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Photo of Harold Cohen HAROLD COHEN

Harold Cohen is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London, and taught there for several years before joining the Visual Arts Department at UCSD in 1968. His work as a painter has been exhibited widely both in galleries and in major museums. During the sixties he represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale, Documenta 3, the Paris Biennale, the Carnegie International and many other important international shows. He exhibited regularly at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London and the Alan Stone Gallery in New York.

After moving to San Diego, Cohen became interested in computer programming and particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. On the basis of his early research, he was invited, in 1971, to spend two years at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of Stanford University as a Guest Scholar. Much of his work since that time has been concerned with building a machine-based simulation of the cognitive processes underlying the human act of drawing. The resulting ongoing program, Aaron, has by now been seen producing original "freehand" drawings in museums and science centers in the US, Europe and Japan: the Los Angeles County Museum, Documenta-6, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Brooklyn Museum, the Tate Gallery in London and the IBM Gallery in New York among others. Recently Cohen has been showing also in science centers, including the Ontario Science Center, Pittsburgh's Buhl Center, the Science Museum in Boston and the California Museum of Science and Technology. He has a permanent exhibit in the Computer Museum in Boston, and he represented the US in the Japan World Fair in Tsukuba in 1985.

Away from painting the early '70s, Cohen marked his return with a 100-foot painting for the San Francisco Museum show in 1979. Since then he has executed a number of murals from Aaron's drawings: one for the Capitol Children's Museum in Washington, DC, three for the Digital Equipment Corporation, a mosaic mural for the Computer Science Department at Stanford, and one each for the Buhl Science Center and the Ontario Science Center.

Cohen has delivered invited papers at a number of conferences, including those of the College Art Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, European Conference on Artificial Intelligence and the Tokly Nicograph Conference. He has lectured about his work at the National Bureau of Standards, the School of Art Institute of Chicago, the Computer Museum and at many other school and universities.

His published writings include "The First Artificial Intelligence Coloring Book," "Off the Shelf," (The Visual Computer, 1986), "Can Computers Make Art?" (proceedings, NICOGRAPH-85) and "How to Draw Three People in a Botanical Garden," (proceedings, AAAI-88). Recent writing about his work include a full chapter in The Universal Machine (Pamela McCorduck, McGraw Hill, 1985), another chapter in Machinery of the Mind (George Johnson, Times Books, 1986) and articles in The Whole Earth Review (Summer 87), Daedelus Magazine (Winter 88), Discover Magazine (October 87), The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 88), and Insight Magazine (March 88).

See Harold's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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