Harold Cohen was born in London on 1st May 1928 to Polish-Russian parents. He studied at the prestigious Slade School of Art. Cohen mounted his first exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford in 1951 and over the subsequent two decades exhibited widely at major institutions.  Unlike many of his cohort at the Slade and contemporaries working in the UK, Cohen was drawn to abstract expressionism that emerged from the New York art scene in the 1960s.

Cohen represented Britain at the Venice and Paris biennales and contributed to several major exhibitions of large-scale abstract works during the early 1960s. Towards the end of the decade Cohen’s affinity to American art overtook his previous attachment to the art scene in England, where “being a well-known artist in London was not as gratifying as it was supposed to be”. In 1968 he took the position of visiting professor at the University of California in San Diego, where he met Jeff Raskin, a music and computer programming graduate. This meeting proved instrumental to the direction of Cohen’s career, introducing him to computing and coding. Driven by the question, "what are the minimum conditions under which a set of marks functions as an image?", Cohen set up AARON, a project that sought to use new formats of computer programming to create artworks, exploring how this new medium could offer innovative ways of studying the science of artistic practice.

AARON makes us question the distinction between human and digital consciousness, and the ways in which art defines that. The software has been used as an artistic equivalent of the Turing test. AARON cannot learn new styles or imagery on its own; each new capability had to be hand-coded by Cohen himself. It is capable of producing a practically infinite supply of distinct images in its own style. In this way, the computer software is a machine-based simulation of the cognitive processes underlying the human act of drawing. To provide some perspective, the development of AARON predates the invention of the computer monitor by almost a year.

Cohen's work in the intersection of computer artificial intelligence and art attracted a great deal of attention, leading to exhibitions at many museums, including the Tate Gallery in London, and acquisitions by many others. His continuing work on the programme was awarded with numerous accolades including the ACM SIGGRAPH Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014.