On a hot day in 2010 I wandered into the new Apple Store in Covent Garden a whisker before closing time. I still don’t know exactly why, but I found I had a mischievous desire to prove someone, anyone, wrong. The setting was so beautiful, so self consciously groovy, so perfect; the interest and publicity had been so impressive and adulatory. Grrr.
Light was still glinting off the English oak and York stone as a young man with both appearance and manners of great beauty approached. The blue of the Apple T shirt suited him perfectly. “Good evening m’am, may I help you this evening?”
I pulled my Blackberry out of my pocket and exhibited it.
He smiled, magic-ed his own Blackberry into the air, and explained
“Oh we like to make sure we use everything. Don’t worry. I’m sure we can help”.
And so it began, a lesson in how to think differently that I have never forgotten. (A lesson brought to mind today by a radio programme featuring one of the greatest thinkers in the development of Artificial Intelligence, Maggie Boden)
The beautiful Apple man invited me to sit down at one of the beautiful trestle tables, positioned alongside three beautiful Apple devices, and to talk about how I used my then current (not beautiful) laptop.
The experience was how I imagine it would be ..sitting at the pastry table in a café nearby while the pastry chef listens patiently and attentively to how I toast old sliced bread. But pastries are completed, finished. What the Apple man would introduce was the idea of potential.
He gestured to one of the devices and summarised how it would fulfill all the needs I had described. The second device was positioned as the next step, a way of completing those functions in an easier, more satisfying way, to free time to do other more interesting things.
And the third, I asked? Realising now that we were echoing the structure of oh, so many fairytales. “Oh that’s where it all really starts. You see you cannot know what you will do with that until you have begun to explore. It will make things possible that you haven’t even imagined yet.”
My immediate take away lesson from that day was simple: to make a point of using new tools, to try out new equipment, for the simplest of tasks, just to see what would happen. (Well, if Lucien Freud can do what he did by changing the width of his paintbrush…). The deeper lesson, found in the area of Artificial Intelligence, is that the study of computational processes helps us understand more about the psychological processes involved in ‘creativity’. Is creativity magic? If not, there will be scientific explanations.
What sorts of creativity are there? Maggie Boden virtually invented ‘computational creativity’, and was the perfect storm of talents so to do, having studied medicine, philosophy and psychology. Her view is that 95% of creative processes are either combinatorial – putting together unlikely ideas to form a new one – or exploratory – using an existing way of thinking but applying new structures.
The other 5% ? Transformational – where rules are dropped or altered and infinite possibilities then become possible. Rather like a new algorithm generating new options.
It leaves me with an important question. Does sitting at the café pastry table and eating them all count as transformational, or combinatorial creativity do you think?