Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Artificial Intelligence Is Coming for Human Creativity

How soon will AI chatbots exceed our own creativity?

Animal behaviorists have already disputed the uniqueness of human cognitive ability. Another blow to our hubris is now posed by the digital revolution, which not only exposes our cerebral limitations but also threatens human creativity.

Human Cognition vs. Other Species'

The history of psychology is full of claims about unique human cognitive abilities. Many of these claims fell away in the light of research findings on the cognitive capacities of other species.

Self-awareness was one such capacity. When chimpanzees passed the mirror test of self-recognition, this claim of human cognitive distinction went away. Even bigger blows to the human ego followed. Other species have greatly superior spatial memory. Many humans forget where they put their keys on a daily basis, yet Clark's nutcrackers can remember the precise locations where they hid thousands of food caches, and chimpanzees can outscore humans on tests of short-term memory.

Human-uniqueness enthusiasts could always point to pursuits that humans alone excelled at, such as playing chess, or getting a high score at Jeopardy, which assesses our capacity to store trivia. These claims were challenged by the digital revolution. It turns out that supercomputers can defeat chess grandmasters. Even in the case of trivia that we accumulate during our lifetimes, computers may defeat humans, as illustrated by the 2011 triumph of IBM's Watson supercomputer over Ken Jennings in Jeopardy.

Human vs Computer Is Passe

Even if computers could be programmed to defeat humans in every cognitive game, though, we retained the comforting illusion that our capacity to create new products from our fertile imagination was unmatched. This belief has been punctured in at least two ways. First, it emerged that many animals produce creative products, from the mating bowers of Australian satin bower birds to the paintings of captive apes that have been compared to the abstract expressionism of Kandinsky and were indistinguishable from human works, according to art critics. Second, the development of artificial intelligence poses a challenge to our claims to creative uniqueness.

With the defeat of Garry Kasparov by Big Blue in 1997, many people lost interest in chess, whether rightly or wrongly. Now there is a sense that artificial intelligence (AI) is coming for many of the creative endeavors that used to be exclusively human based on our intrinsic ingenuity.

Creativity can be thought of as a skill learned through trial and error over several years. Most creatives need about 10 years of dedicated pursuit to master their particular art form. This process involves absorbing the skills and techniques of other people laboring in the same field. AI now mimics these operations and can generate entirely new products extracted from a vast library of stored instances. Consequently, computers have been generating pictures, poems and even novels for many years. These include "Rembrandt paintings" that mimic the brushstrokes of the master.

Last November, we witnessed the release of ChatGPT, an open-source chatbot that created a stir due to its facility at generating credible versions of human creative writing. The program generated highly human-like products when responding to prompts such as, “Write a haiku about fog and oranges,” or “Write a speech about the Black Lives Matter movement in the style of William Shakespeare.”

While ChatGPT created a stir among writers, including journalists—many of whom have already been replaced by text-writing programs—more than jobs are at stake. Clearly, we are at a critical phase in the development of AI when we can just about decipher a future in which AI manages not just the mechanics of our daily lives but also puts human creatives out of business.

The phenomenon has not gone unnoticed among students needing a term paper on short notice. These products are (for now) of mixed quality. Having learned from Internet texts, ChatGPT can make statements that are clearly wrong. Yet, the chatbot still writes better than most students, and this facility is a key aspect of creative writing. Moreover, the program is self-correcting and improving rapidly. Ultimately, college professors will be unable to spot these fake essays and may have to stop assigning term papers altogether in favor of other methods of assessment.

Term papers may not be the pinnacle of creative work, but they do require some level of creativity. If that work can be mimicked by AI, it is hard to imagine any creative work that cannot, in principle, be outsourced to machine intelligence.

More from Nigel Barber Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Nigel Barber Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today