Category Archives: Science

Should Innovators Reveal How Much They Let Technology Make Creative Choices?

BrainIs it true? Do the most creative people generate ideas straight out of their heads without any outside help? That's what most people would tell you. But the reality is that the best innovators boost their creative output with the help of structured tools like patterns and even technology.

David Pogue wrote a brilliant article in Scientific American titled, "Should Artists Reveal How Much They Let Technology Make Creative Choices?" He cites numerous examples of how artists and entertainers use various types of aides to create their masterpieces. From the article:

Apple's GarageBand program for Mac computers lets you create fully orchestrated “compositions” just by dragging tiles into a grid. Everything sounds great, whether or not you know anything about rhythm, pitch or harmony. At the time of GarageBand's introduction, its product manager told me that even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing. It could inspire a novice to learn music, maybe take up an instrument.

Agreed. But how can we gauge artists' talent without knowing how much of the work was theirs? Should it affect how much we pay for their output? And what about when commercial musicians use GarageBand to produce their tracks—as Oasis and many indie bands have done?

Everyone knows that technology assists almost every creative endeavor these days, from the moment a four-year-old drips paint onto a turntable to make spin art. We also are aware that Hollywood uses computers for its special effects and that most pop songs are Auto-Tuned and pitch-corrected. But in those cases, the audience is in on the fact that machinery has helped out.

It's not the same thing when technology's assistance is concealed from us and is credited to the human. That's why lip-synching at live concerts is still controversial and why athletes are disqualified for secretly using drugs or other performance enhancements. Disclosing when our creative works have come from canned parts isn't just important for intellectual honesty; it would also make a better barometer for the rising tide of robots entering creative fields. (If you hadn't heard, robots are now capable of composing chorales and painting portraits.)

These days even professional musicians, artists and performers can substitute an on/off switch for human talent. Shouldn't the public know which is which?”

David's point about whether the public should know is well-taken. But in the grand scheme things, what matters most is how humans can elevate their creative output. Extensive research has shown structured approaches do more to boost creative output than to limit it. For thousands of years, inventors have embedded five simple patterns into their inventions, usually without knowing it. These patterns are the "DNA" of products that can be extracted and applied to any product or service to create new-to-the-world innovations. Using these patterns is no different than using a human-engineered technology. The technology has within it the wisdom of its creator that is then transferred to others to boost their creativity.

Humans have evolved to create. Stepping on the shoulders of others, be it through a technology or a pattern, is our next evolutionary path.



How IoT is Transforming Unexpected Industries

By the late 1990’s computers became truly transformative, followed by Internet and email as conduits to a continuous flow of information that could be processed, analyzed and turned into action. Today, as digital connectivity transforms physical machines, we’re likely into the early days of a similar productivity boom.

Innovation Sighting: Attribute Dependency and The Total Eclipse of the Sun

Total eclipse stamp imageThe United States Postal Service has just released a “first-of-its-kind” stamp that changes appearance when you touch it. What has inspired this small nugget of innovation? The August 21 total eclipse of the sun. It will be the first total eclipse to be seen in the U.S. mainland since 1979. Even more, a total eclipse has not traveled the entire span of the United States since 1918. Since millions of people hope to witness this historic event, the
USPS decided to commemorate it with a Forever Stamp.

It just so happens that this newly issued stamp is a great example of the Attribute Dependency technique - one of the five innovation methods that make up Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). Attribute Dependency works by creating (or breaking) a dependency between two attributes of a product or its environment. The Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever Stamp works in this way as the picture on the stamp changes when one rubs their thumb over it.

According to the United States Postal Service:

The stamp image is a photograph taken by astrophysicist Fred Espenak, aka Mr. Eclipse, of Portal, AZ, that shows a total solar eclipse seen from Jalu, Libya, on March 29, 2006.

In the first U.S. stamp application of thermochromic ink, the Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamps will reveal a second image. Using the body heat of your thumb or fingers and rubbing the eclipse image will reveal an underlying image of the Moon (Espenak also took the photograph of the Full Moon). The image reverts back to the eclipse once it cools. 

