“Creativity isn’t solely the domain of traditional artistic fields” – writes Tim Brown (CEO of the iconic firm IDEO) in an article published by QUARTZ magazine. The key to surviving in the age of automation is to focus on our creative side. Let the machine handle the mundane, repetitive tasks so we can find time to do what we, the humans are good at – being creative. He offers a short checklist: work on your focus, be curious, be adaptive and abolish hierarchy. I am sure we can find a pretty good set of skills, perhaps many different skill sets, that will support Brown’s list.
The above article landed on my desk yesterday. Today, I found another article. Again, published by QUARTZ. Google newest updates to Gmail includes a feature called smart compose “which will literally finish users’ sentences for them. When you start typing common phrases or pieces of information about yourself that Google knows, Gmail will now suggest what to type. Press tab, and it’ll write in its suggestion.”
Of course, we don’t have to use this, right. It’s just an option aimed to make our lives simpler. Is it? The machine will suggest how to end a sentence in my letter. It will choose the words, and I am sure people will start using it. Soon, we will all sound the same. A classic example of the more you use it, the more it gets suggested. Google claims that it saves us from the embarrassment of spelling mistakes. Perhaps, but at the same time, it points to the fact that we don’t even need to learn how to spell. Don’t get me wrong – I am typing this inside Grammarly which checks my spelling as I am writing this text. Soon, we will not need to learn or memorize anything. Do you remember phone numbers of your friends or family? I don’t… just a few of them, but soon those will slowly fade out from my memory.
I have another article from the same QUARTZ magazine. Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are acknowledging the value of human beings. Here is a quote: “a new Barclays research report says that humans are better than robots at sensorimotor skills and cognitive functionality, meaning humans are less clumsy than robots and are better at making decisions factoring in context and in cases where there’s incomplete information. There are reasons to be confident that humans will retain some of those advantages for decades into the future.”
If we agree that after all humans are still pretty good when it comes to solving creative problems, how come we are removing the primary vehicles that help us to work on our creative skills. Writing is one of the leading avenues to generate ideas, make connections, find insights. Why are students at the school not memorizing poems, or why is handwriting is practically gone from the curriculum? We want to be creative, but we are removing the very tools that help us train our brains. Understanding our skills is a component that really helps to navigate the complex landscape with both, humans and machines.
Here is a small surprise. In March 2016, AlphaGo, DeepMind system that can play a board game Go developed by Google, beat the world best player in a five-game series. As Richard and Daniel Susskind write in The future of the Professions, the most remarkable thing in these games was how the machine caught the human “off-balance” to win. Commentators described the move as “beautiful” – a highly creative choice. It seems that contrary to popular belief, machines are now capable of coming up with solutions that are far from boring and mundane.
In 2008, Leeds University comes up with an interesting experiment. Several groups of people were instructed to wander aimlessly around a large hall without conversing or making any gestures. Then, the researchers gave precise instructions to just a few participants on where exactly they should walk. The observed result showed that regardless of the size of the group, it took a mere 5 percent of “informed” individuals to influence the behaviour of 95 percent, which will trail along without even knowing it. The most interesting was that later, the non-informed participants were sure that they made a conscious decision where to walk despite the fact that they subconsciously followed those few informed individuals. (Brandwashed, Martin Lindstrom)
“Students should either compete with machines or build machines. In this context, we remain deeply concerned that our colleges and universities are continuing to generate twentieth-century professionals rather than graduates that are prepared for the new millennium. It is disturbing that current educational systems around the world continue to focus on teaching students to undertake tasks for which machines are better suited.” – The future of the Professions, Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind.
We should not let our creative side suffer because there is an easy way to do things. Automation is here to stay regardless if we like it or not. It will be harder to distinguish between human and machine as their function will blend in one form or another. We can’t just trail along because it is easy. Tim Brown ends his article with this sentence: “There is an un-algorithmic fingerprint to the human process that may never be replaced. This is how we will make our mark on the future.” Let’s make sure we keep this fingerprint sharp-looking. Knowing our skills is the first step in shaping our conscious path to the future.
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