Category Archives: Creativity

Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?

Source: Forbes, Dec 2016
Research paper:

An interesting paper on the idea that the productivity of researchers is falling. That is, we have to devote ever more effort to developing new technologies and this spells, in the end, doom for economic growth. The point being that advancing technology is what allows productivity growth, it is productivity growth which enables economic growth. Thus, if we have to devote ever more resources to finding and developing those new technologies then we’ll end up running out of resources to do so and thus economic growth will fail to happen.

what is actually being measured, when they look at Moore’s Law, is the exploitation of an already known idea. Not the finding of new and different ideas.

What we do have here is proof that established firms are having to put greater effort into chip advancements over time.

Can Creativity be Automated?

Source: Boston Globe, Feb 2009

A little-known discipline of science called computational intractability studies the boundaries of our understanding … but of the everyday computational realm.

We know answers exist, but it turns out that calculating the solutions to such kinds of problems could take too long, even if all the world’s most powerful computers were to work together on them. Individual instances can be solved, but there is no general way to attack such problems efficiently, which means the “universe could have degenerated into black holes while your computer is still running,” said Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer scientist at MIT.

By knowing what problems we can’t solve – and scientists are busy figuring out whether problems that seem intractable actually are – researchers can pursue new ways to approach problems, or come up with approximate solutions to problems.

“There are some things we just take for granted cannot be done – and intractability research tries to make it precise,” said Sampath Kannan, director for the Division of Computing and Communication Foundations at the National Science Foundation.

“As we increasingly become an information society, it’s increasingly important to understand” the limits of computation, he said.

Recognizing that value, the National Science Foundation granted $10 million last year to Arora’s center at Princeton.

Sometimes what is intractable looks deceptively straightforward. Take the challenge of making housing assignments. Imagine that there are 100 spots in dorms, and a pool of 400 students to choose from. The dean has a list of pairs of students who are incompatible and cannot appear on the final list.

“The total number of ways of choosing students 100 from the 400 applicants is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe!” the Clay Mathematics Institute wrote in its $1 million challenge. “Thus no future civilization could ever hope to build a supercomputer capable of solving the problem by brute force.”

even with complete data about complex systems, it can be hard to find the rules and patterns that are hidden in the data, simply because of the limits of computation.

“I think it does go a long way to explaining why prediction problems are hard,” Aaronson said.

“A huge reason that we’re interested in these sorts of questions . . . is the question whether creativity can be automated,” Aaronson said. “T

A huge reason that we’re interested in these sorts of questions . . . is the question whether creativity can be automated,” Aaronson said. “The kind of creativity that proves theorems or solves puzzles, or finds patterns in data.”

With repercussions ranging from cryptography to artificial intelligence, humanity has a lot riding on the answer to the question – which remains unsolved.

With repercussions ranging from cryptography to artificial intelligence, humanity has a lot riding on the answer to the question – which remains unsolved.

Creative Children

Source: Keith Sawyer blog, Mar 2017

How can we keep creativity alive in children?

Creative children are likely to be unusual children. They get bored with the idea of Jack’s always going up the hill with Jill. They do not accept things as they are; they do not easily settle down to their lessons as they are given to them.

The good teacher may be genuinely searching for creativity in her pupils. But she is continually defeated in her efforts by the demands of her supervisor, the politics of the local school system, the lack of space, the lack of materials, the lack of assistance, the size of the class. Given these obstacles, she is unprepared to cope with the child who uses his creativity to defeat her. The child who constructs questions that will arouse the boys to raucous laughter, whose raised hand she must therefore distrust; the child who invents secret clubs and ciphers and signals and ceremonies that turn the classroom into something strange and unpredictable.

We fail to see obstructiveness as an aspect of creativity. The teacher cannot risk disrupting the precarious balance of her overcrowded classroom. The best teacher has little time or energy for any kind of creativity, and none for the disruptive sort. But we can remedy these things quite easily and inexpensively. We can build enough schools. We can hire clerks and janitors

and guards to take much of the burdensome load off the teacher’s back. We can pay our teachers well enough to keep as teachers all those who really want to teach.

We want people who are original, creative, spontaneous, innovative. But we want them to be produced by teachers whom we condemn in a hundred ways to be overworked and uninspired, unrespected and underpaid. We would like the children of America to be creative, to learn about creativity, while we make the best change they have to learn, to respond to teaching, as uncreative as possible. There is only one sure way to develop creativity in all the different kinds of children in schools. We must cherish the creativity of all those who have elected to become teachers because they want to teach.