The stamp is a great example of how SIT methods can be applied to any product, great or small. And, anyone can learn to create by utilizing these innovative methods, including you! If you would like to get the most out of the Attribute Dependency Technique, follow these steps:

  1. List internal/external variables.
  2. Pair variables (using a 2 x 2 matrix)
  • Internal/internal
  • Internal/external
  1. Create (or break) a dependency between the variables.
  2. Visualize the resulting virtual product.
  3. Identify potential user needs.
  4. Modify the product to improve it.



The Very Strange and Fascinating Ideas Behind Quantum Computing

In 1952, Remington Rand’s UNIVAC computer debuted on CBS to forecast the 1952 election as early results came in. By 8:30, the “electronic brain” was predicting a landslide, with Eisenhower taking 438 electoral votes to Stevenson’s 93. The CBS brass scoffed at the unlikely result, but by the end of the night UNIVAC proved to ...

A New Breed Of Innovation

By the mid-1980’s, the American semiconductor industry seemed like it was doomed. Although US firms had pioneered and dominated the technology for decades, they were now getting pummeled by cheaper Japanese imports. Much like cars and electronics, microchips seemed destined to become another symbol of American decline. The dire outlook had serious ramifications for both ...

What’s In a Name? New Research Suggests We Look Like Our Name

Name pic
What’s in a name? Perhaps more than we might think, according to researchers at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. Most of us are familiar with the dynamic of “judging a book by its cover,” making quick judgments about a person based on initial appearance. But in a recent study led by Dr. Ruth Mayo and Yonat Zwebner, researchers investigated the opposite: can a person’s facial appearance be significantly influenced by their given name? The research suggests, “yes!”

In eight separate studies, independent participants were recruited and shown color headshots of random people. Participants were asked to choose the name of each individual from a list of names provided with each picture. The outcome: time and again observers chose correctly more than not. For example, when looking at a photo and considering four names – Jacob, Dan, Josef, or Nathaniel – participants chose the correct name “Dan” 38% of the time, which is above the 25% chance level for a random guess. Researchers found consistent results when controlling for ethnicity and age. And, even computers surpassed the odds by matching the correct name to a face to a clinically significant degree.

An interesting dynamic that researchers suggest from this study is the existence of shared face-name prototypes. It was remarkable that participants were unable to match names to faces from a culture other than their own, which indicates the possibility that shared face-name prototypes (eg. stereotypes) which are common in various cultures are necessary for the face-name matching effect to happen.

The study also suggests that the dynamic of self-fulfilling prophecy might be at work. Researchers found that participants still chose correctly above the chance level for random guess even when they could only see the participants’ hair style, suggesting that people may choose a hair style according to a stereotype that matches their name.

Though the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy is not new, researchers believe their contribution is innovative by demonstrating that the way we look is possibly impacted by the social tag we’re given at birth, one’s name. And since this name is given at birth, often before birth and independent from one’s face, researchers find it statistically plausible that the connection between facial appearance and social perception is a two-way street.

Researchers of this study are hopeful that their work will bring increased understanding of the important role social structuring plays in a person’s development. Gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are all understood social structures that impact a person’s individual formation and identity. But the possibility that a simple choice – the giving of one’s name – might have a significantly greater impact on one’s development than previously imagined is both intriguing, innovative, and worth increasing consideration.

To read more about the study, click here.

6 Tools: Jobs to be Done with Tony Ulwick [interview]

Tony Ulwick is well known for the creation of Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI) and as the founder of Strategyn. In this recent interview, Chad McAllister sits down with Tony who shares 6 tools from his new book, Jobs to Be Done: Theory to Practice.

The Yin And Yang Of Elon Musk

At the recent Code Conference, Elon Musk had a wide ranging interview about everything from who he thinks will compete with Tesla in self-driving cars to neural laces that will augment human intelligence and his plans for space travel. But the thing that caught my eye was his assertion that we all are  might be living in a computer ...