The Man and the Machine

Harold Cohen, an internationally known scientist, will give a public talk at the UA on Oct. 31 about the years he spent developing AARON, a computer program that designs and prints its own original works of art.
Oct. 26, 2011
What: 
"Collaborations with My Other Self" talk by Harold Cohen
When: 
Monday, Oct. 31, noon to 1:30 p.m.
Where: 
Student Union Memorial Center, Union Kiva, 1303 E. University Blvd.
Internationally known scientist Harold Cohen will visit the UA for an Oct. 31 talk about his relationship with what has come to be known the first computer program that learned how to produce its own original works of art. (Photo credit: Starting Over, Harold Cohen, 2011)
Internationally known scientist Harold Cohen will visit the UA for an Oct. 31 talk about his relationship with what has come to be known the first computer program that learned how to produce its own original works of art. (Photo credit: Starting Over, Harold Cohen, 2011)

For decades, Harold Cohen collaborated with an artificial intelligence artist – a computer program he created in the 1970s that designs and prints its own works of art. 

Cohen, founding director of the University of California, San Diego Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, developed a strong relationship and bond with the program, known as AARON. 

Cohen will discuss his relationship with the highly intelligent computer program during an Oct. 31 talk at the University of Arizona.

The event will be held noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Union Kiva at the Student Union Memorial Center, 1303 E. University Blvd. It is free and open to the public. 

Coordinated by UA School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts, Cohen will present his talk, "Collaborations with My Other Self."

The talk is designed to emphasize the connection between science and the arts while also emphasizing the real connections that can be made among humans, computers and robots, said Paul Cohen, SISTA's director.

"His relationship with the program has significantly changed," Cohen said. "He will discuss some of the key developments that brought about that change and offer conclusions on the nature of computational thinking."

Harold Cohen, Paul Cohen's father, began working with AARON during the 1970s, making this "one of the oldest continuously developing computer programs in history."

Cohen, a trained English painter, began "authoring" AARON after having received a visiting professorship position at UCSD's Artificial Intelligence Lab. 

The images AARON have created have evolved from abstract works to include multi-color figurative pieces of people, plants and situations. Along the way, AARON has developed "his own theories" about art, adjusting the work produced over the years. 

But this is not merely computer art. Cohen did not design AARON strictly to dictate what the program would produce artistically. Instead, AARON began to develop his very own work over the years. 

This has led to a deeper collaboration between the two.

Artwork Cohen and AARON co-created has since shown at some of the world's most renowned museums, galleries and centers, including London's Tate Gallery, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum and the Ontario Science Center.

In recent years, Cohen has begun to "take back some of the control" once afforded to AARON by producing his own work that superimposes those works produced by the program.

"He's 82 and continues to produce this extraordinary output of ideas and work," Paul Cohen said. 

The same can be true of engineers and musicians using computers and programs to design build or compose music, he added.

"I hope people will gain and understanding that, first of all, you don't have to rely on someone else to do your computer technology for you," Paul Cohen also said. "In fact, if you do rely on someone else, you don't get to think about the intelligence you are creating."