The Future of Creativity
Creativity: The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new and original ideas, forms, methods and interpretations
There are two parts to my story – The first is about our past and it begins with revolutions.
The Agricultural Revolution
Tens of thousands of years ago our ancestors discovered they could plant crops and keep animals. This changed everything. Suddenly without the pressure of having to hunt and gather food our family structures changes, our population on this planet began to swell.
Our ancestors were forced into close proximity pushing us to communicate and negotiate. We underwent massive social change, suffered plagues, famines and wars. This was an incredibly volatile time for the human race.
But despite all the challenges put in front of us, our ability to eat well, to live longer and to have time to think – well that spawned the second major revolution.
The Information Revolution
This was where we developed much more sophisticated language and eventually writing. It had started with simple storytelling around the fire – but now language became the basis for our civilisations. There have been so many different civilisations over the centuries, in so many parts of the world – and in those moments when things were right, the creative arts and sciences flourished.
Through our writing we could now share ideas over vast distances and across time. As a people we started to seek more control over our environment and we built devices and machines to augment our capabilities.
The Industrial Revolution
Only 200 years ago we started to automate manufacturing, new chemical processes were developed, we built engines that powered transportation and factories. We began a revolution which has still today hardly slowed its pace.
Classical economics could not even have considered the rate of progress made during the first 100 years of our industrial revolution. Human populations grew fast around the world as this technology potentiated agriculture through machines and information through printing with electricity soon to follow. We started to dominate our environment, mining, damning, burning and building.
Despite this progress we should not forget the terrible human tragedies which followed this revolution – and with our human powered factories – are still happening around the world today.
It’s hard to imagine the pace of change to get to the point in the 1960’s where we had travelled to space and looked back on our fragile little planet.
The Computer Revolution
But it’s in the last 50 years we have seen the most incredible revolution of them all. Computers have increased in capability exponentially as their price and power consumption continues to drop. The world is wrapped in vast networks where we communicate at near the speed of light.
There were many many steps to get to 1971, but this was the year the first 4 bit CPU was released by Intel. A few years later I was born. My parents are both amazing creative people – both teachers who supported their kids interests. They supported my crazy schemes, and I was writing my first code at five. I was downloading software from radio broadcasts when I was six. By the time I was twelve I was playing with robotics and dialling into networks with modems and experimenting with fibre optics. By the time I was at university we were using FTP and exploring the very first web pages.
I have kept working with the leading edge of technology; my company just launched products with Intel that help people use a new miniature sensor which can see depth as well as colour. We have just launched Umajin which encourages creativity by empowering anyone to create the content rich applications they imagine without needing to code.
Over my life I have seen these huge trends and improvements in computing, networking and automation first hand. We are entering a time where CPU’s will be both centralised in server farms but also massively distributed inside all of our ‘things’. The networks connecting this computing fabric will continue to get faster.
With our smart devices connected to this global network we are starting to become just a little cyborg – it’s literally rewiring our brains.
Yet despite this incredible level of change, despite the steady progression of Moore’s Law, despite all the amazing improvements to all aspects of storage of data and speed and flexibility of networks – We are only just starting to realise the tireless potential that computer algorithms can unleash.
Since the turn of the century there have been stories about a human created intelligence – malevolent even in its neglect, more recently about a singularity where computers become self-aware and accelerate far past human intelligence.
However the reality is really going to be much more mundane, we are currently going through a process of massive computer aided automation. This will put people out of work and destabilise our social structures. We are facing change too fast for retraining. It’s effecting jobs we had thought safe with algorithms quite capable of outperforming the most skilled, highly trained, experience, creative and hardworking among us.
With the combination of a computers speed, relentless single mindedness, access to huge amounts of data and unsupervised machine learning techniques we can now create systems from general purpose building blocks which lets us solve previously impossible problems.
Soon we will be able to diagnose ailments just as accurately as we can identify faces in every image and video frame uploaded to the internet. We already have powerful tools to support creative work like computer aided design – but soon it will be human directed design. We sketch out some manufacturing constraints for the robotic factories and a target audience and the system can research tastes, work out materials and trends, design and manufacture and create a marketing plan. This doesn’t mean there are no humans in the process, just many fewer – who need to work a lot fewer hours.
