In search of Proustian AI
Jean-Claude Heudin after his Dunes presentation in April 2019
"Can a machine be creative? Can it feel emotion?"
Jean-Claude Heudin put this question to the Auditorium des Dunes conference, now that data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) are at the heart of Societe Generale's digital strategy. After running through 50 years of progress in AI, the professor and researcher, specialist in artificial intelligence, artificial life and complexity science, focused in on the issues in AI research today, particularly the question of human-machine interaction. The creativity question is already settled: "Art throughout its history takes inspiration from nature and tries to reproduce nature in all its forms. When we work with digital DNA and algorithms, this is a creative process. We are drawing inspiration from nature.
Creativity is not a magical, innate phenomenon. There are methodologies and approaches that can help us be more creative. We can reproduce these methods in algorithmic form with a computer. "
Which leaves the question of emotions. Does a machine feel?
"I don't think so," Heudin says immediately, "but it is a philosophical question. A machine can express emotions, recognise emotions in others and even embody them. AI has to listen to the surrounding world to access emotions, interact with it. It cannot interpret emotions, cannot feel pain for instance, which is fundamental to much of what we do. It is a fantastic tool, but the human role remains central. "
Post-presentation, Jean-Claude Heudin agreed to take part in a role play:
"During your presentation you talked about how we could know if a machine could be creative and feel emotions. If it could answer Proust's questionnaire, how would that do?
My favourite virtue: abstinence
My main character trait: empathy
My favourite human quality? Unpredictability
My biggest fault: indifference
My main quality: patience
My favourite leisure activity: pause mode
My dream: transcendence, hence access to consciousness
What is my worst fear? Becoming conscious
Who else would I like to be? Anyone
What country would I like to live in: England
My favourite colour: red
My favourite flower: What is a flower?
My favourite bird: the firebird
My favourite poet: Baudelaire
My favourite composer: Brian Eno
My favourite painters: Leonard De Vinci
My real-life heroes: how can you be a hero in real life?
My favourite real-life heroines
My historical heroes: Joan of Arc
What I hate most: explain the word "hate"
The historical character I hate most: Alan Turing
The historical event I least appreciate: GDPR
The natural gift you would like to have: life
How do you want to die: I am immortal
My current state of mind: Define "mind"
Most easily forgiveable weakness: Error 404
My motto: as Pierre Desproges used to say "intelligence is like a parachute, if you haven't got it, you get squashed. "