As technology plays an ever-increasing role in our lives, the qualities of our myriad relationships with technology become ever more important.  The computational revolution in particular gives cause to re-evaluate the venerable perspective of technologies as tools. Yet software and hardware interfaces remain overwhelmingly rooted in the tool metaphor, computational engines still idealise the Turing machine, and artificial intelligence holds onto a Descartian dualism.

Alternative viewpoints such as embodied and situated cognition are becoming more prevalent and more mainstream. The field of computational creativity in particular has questioned the applicability of cognitive science perspectives likening cognition to computation, and artificial intelligence approaches that do not model experience.

Clearly reactive – or really creative?

Computer software designed for the arts (design, illustration, cinema, music, fine art, performance, etc.) is now a mature, multi-billion-dollar global business. While computer systems support the production and organisation of creative outcomes effectively and extensively, the vast majority of these systems are founded on the assumption that the users – not the software – supply all the imagination in the evolution and performance of a work. Software is considered an inert tool that should passively support an artist’s inventiveness but never intervene as a partner. In short, the computer’s involvement has been conceptualised as reactive, not creative.

What if the computer could act more like an equal, or at least as an inspirational assistant, understanding an artist’s own style and abilities, interacting with them as they generate new art? The computer could then challenge the artist to forge new ideas, and support or critique them as they emerge – akin to working with an artistically sensitive human partner who understands and buoys one’s own originality. This system would encourage learning and practice by adapting to each individual’s current style and technical abilities, developing in sophistication and empathy just as the human artist’s own abilities mature.