Artificial Intelligence - What Is The AARON Computer Program?


Harold Cohen built AARON, a computer program that allows him to produce paintings.

The initial version was created "about 1972," according to Cohen.

Because AARON is not open source, its development came to a halt when Cohen died in 2016.

In 2014, AARON was still creating fresh photos, and its functioning was still visible in 2016.

AARON is not an abbreviation.

The name was chosen since it is the first letter of the alphabet, and Cohen anticipated that he would eventually build further programs, which he never did.

AARON has various versions during the course of its four decades of development, each with its own set of capabilities.

Earlier versions could only generate black-and-white line drawings, while later versions could also paint in color.

Some AARON versions were set up to make abstract paintings, while others were set up to create scenes with objects and people.

AARON's main goal was to generate not just computer pictures, but also physical, large-scale images or paintings.

The lines made by AARON, a program written in C at the time, were traced directly on the wall in Cohen's show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The software was then paired with a machine that had a robotic arm and could apply paint on canvas in later creative episodes of AARON.

For example, the version of AARON on display at Boston's Computer Museum in 1995, which was written in LISP at the time and ran on a Silicon Graphics computer, generated a file containing a set of instructions.

After then, the file was transmitted to a PC that was running a C++ program.

This computer was equipped with a robotic arm.

The C++ code processed the commands and controlled the arm's movement, as well as the dye mixing and application to the canvas.

Cohen's drawing and painting devices were also significant advancements.

Industrial inkjet printers were employed in subsequent generations as well.

Because of the colors these new printers could create, Cohen considered this configuration of AARON to be the most advanced; he thought that the inkjet was the most important innovation since the industrial revolution when it came to colors.

While Cohen primarily concentrated on tactile pictures, Ray Kurzweil built a screensaver version of AARON around the year 2000.

By 2016, Cohen had developed his own version of AARON, which produced black-and-white pictures that the user could color using a big touch screen.

"Fingerpainting," he called it.

AARON, according to Cohen, is neither a "totally independent artist" nor completely creative.

He did feel, however, that AARON demonstrates one requirement of autonomy: emergence, which Cohen defines as "paintings that are really shocking and unique." Cohen never got too far into AARON's philosophical ramifications.

It's easy to infer that AARON's work as a colorist was his greatest accomplishment, based on the amount of time he devotes to it in practically all of the interviews conducted with him.

Computational Creativity and Generative Design are two more terms for the same thing.

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

You may also want to read more about Artificial Intelligence here.

See also: Computational Creativity; Generative Design.

Further Reading

Cohen, Harold. 1995. “The Further Exploits of AARON, Painter.” Stanford Humanities Review 4, no. 2 (July): 141–58.

Cohen, Harold. 2004. “A Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Art in an Unknown Future.” Invited talk at Tate Modern, London.

Cohen, Paul. 2016. “Harold Cohen and AARON.” AI Magazine 37, no. 4 (Winter): 63–66.

McCorduck, Pamela. 1990. Aaron’s Code: Meta-Art, Artificial Intelligence, and the Work of Harold Cohen. New York: W. H. Freeman.

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