How this evolving technology shapes creativity.

A series of lines spiral out from a central tether. Each one is brightly colored with thick markings at measured but indecipherable intervals where they splinter off into even more branches. Every line is encoded with tax records, calendars, court documents, census information and more. No, these details don't describe the Matrix-esque inner workings of an advanced computer. Instead, they describe quipu, an Incan cord system of keeping records that's over 5,000 years old – and what some researchers believe to be a precursor to artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence (AI) entered the popular imagination largely through works of science fiction, but developments in the very real technology have made headlines in recent years. There are two main types of artificial intelligence: symbolic machines (programmed by people to reason and work through logical steps) and artificial neural networks (which are modeled on human neurons and 'learn' in a slightly more organic way). One of the ways AI's most frequently being applied might also be one of the most misunderstood: the pursuit of creativity. How can people meaningfully use this technology to develop their own creative practices? And are people at risk of being replaced by that same technology?

Just as artificial intelligence doesn't currently have the world-dominating powers that more than a few blockbusters have proposed, it is nowhere near being able to replace human intelligence and creativity in film, music or art – and may never be. Instead, people from all fields are beginning to use artificial intelligence as a creative collaborator, an advanced tool that helps them to think differently and spark new ideas.

One of only about 1,000 quipu thought to still be in existence.

But back to quipu. Despite their ancient origins, quipu could point to the future of artificial intelligence and how it relates to creativity. Even after years of scholarship, there are elements of quipu that haven't been deciphered, with some researchers thinking they may also contain certain elements or representations of language. Essentially, they document information but may also have storytelling abilities built into their artful framework, a framework that adds to and builds upon itself over time, not unlike AI. It's precisely this integration of tech and art that's only beginning to emerge in contemporary times.

So, How has AI lept from simply working through rational processes to supporting humanity's creative pursuits? Late in 2021, an app called Dream caught media attention for its novel premise: type in a description of something you want to see and the app would generate an original and fully realized painting-like image based on that description. In 2019, Elon Musk's OpenAI lab developed AI that could create convincing poetry and entire news articles from a short prompt or snippet of existing writing. And even fine art has been affected by the influx in AI, most notably with Christie's sale of Portrait of Edmond de Belamy – an AI-generated portrait in the style of 19-century European works – which sold for $432,500.

What remains true in any of these scenarios is that the creative involvement of people is not just critical but essential. The act of developing artificial intelligence is itself a creative act, an experiment in possibility set within boundaries human creators establish and often with specific ends in mind. AI is helping composers think of new ways to write music, artists to develop new motifs and ways of seeing, and even enhancing the creation of content here on Platform. To that last point, you may have wondered what the impressionistic feature image at the top of this page depicts. It is in fact quipu – as rendered by AI on the Dream app from the two simple words "quipu painting".