Just like a google self-driving car, these systems are not self-aware, they are not scary in themselves. A google car is following a pre-planned path, only slowing or avoiding when it detects something in one of the zones identified in previous passes. It’s completely focused and special purpose, it doesn’t think about what music is playing, it doesn’t worry about its relationships, it’s weight, it’s neighbours impressive new data centre – or the millions of other things we might be doing while we drive.
This is not post scarcity – instead we are entering an era where there is still incredible disparity between countries, between people. A huge percentage of the world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very very small number of people. That’s not good for any civilisation based on our previous experiences.
Our economic systems are too easily manipulated and change is happening too fast for traditional regulation and education. We worry about our worlds mineral and biological resources running out, of our polluted water, air and soil – but with our relentless push to automate it may actually be the work that runs out first. Without enough work our system collapses and requires serious rethinking of our view of the world and the way our economies work.
It’s with this strange and unsettling vision of today that I jump into our future for the second part of my story
The future of creativity
To best navigate the challenges that lie ahead we need a destination, a goal. If we were to consider our relationship with each other locally, nationally and internationally, if we consider our world, our lives and the lives of our children what do we want?
- What do we want for our governance?
- How will we make a living?
- How should we establish the value of what we create?
- What should make up the cost of things; food, music, smartphones?
- What is important for our self-worth and happiness?
- How do we want our physical environment, waterways, flora and fauna to be treated?
- What do we imagine when we reconsider schools, libraries, patents, copyrights, stock markets, unions, insurance, banking and other institutions created to support past revolutions?
So to help answer these questions, what is a possible goal for what we need to power humanity into the 22nd century in a way that improves on the world we have today?
A new economy
We can see the importance of work by seeing what happens to people who now suffer from long term or permanent unemployment : British psychologists see this as a very serious issue and describe it as “the death of self.”
To solve the problems caused by global automation – local will be critical factor in any system. The appreciation for handmade, locally grown, sustainable, recycled, retro, hand cooked, local science and research, data sources, taught in person, working with children, repaired or built, caring for the sick, local sports, exercise, arts, music, writing, film, drama, games, apps and all the other activities that connect us. For us to all have success we all need to be able to contribute.
Because there are many tastes and genres within a creative area the mastery of skills and techniques can be important for some creators and secondary for others. You don’t have to be the best illustrator to have people appreciate your work. Technology will just be part of the mix – for example 3D printed food created at a local scale should stand alongside global brands if we want to keep ourselves working and reduce our footprint on the world.
The fusion of hobbies, crafting, learning, research, entertainment and creativity provide huge opportunities for people to create and share locally.
The monetary system could pay people for their work and its popularity. This popularity measure should reduce with volume to encourage smaller, local creators/curators. Those individuals / companies / teams talented enough to become global stars can still be incredibly successful.
Then there could be systems for establishing costs that need to relate to the contributions from the people involved and the resources required in what people consume (food, goods, art, sports, washing machines etc). For physical goods this needs to include consideration of the environment, running costs and the end of life.
This is not about throwing away all of what has worked, but improving and refining and taking advantage of new technology. Now we can have transactional systems which are able to monitor and measure resources which would not have been possible twenty years ago. It will be really important to track inputs and outputs like clean energy credits in and out of the grid, just as it will be important to track the costs of a product, service or experience a lot better than we do today.
Humans are amazing at optimising their behaviour to take advantage of systems, talk to any policy maker and you will see what unexpected results can occur from a simple change. The goal is that this system should incentivise environment, peoples lifestyles and local more than we do today.
The elements of creativity
Creativity can become a framework for people to contribute value, to put in effort in an area and to have that appreciated and reciprocated. This sits on top of the equally important infrastructure layers which we rely on today (such as transport, power, water, waste, emergency services and data networks).
Here are three broad areas within the creative process which can be used together, or can individually be where people contribute.
Play “experiment, communicate, safe space, resources, fantasy, storytelling”
Decide “Constraints, choices, swapping context & combining”
Curate “Opinion, judgement, interpretation, taste, collections, fashion, share”
Creativity needs to be supported with spaces and the appropriate community, resources and expertise required for people to play, experiment and develop their narrative. This applies as much to cooking and drama as it does to product development or scientific discovery.
