"Computers are useless. They can only give answers" - Pablo Picasso

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[ 2003-February-14 11:45 ]

A friend of mine asked me today:

You always have the quote beneath your name and I was wondering why and if you consider the quote to be true. Without imput a computer sits idle or is that only coming from a mind that sits idle infront of computers.

I like the quote because it promotes thought. I like it because it could be true or could be false, or could be neither. It is very unclear and up to interpretation.

However, the biggest reason I like it because it is a great use of juxtaposition. The second half, "[Computers] can only give answers" seems, at first glance, to be the opposite of "Computers are useless", since answers are normally quite useful. It could be said that Picasso is just paraphrasing another famous quote, attributed to Lady Ada Byron, where she says, in effect, that computers can only do what humans tell them to do. However, by saying that they give answers, Picasso suggests that maybe computers can do more than we expect.

Currently, computers are not creative. They are, as of right now, simply tools which can be used to communicate, create art, or make things work. I do not, however, say that computers will never be creative or "intelligent". I believe that it may be possible. However, Picasso does not exclude this possibility, since after all, isn't intelligence or creativity simply an answer, if we know the right question?

Another interesting interpretation of the quote is not related to computers at all. Pablo Picasso could be saying that it isn't the answers which are important, or which are hard. Answers could be seen as being relatively easy, once you know the question. It is just a matter of investigation, experimentation and research. However, coming up with new and inventive questions is difficult. Asking original questions takes creativity and insight, and pushes the frontiers of our world further.

I could write an entire essay about it.

I found this quote long ago and loved it from the instant I read it. It is also nice that it is from one of my favourite artists. I am very curious it what context he said it. However, I have found the quote in a number of sources, but never with a reference to the context it was taken from.