Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Computers get creative
Which is more creative - a person or a computer?
According to a study published in the journal Science, a well-programmed computer may well be more creative than a person - unless the person is a professional designer.
After studying successful advertisements, Jacob Goldenberg, Sorin Solomon and David Mazursky of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem deduced a formula to generate similar ideas.
They then programmed a computer to design ads for alcohol, cars, food and electronic appliances, and asked a panel of judges to compare these to ads that had won creativity competitions; ads from international magazines; and ads devised by lay people who had been given complete freedom.
And the winner is ...
While the award-winning ads came out trumps, those designed by the computer came a close second with similar scores to the magazine ads.
The lay peoples' ads rated poorly.
The results showed that humans would have to rethink what it meant to be creative, they said.
"Creativity is assessed by the eye of the beholder, not by the process by which it comes about."
The key was to have a structured process - backed up by cognitive psychology studies that found that applying rules often help throw up unexpected ideas and connections.
Rules of the game
In many successful ads the team studied, the designer had chosen a property of the product to emphasise and had then picked another object universally identified with that property.
The product was then linked in the ad with that object.
Confused? Think of a sports shoe. The designer wants to emphasise that it cushions the foot and absorbs shocks - similar to a fireman's safety net. Hey presto, an ad in which a group of firemen hold a sport shoe instead of a safety net.
While recognising that some of the world's greatest inventions came about because of a single spark of inspiration, the authors said such randomness played little part in the creative process.
"Most creative tasks cannot be accomplished by a random search, and the search might be harmful at worst, or inefficient at best."