How Technology Can Help Bring About a New Era of Human Creativity

By Dr. Hagit Alon, Chief Scientist, Joy Ventures It’s not often that the worlds of literary criticism and Artificial Intelligence intersect – but that’s precisely what happened with “Chrysalis,” a recent short story that one critic called a parodic echo of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, while panning the story for its lack of any “soul” or […]

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By Dr. Hagit Alon, Chief Scientist, Joy Ventures

It’s not often that the worlds of literary criticism and Artificial Intelligence intersect – but that’s precisely what happened with “Chrysalis,” a recent short story that one critic called a parodic echo of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, while panning the story for its lack of any “soul” or “surprising thrill.” These weren’t the shortcomings of a specific author, however: “Chrysalis” was revealed to have been written by a machine – OpenAI‘s GPT-3 (Generative Pretrained Transformer).

GPT-3 – a novel Natural Language Processing (NLP) system hailed as the most sophisticated yet – has added new fuel to the robust debate about the future of creativity and the line between human- and machine-generated art. “Bot or Not,” a website where users are presented with poems and then asked whether they think it was written by a human or a computer, attests to how that line has been increasingly blurred as AI becomes more and more “intelligent” and less and less “artificial.”

How might the interplay between machines and people impact – and even benefit – human creativity? The answer has implications well beyond fields like art and literature, with far-reaching consequences even for the future of work – where the World Economic Forum notes that human creativity and empathy will be more important than ever.

Amid a rapidly changing world and our frenzied daily routines, creative pursuits can serve as invaluable outlets for self-expression, purpose, meaning, rebalancing and pure enjoyment – helping cleanse our minds and contribute to our overall wellbeing. This is vital at any time, but particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, with millions of people worldwide searching for new creative outlets, including on digital platforms, to soothe anxiety and pass the time while they shelter at home.

As more and more people explore different avenues of creative fulfillment, a variety of cutting-edge, fun-to-use tech products can help them unlock their inner creativity and offer a respite from the stress and uncertainty so many are grappling with in these uncertain times.

Understanding Creativity

Researchers who study creativity have delineated specific states of being creative, such as hypnagogia – a semi-lucid dream state in which one is still conscious and aware. The surrealist artist Salvador Dali, the writer Edgar Allen Poe, and inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison all made use of hypnagogia to stimulate their minds and enrich their work. What if society could harness technology to help users replicate such creative processes?

In fact, cutting-edge startups and researchers are already doing so, highlighting how advances in science and technology can offer new approaches to unlocking creativity. Innovation, in other words, begets innovation.

Take Dormio, a project incubated at the MIT Media Lab. The project deploys a new wearable device along with an app which collect bio-signals to track users’ sleep stages, employing audio cues to stimulate hypnagogic dreams. After waking up, subjects discuss dream content via a social robot that extracts dream reports.

UK-based NeuroCreate seeks to augment the work of creative professionals through the use of artificial intelligence and neuroscience. The company’s FlowCreate™ platform offers an array of tools for stimulating users’ productivity and ideational skills. The product allows users to widen their thought processes to discover hidden troves where their immediate thoughts and associations would not otherwise take them.

Such mind-wandering is essential to creativity. Forthcoming research by Rotem Broday-Dvir and Rafael Malach, neurobiologists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science points to a connection between slow, gradual fluctuations in subjects’ resting state activity and the development of creative ideas. Other researchers have found that neurofeedback from electroencephalograms (EEGs) can help boost creative output, as can transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Video games are already one of the most widespread forms of recreation and their popularity continues to surge, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic – in August sales increased by 37%, compared to last year. Recent studies have actually shown that video games can positively impact our creativity. In an Iowa State University study, subjects who played or created projects based on Minecraft – the popular video game where players are free to build worlds of their choosing – showed higher creative output than those who watched a TV show or played a race car video game.

Meanwhile, many popular apps have leveraged gamification – the use of gaming principles in other contexts – to stimulate creative expression. One such example is SketchAR, an AI-fueled mobile app and platform that inspires creativity through gamified, interactive augmented reality drawing and photo editing. Is music more your jam? JoyTunes is an interactive app that teaches more than one million weekly users to play the piano with gamified lessons that help them finetune their skills while having fun.

The takeaway? Outlets for creative inspiration can come in a wide variety of formats.

Augmenting Human Creators

Stories like Chrysalis may ignite passionate discussions, further fanning the flames of a skepticism about whether technology stymies natural-born creativity or enhances it. But not all technologies are created alike, and the future of creativity in the era of AI will be characterized not as much by machines’ displacement of human creators, but rather by new products and platforms that build on neuroscience and our understanding of creative processes to enhance creators’ work. Rather than eliminating the need for human creativity or simply distracting us, technology can allow for new ways of reaching our creative potential – and if the experience of living in the era of COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that drawing on our inner creativity can make for much richer lives – especially when so many such “outside” avenues (museums, performances, etc.) are unavailable.

As technologies such as AI advance by leaps and bounds, expect to see a proliferation of wearables, platforms, and personalized services that tap into users’ creative faculties – making for richer art, more innovative products, smarter strategic decisions, and new, unforeseen trails.

Far from sounding the death knell for creativity, technology may just be the necessary element needed for a new age of creative expansion. Technologies will create opportunities for diverse, innovative products that appeal to a wide range of creative interests – helping us find even more meaningful moments of creative fulfillment in our everyday lives.  

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