Providing these spaces is as critical as the people using them. It’s a huge contribution which is not always recognised in the role these people play less formally today within companies, schools, and universities – particularly when you consider how the CEO at the top of a company, movie directors, or coaches for professional sports are already celebrated.
Creativity requires decisions. It’s very useful to provide constraints and goals so that the choices to be made are not totally un-bounded. Some of the most creative and surprising solutions come out of restrictions. Combining different elements, or swapping out the context is also a great way to keep the process of inspiration running and encourage making decisions. Learning that making a decision can be more important than making the best decision is important. There is also the potential that computer aided processes will enable you to make very good decisions – even where the criteria is other people’s opinions.
Fashion is an important part of creativity. Decisions may be guided by fashion, ignore it, or intentionally run counter to it. Sometimes just some elements may be curated with specific fashions in mind.
Beyond the effort of the creation there is a community of critics and supporters, arguments and discussion, opinions and trend setters. These are all very valuable contributions.
Curation, fashion, critics
Reviewers, tastemakers, curated markets and community discussion are all critical to the value built up around creators and their work. Without them there wouldn’t be smash hits and viral success stories.
Since the dawn of cooking, music, art, science and literature there have been communities around the sharing of opinion. This is an important part of the economy of creativity and needs to be part of the chain of value. For creation both positive and negative feedback is really an important part of the process of improvement and consensus of critics helps the broader community of consumers to make decisions.
The very act of critical review is a creative product which is valuable in its own right. Some of the top youtube stars review games, review minecraft levels, unbox toys or in a very meta way – review other youtube videos.
Local markets, digital markets, global markets + crowdfunding
This is a huge part of the cycle of creativity. Waves of fashion are both local and global. They can propagate across a whole community geographically or through one vertical special interest group worldwide. Physical and digital spaces will need to cover the spectrum of broad, specialised, impersonal, entertaining, supportive and many more.
Crowd funding and task bidding services show how markets can support much broader commerce. You can go to the local market and commission a portrait from a popular artist, go online and bid to be part of an international group to research new semi-conductor properties and put some money down for the new concept music video your favourite band is planning on creating.
Markets and demand will still help determine value but individuals, group or companies can still price on top of the costs based on their product or service attributes or just because of the type of consumer they want to appeal to.
Local will become very important, with shared resources for creating and for sharing / selling – as will their digital equivalents serving vertical communities of specialised interests. There is genuine social value in these specialised online communities supporting people interested in stuffed animals, data about public transport usage or growing the hottest chillies.
Learning from our past revolutions
Art, Craft and Technology Movement – Arts and crafts comprise a whole host of activities and hobbies that are related to making things with one’s own hands and skill. These can be sub-divided into handicrafts or “traditional crafts” (doing things the old way) and the rest.
The specific name Arts and Crafts movement was also given to a design movement in reaction to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century, whose proponents included William Morris and Edwin Lutyens. They believed that medieval craftsmen achieved a joy in the excellence of their work, which they strove to emulate. “goal of integrating design and making” The idea that any technical craft could be an art in its own right.
The increasing mechanisation of production processes gradually reduced or eliminated many of the roles professional craftspeople played. Today ‘crafts’ are most commonly seen as a form of hobby. But by reviving the appreciation for unique, custom and local with today’s technology (CNC, Lasers etc) high quality production and new combinations are possible even for novices. This approach to appreciating the very act of creating as valuable will be an important step in building a strong new economy which includes local. This will require new digital tools like Umajin, markets and systems to support plug into the new economy.
With local incentives in place there will be exciting new business models where global companies provide virtual resources to allow local creators to deliver products, services and IP which they personalise and localise.
Conclusion – The future of creativity
We need to create a new economy that is more resilient to change, that is both local & global and takes into account people and the environment. We only need to look to the millennial generation to see how attitudes to consumption and careers are undergoing massive change.
I propose that creativity is a potential framework for everyone to be able to provide contribution that is valued by others and is applied more broadly than what we consider paying work today. This new model must also account better for the true costs of things including environmental inputs and outputs. It needs to support local as well as national and global endeavours providing people with the economic resources to live a rewarding life.
Just a thought to leave you with, this doesn’t have to be in the hands of governments or massive corporate interests – people have built open source operating systems, digital marketplaces and platforms for crowd funding – why not start building ourselves an open source economic system driven by creativity.