Harold Cohen- AARON


Is the computer being creative? Is A-life creative?

Professor Harold Cohen, UCSD, spent 30 years of his life working on AARON, an artificial intelligence/artist.

"Harold Cohen, former director of the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA), was an English painter with an established international reputation when he came to UCSD in 1968 for a one-year Visiting Professorship. His first experience with computing followed almost immediately, and he never returned to London. Cohen is the author of the celebrated AARON program, an ongoing research effort in autonomous machine (art making) intelligence which began when he was a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1973."[5]

"I wrote it to discover what an independent (machine) intelligence might do, given some knowledge of the world and some rudimentary physical capabilities. And, in the process, to have IT teach ME about possibilities I hadn't imagined. I'd be happier if AARON's work in the future were LESS like human work, not MORE like human work." [6]

  • The first robot in human history to paint original art.
  • AARON mixes its own paints, creates striking artwork and even washes its own brushes - uses a range of fabric dyes, PROCION.
  • Grew out of investsigations about the nature of "represenation." Or, how/why we see marks on paper as a "face" or other real-world objects.
  • "AARON can make paintings of anything it knows about, but it actually knows about very little -- people, potted plants and trees, simple objects like boxes and tables, decoration."[6]
  • Built in 'C' but most of AARON's development is in LISP.
  • "AARON has to know what it's doing, and has to spend most of its time building an internal representation of the developing drawing so that it can decide what to do next."[6] - No physical or visual feedback mechanism.
  • "I don't tell it what to do. I tell it what it knows, and IT decides what to do."[6]

"How do I "tell" AARON what it knows? That's a bit hard to understand if you don't know anything about programming. Some of AARON's knowledge is what we call "declarative" knowledge; for example, how long arms and legs are. That sort of thing is easy to represent. You simply make a list of parts -- left-upper-arm, torso, etc. -- each of which is a list of all the points in that part, with the position of the point in relation to the origin of the part. For example, the origin of "left-upper-arm" is "left-shoulder", and "left-elbow" is at some position in relation to it: so much below, so much to the left, so much in front. AARON knows that the "left-upper-arm" is tacked on to the torso, but it can only tack it on in ways that are plausible for a real body. The program has to know how to go about doing things, and this "procedural knowledge" is usually represented in the form of rules. It might look something like this:-

if (left-arm-posture is "hand-on-hip")
    (add-upper-arm left -.3 .5 .65)
if (left-arm-posture is "arms-folded")

and so on. The three numbers here would represent the rotations around the shoulder on the three axes that would put the arm at the correct angle before the arm is attached to the torso at the shoulder. But this is a much-simplified account, because of course there isn't just one "correct angle," and the way it chooses one of the three rotations will then influence how the remaining two can be chosen.

And at a higher level, of course AARON had to decide, using rules similar in form but different in content, what the "left-arm-posture" was going to be."[6]

"Harold used computers as a means to test his theories about art. In simple terms, Harold believed that if his ideas about art were meaningful then his computer programs and robots would generate meaningful works of art. If his ideas about art were inconsistent or flawed, then his computer programs and robots would produce less than acceptable works of art."[4]

To view AARON painting click here:

  • AARON was productized by Kurzweil as a screen saver that creates endless original works.
  • "Your screen saver will then create an endless sequence of original art. Every unique painting that appears on your screen will be different from those that appear on the many copies of AARON running on computers around the world. It's a lot more interesting than screen savers that always look the same. You actually see each line being drawn and each color being applied stroke by stroke. Already an artist with an international reputation when he started working on AARON in the early 1970s, Harold has spent nearly thirty years teaching the AARON software how to draw, his theory of color, and the secrets of composition. It's an outstanding example of artificial intelligence in action."[1]
  • http://www.kurzweilcyberart.com