the participants, organisers and invited guests present.

For me, the people there to comment (Celine Latulipe and Ernest Edmonds) were very useful to have around as Ernest Edmonds has links with Sussex and I like the way he thinks about creativity, plus Celine Latulipe is from a computer science background and, in conjunction with her grad student, had a very interesting paper on a creativity support tool evaluator.

It was a good mix of people in there, and though some talks were clearly more relevant for some people than others (reflecting the overall mix in the conference) everyone could make comments and have useful discussion. Shame the symposium was on the same day as a workshop by Linda Candy and Zafer Bilda on evaluating creativity, as I would really like to have gone to that, but that was definitely the only minor point.

Specific things to follow up after the conference:
  • As I mentioned above, the reference to a Rhodes paper about the '4 Ps' of creativity looked useful (Person, Product, Press, Process) although I haven't been able to source a copy of it yet.
  • A paper by Ricardo Sosa, John Gero and Kyle Jennings fitted very closely with an idea I am starting work on, about modelling a creative society using an agent based system.
  • Frieder Nake's (excellent) talk on algorithmic art and creativity underlined an opinion which I come across more and more, that "Machines can never be creative". In other words, if a computer can do it, it isn't creative because we can see the processes it uses', hence a definition of creativity shifts with the times as computers do more tasks we would consider creative. I disagree with this (of course! for a PhD on evaluating computational creativity!) but really must acknowledge this debate in my work, although I don't think I want to wade into it too heavily; perhaps more philosophical tools are needed in my academic toolkit before I feel ready to tackle that kind of debate properly.
  • The paper presented by Celine Latulipe's student, Erin Carroll, and a conversation with Erin afterwards, led me to look at principal component analysis and factor analysis for clustering words together in semantic categories. I'm not sure yet if this is the way to go for this type of task (and have in fact been advised against it by computational linguists!) but it's good to know about.
  • Ben Shaw's talk on Emergence in design was very well presented and gave useful links back to improvisation in creativity (particularly mentioning R. Keith Sawyer's work in this area). Also Ben and I had some conversations which led to him giving me some very useful feedback on work I have done with computational linguistics methods - hopefully he found some useful things in my work too.
  • Another useful presentation came from Brian Magerko and various other people at Georgia Tech (surely the most represented institution at an international conference that I have ever seen! 1 in 3 submissions from Georgia Tech, I think) This paper was talking about observing improvisation in people, with a view to replicating it in agent-based modelling - this is very closely linked to some multi-agent improvisation simulations I am starting now. While their findings caused some debate later on (particularly whether we use a stored mental model of the world or not), this paper has given some useful thinking material for me as I approach my own work in multi-agent systems.
  • An interesting definition of creativity by Viveka Weiley: Creativity = 1. New, 2. Valuable, 3. 'x' - the key question here is what is the 'x' that we are missing out on if we just consider creativity to be tied into the concepts of novelty and value.
  • David Norton's talk on DARCI, a computer artist trained using neural networks, was the closest to mine in terms of graduate symposium talks, and we covered a lot of common ground in our presentations. In particular the debate from Simon Colton's paper came up, on whether something was actually creative if it is perceived as creative. Good to hear about the project and it's going to be interesting to see how it turns out.
  • The very last talk was a keynote address by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. I have to admit from the book or two I've read of his, I wasn't really expecting the talk that he gave to be very relevant, more based in social comment and individual case studies (and with big conclusions drawn from limited findings...?) I was very pleasantly surprised - the talk was entertaining and useful, with plenty of relevant academic material including a description of attributes of creative people as representing a continuum which creative people can navigate across very deftly as needed.

So that's the Creativity and Cognition conference for me. Plus I met some really interesting people - hopefully some useful contacts! Didn't talk to everyone I had wanted to talk to, and didn't always manage to maintain concentration throughout the conference - by the end of the conference I was more than ready to come back to normal life, it was quite a long week! But I guess you can't talk to everyone, and do everything.