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.

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