AFTER all the accomplishments of artist Harold Cohen with and
without computers, the big question still remains: Will computers
be able to "think" someday, and create original works of art?
"Yes," says the bearded Mr. Cohen. Watching the noisy robotic
arm of AARON slowly outline the elongated face of a woman on paper,
he says, "I don't think there is any doubt that at some point we
will see computer programs that are capable of deciding for
themselves not just what to draw, but what drawing means."
If true, Cohen will deserve a big round of E-mail applause for
his part in the evolution from the intelligence of human-hand
drawing to a different kind of "intelligence" in computer drawing.
Cohen is the creator of AARON, a sophisticated knowledge-based
computer program connected to a robotic arm that autonomously draws
human shapes and plants. AARON is having its debut as a working
exhibition at the Computer Museum in Boston, where visitors can
watch it make paintings -- one each day.
For the last six years Cohen has been the director of the Center
for Research in Computing and the Arts at the University of
California at San Diego.
In 1968 he had a "reputation as a painter equal to that of any
British artist of his generation," according to Michael Compton,
Keeper of Modern Painting at London's Tate Gallery. But a two-year
visit to Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
launched his exploration of the intersection of computers and art.
Introducing AARON to color
AARON is the result of 23 years of Cohen's research and
development. (Cohen says he has spent about $150,000 bringing AARON
to this point.)
"What I have done is to give AARON a significant body of
knowledge," he says. "For instance, it knows how a body is put
together, how to build a representation of a body, and how that
"AARON knows some of the things human beings know," Cohen says.
"And it can do some of the things humans do. The important thing to
say is that I don't do any of the drawings. It does them."
In simple terms, AARON is a computer program about as long as a
good-sized novel. Connected to a robotic arm suspended over a huge
flatbed covered with sheets of paper, it "draws" on command. It
selects color too, dipping the fingerpoint of the robotic arm into
little cups of fabric dye and filling in previously outlined human
or plant shapes.
"I think AARON draws very well, and it has only started on its
career as a colorist," Cohen says. "To write the color program I
had to find a way to represent color symbolically which allows
AARON to mix dyes. …