Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.
AI Writing Code and Combination, Creativity & the Future.
Mar 21, 2022
Amy Webb and her team at the Future Today Institute just published the 15th annual edition of their excellent Tech Trends report for 2022. It is one of the most comprehensive reports out there (the full report is a whopping 668 (!) pages long), and a long-time favorite of us here at be radical. We recommend starting with the Key Insights report and then digging into any specific tech area you are particularly curious about. Happy reading! 🤓
For a while now, we see the rise of a category of software creation tools which go by the moniker of “no code” or “low code” — the idea being that we create tools to allow anyone (not just coders) to create their own tools. A good example in this category is Airtable, which allows powerful workflows being created on top of the humble spreadsheet.
As a quick aside: Spreadsheets are the original “killer app” — VisiCalc, introduced in 1978, made the Apple IIe the de facto standard in business all around the country). And even “no code” goes way back to 1987 when Apple released HyperCard — which was so easy to use that a then 14-year-old Pascal created a full business suite for his fathers’ company using it.
With the advent of deep learning models like GPT-3, we are now seeing AI systems writing code — initially as code completion through GitHub’s Copilot and now via OpenAI’s code-davinci which allows users to describe software in natural language to then create working software code. Andrew Mayne published a fascinating blog post about his experience using code-davinci to create computer games by simply describing the rules to the AI. Expect a lot of movement in this space, ultimately leading to a huge increase in robotic process automation (RPA) inside of companies, novel problem-solving approaches, and a new job description for coders as “AI-generated code reviewers”. (via Pascal)
The theory of innovation as a combinatorial process (whereby old ideas and tools are combined in novel ways to unlock new possibilities — e.g., famously, Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press as a combination of the wine press and movable metal type, etc.) has been with us for over a century. When Steve Jobs said that “creativity is just connecting things,” he was building on something the great mathematician Henri Poincaré had argued a hundred years earlier in describing his search for what he called the “good combination” of ideas in mathematics.
Understanding innovation and creativity as combinatorial processes has helped us to appreciate the role that the sheer number of attempts — and the willingness to fail repeatedly to fuel rapid learning — plays in driving creative innovation, but the examples of Poincaré and Gutenberg (and Jobs as well) also point to something essential beyond a brute force process of learning through repeated (and ideally, fast) failure. It’s important to have the right kinds of things to connect and the right associate trails suggesting potentially rich, novel connections. Some knowledge of the field and the tools in play is essential.
This knowledge is a mental catalog built from experience, and experience is the raw material to which the brain applies imagination to create new possibilities. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes that the brain constantly “combines and creatively reworks elements of past experiences and uses them to generate new propositions and new behavior… It is precisely human creative (imaginative) activity that makes the human being a creature oriented toward the future, creating the future and thus altering his present.” Like innovation, imagination itself is a combinatorial process, and we need to bring the latter to the former to enable both the most creative solutions and, in turn, the best possible futures. (via Jeffrey)
What We Are Reading
⏱ Stop Wasting People’s Time with Meetings At a time when there’s more focus on the quality and quantity of meetings, it pays to take a moment to make sure you are spending your time and energy wisely. The author presents five strategies to help you do that. Jane ⇢ Read
🧼 This Year, Try Spring Cleaning Your Brain Creating a clear, more focused mind starts by making decisions about how we spend our time every day. When those choices are in line with our values, interests and passions, this creates personal agency. Mafe ⇢ Read
🧠 Deep Learning Is Hitting a Wall A hybrid, both/and approach to the future of AI may be the key to transcending the limits of today’s deep learning models. Jeffrey ⇢ Read
⛽️ Microsoft and Pepsi top list that scores greenhouse gas-emissions progress. Tesla and others are ‘failing’ Clarity on the actions behind looming climate goals isn’t only interesting but relevant. It connects well to our Open Coffee on tech & trust, in this case, hopefully building more trust through shared insight. Julian ⇢ Read
😘 Face-to-face interaction enhances learning, innovation This won’t come as a surprise — but still a good reminder and solid data to back it up. Pascal ⇢ Read
⚠️ Disrupt Disruption: Listen in on our conversation with Bruce Smith, founder and CEO of connect rowing machine company hydrow. In our conversation we explore the many disruptions and state changes happening in the fitness industry at large, how community becomes the cornerstone of personal transformation, the approach the hydrow team took to creating their revolutionary product in a category which hasn’t seen much change over the last couple of decades, and how this all translates into the world of business and leadership.
Radically yours, take good care, friend!
— Pascal, Mafe and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)
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