WONDER, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND PASTRIES

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.

Apple products in Penny Hunt's blog
I’m not sure…

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.

Pastries drawn b y Penny Hunt

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.

Chess with Penny Hunt

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?

DIAL A DAEMON

Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo image

Splashed through the delighting deluge and made it to the café. We were all in the Truman Show that day – completely at the mercy of whatever the Christof / Ed Harris producer character felt like throwing at us with his machinery and hidden cameras.

Safe now with an espresso.

I’m seeing everything through the lens of technology at the moment. It’s because of a strange coincidence yesterday.Penny Hunt's drawing of cafe culture and the wisdom of effective listening

In this very café a heart-stopping drama unfolded. The beautiful girl of a couple of weeks ago (her interview went brilliantly by the way) appeared to have lost a child. Shock. Fear. Cries to curdle a cricket bat. Primeval cries.

But the loss wasn’t a child.

The loss was her ‘phone.

Has it happened to you recently? I mean – since the addiction really took hold?  I could see her point of view (lets talk about empathy another time).  My own experience, but days earlier, had been of a stricken sinking feeling on realizing that the ‘phone was on the kitchen table while I was at the ticket barrier. The wrong side,the commitment side. By the bottom of the escalator I had fast forwarded through the stages of grief – denial, anger, negotiation, intense sadness and then finally acceptance (Uncannily like the quick change of weather forms in the Truman show, come to think of it). Except the last stage still wasn’t real. Acceptance took longer. I felt naked and lost and cut off. Part of me, a very important part, was missing.

What is this all about?

In Philip Pullmans Dark Materials the characters’ daemons are physical representations of part of the soul. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dæmon_(His_Dark_Materials) There are now online quizzes where you can identify what animal form your daemon would take.

Clever Mr Pullman. So it turns out they’re not just animals but also fruits – apples and blackberrys.

This sense of loss is profound. Something really is happening to us, fast.

We now spend 1 in every 12 waking minutes online in the UK http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/brits-spend-one-in-12-waking-minutes-online-8863661.html.

The University of Maryland researched attachment to our devices as long ago as 2010 and heard from students asked to be without their phones for 24 hours phrases like ‘ most horrible experience in my life’, ‘lost part of myself’. 70% quit the study. http://theworldunplugged.wordpress.com

So while wonderful opportunities and connections and inventiveness are unfolding and made possible by our new daemons, we also develop the characteristics of addiction, and lose access to other parts of ourselves.

During my day of ‘phonelessness, I experienced the strange but dimly-remembered sensation of thoughts leading on to other thoughts, rather than being interrupted by the urgency of attractive new stuff on the ‘phone. I know I became more attentive to the people I saw that day, too. The listening, the conversation, the connecting, got richer and better.

In the café the drama was still full of energy, but gradually reaching that acceptance stage.  Our heroine was twitching but settling into her chair in a ‘that’s how it is’ way.

What are you going to do?” asked her companion
I guess we’ll just talk” she answered with the first laugh of the exchange.

So the listening and connecting began.

www.changechemistry.co.uk

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