If we are to give more than lip service to creativity in children, we must actively support the creativity of the teacher. We must come to recognize fully the creativity of good teaching.

Solo and Group Creativity

Source: Fast Company, Mar 2017

The part of our brain that usually leads to our most creative ideas is called the “default mode network.” It’s what gives us the ability to relate seemingly unrelated concepts, to create novel connections, to see patterns where others see noise. This network works best when we daydream, when we’re quiet, when we’re involved in mindless tasks and are just staring off into space, not really seeing anything in the outside world. It works best when we sleep. In other words, when we’re alone.

It’s this part of the brain that the introvert camp (Cain et al.) tend to study most intensively and point to as the source of true creative inspiration. But it doesn’t work alone.

The extroverts (Sawyer and company) have a solid argument, too. One of the ways the default mode network functions is by being stimulated with new ideas. When you space out, your hippocampus starts to build new memories out of the raw material of your experiences. And when it does that, it has a tendency to throw random memory shards into the default mode network. These random shards of new memories act like sparks to the kindling of your default network, lighting the fire of what ultimately becomes a creative breakthrough.

And these new ideas most often become apparent to us in conversation with others, in a lively chat at the café, or in an argument in a bar.

the answer is that human beings are most creative when we get time by ourselves and then time with one another. The way to maximize creative potential is to flow between being alone and being in a group, and back again. When you’re alone, you’re essentially building a woodpile in your brain. Then, when you join a group, you’re igniting a shower of sparks that might light it up. Of course, you sometimes need to go be alone again in order to let the sparks you’ve started generating get close enough to the wood.

Alternating between solo time and collaboration seemed to encourage more creativity than either approach exclusively–very likely because that’s how our brains are built.

How can you put this into practice? Try brainstorming like this:

  1. Grab some large sticky notes and have everyone write down their ideas, one per note, for 10 minutes.
  2. Have them put their ideas on the wall, and everyone gets three minutes to look them over.
  3. When time’s up, everyone goes back and writes new ideas for five more minutes.
  4. The stickies go up, and everyone looks at them for two minutes.
  5. Then everyone goes back to being alone and writes out new ideas for just 90 seconds.
  6. The stickies go up one last time, and everyone looks at them for a final five minutes.
  7. Discuss.

You’ll be done in half an hour.

By breaking this process up into ever shortening intervals, you keep the creative energy flowing, maintain a structure, and allow everyone’s brains to hop between the two forms of thought that creativity requires. The time constraints force people to be concise and trust their instincts rather than overthink things. And on a more tactical level, Paulus discovered that by writing everything down, no one could dominate the group conversations, and no one had to wait their turn, only to forget their idea.

So the introverts and extroverts are both right, up to a point. What they really need is to sit down together and chat it out, then go be alone again, and rinse, repeat. They may find they have more in common than they’d thought–and probably more creative ideas, too.

Google Supersonic – Transcribe Voice to Text & Emoji!

Source: The Next Web, Mar 2017

Supersonic is a messaging app that relies almost exclusively on voice input: hold down the mic button to dictate a message, and you’ll see it transcribed into a text and emoji-studded message in your one-on-one or group conversation. Your contacts can also play back your audio message, and it’ll disappear once it’s been heard.


Read Widely and Voraciously

Source: Keith Sawyer blog,  Mar 2017

I aggressively curate and monitor the notifications I receive about newly published papers, and I read those that strike my interest, even if they’re not directly related to my research. Perhaps the biggest question is why I make the effort. The short answer is that I read widely to prepare myself for whatever might come along in the lab. My biggest fear is the one that got away, the important discovery that I missed because I couldn’t see it for what it was.

Reading only in my subdiscipline would limit the kinds of connections I can draw.

Time and again, strange observations in the lab reminded me of a paper I had read in some far-out journal, or a seemingly irrelevant visiting speaker’s talk suddenly led me to understand a result that had been bugging me for weeks.

My advice: Read widely and voraciously.

One of the key lessons is that it’s not easy. It takes time and effort. It’s easier to stay focused on one thing, to work on what everyone else is working on, to read all of the same articles that your colleagues are reading. But creativity? You’ve got to work at that, to do things your colleagues aren’t.

Lewis Mumford on Creativity

Source: Technics and Civilization, 1934

Related Resource: StraitsTimes, Mar 2017

As the great American historian Lewis Mumford wrote in the 1930s: “The chief benefit the rational use of the machine promises is certainly not the elimination of work.” Instead, it is the substitution of tedious jobs with more creative ones, with higher added value.