Donatella Versace finds it in the conflict of ideas, Jack White under pressure of deadlines. For William S. Burroughs, an old Dadaist trick helped: cutting pages into pieces and rearranging the words.
Every artist has their own way of generating original ideas, but what is happening inside the brain might not be so individual. In new research, scientists report signature patterns of neural activity that mark out those who are most creative.
“We have identified a pattern of brain connectivity that varies across people, but is associated with the ability to come up with creative ideas,” said Roger Beaty, a psychologist at Harvard University. “It’s not like we can predict with perfect accuracy who’s going to be the next Einstein, but we can get a pretty good sense of how flexible a given person’s thinking is.”
The scientists asked the volunteers to perform a creative thinking task as they lay inside a brain scanner. While the machine recorded their white matter at work, the participants had 12 seconds to come up with the most imaginative use for an object that flashed up on a screen. Three independent scorers then rated their answers.
One of the barriers to creative thinking is the ease with which common, unoriginal thoughts swamp the mind. Some people in the study could not get past these. For example, when asked for creative uses for a sock, soap and chewing gum wrapper, less creative people gave answers such as “covering the feet”, “making bubbles” and “containing gum” respectively. For the same items, more original thinkers suggested a water filtration system, a seal for envelopes, and an antenna wire.
Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found distinct patterns of brain activity in the most and least creative people. In the highly original thinkers, the scientists saw strong connectivity between three networks of the brain. One, known as the default mode network, is linked to spontaneous thinking and mind wandering, while a second, the executive control network, is engaged when people focus in on their thoughts. The third, called the salience network, helps to work out what best deserves our attention.
The first two of these three brain networks tend to work against one another, Beaty said, each dampening the other down. But the scans suggest that more creative people can better engage both networks at once. “It might be easier for creative thinkers to bring these resources to bear simultaneously,” he said.
Initial scans on men and women from the University of North Carolina were backed up by further scans in Austrian and Chinese volunteers. To make sure enough creative people took part in the study, the researchers recruited plenty of artists, musicians and scientists. Now, Beaty wants to look at brain activity in different creative pursuits, such as the arts and sciences, and investigate whether training helps boost creative powers.
In 2016, David Melcher, who studies creativity at the University of Trento, identified brain networks used in visual art. “A critical open question, for future research, is whether this ability to put the brain in creative mode transfers across tasks,” he said. “Do we learn to network our brain regions for creativity in new domains once we learn to do it, for example, in painting or freestyle rap?”
“There has been an educational policy, in many countries including the US, of reducing teaching hours in the arts and focusing instead on rote learning for yearly testing of basic knowledge,” he added. “We need to understand whether creativity is a transferable skill, a way of using the brain that students learn to use across fields.”
With Regards to Your Letter on Meaningful Interaction & Time Well Spent
A few days ago, you announced that your number one goal for 2018 was to make Facebook “Time Well Spent”.
This was especially gratifying for me because five years ago, I coined this term in a conversation with Tristan Harris (who’s worked tirelessly to spread and elaborate the concept, turning it into a movement).
Back in 2013, Tristan and I were worried about the entire tech industry, but your product’s News Feed was then — and is still — our best example of what needed to change. And that was before election manipulation, fake news, teen depression & suicide, worries about children’s videos.
Now that you’re on board with Time Well Spent, let’s get practical about how a company like Facebook (and an industry like consumer tech) can be retooled around “meaningful interactions” instead of engagement.
But I think the blame lies somewhere else: in the nature of software itself. I believe even the most well-intentioned teams, operating in the best possible culture would struggle with meaningful interactions and time well spent. Even in a small startup. Even at an open source, peer-to-peer nonprofit.
Why do I think so? I’ll tell you in this letter. Then, in the follow-up essay, I’ll say what to do about it.
It’s possible (but very tricky) to design software so as to address the users’ sense of meaning. But it requires profound changes to how software gets made! These changes make others your company has gone through (such as the adoption of machine learning, the transition from web to mobile) look easy.
But that’s what it will take.
On Social Software & Meaningful Interactions
Sometimes new social software works out well. Few people would come out to a protest of Wikipedia, Couchsurfing, or Meetup, for example. These products — and the social changes that come with them — are welcomed, even embraced.
But people are less enthusiastic about Facebook, Twitter, the “Fake News” ecosystem, Uber, AirBnb, and even smartphones themselves. Why are reactions to these systems different? I think we need the concept of values to understand:
Values: The ideas a person has about how they want to live, especially ideas about what kinds of relationships and what kinds of actions are of lasting importance in their life.¹
Values are like vertebrae: even if you never think about them, you have them, and they structure much of what you do. Values are ideas that direct the manner in which you act, rather than the outcomes you want. Let’s say you’re planning a social event, like the F8 conference you put on once a year. You might have a goal in mind, maybe “getting a lot of people to participate”. But while you craft your invitation, you also have a manner in which you pursue that goal (perhaps honestly or cleverly). Maybe you were inspired by a friend who writes cleverly, or by another invitation from someone who spoke honestly and from the heart.
And here’s the problem: generally speaking, your product (Facebook) makes it more difficult for all of us to live according to our values.
When a person spends hours on News Feed before bed, are they cultivating the type of social relationships they believe in? Are they engaging in acts of lasting importance?
Maybe! Facebook can be used in all sorts of ways. Perhaps this sleepy individual was planning a political revolution, or getting feedback on their first-ever breakdance video.
But many of us wake up the next day feeling like our late-night scrolling session was a waste of time. That’s because living according to our values doesn’t happen automatically. Some social environments make being honest more difficult, while others make it easier. It is similar with courage, creativity, and with every other manner in which a person wants to act or relate to others.
As we’ll see below, social software simplifies and expedites certain social relationships, and certain actions, at the expense of others. And if the simplified actions and relationships weren’t designed with a users’ particular values in mind, then using the software can make living by their values more difficult, which leaves them feeling like their time was not well spent.
For example, it may be harder to live by the value of honesty on Instagram, if honest posts get fewer likes. Similarly, a courageous statement on Twitter could lead to harassing replies. On every platform, a person who wants to be attentive to their friends can find themselves in a state of frazzled distraction.
As users, we end up acting and socializing in ways we don’t believe in, and later regret. We act against our values: by procrastinating from work, by avoiding our feelings, by pandering to other people’s opinions, by participating in a hateful mob reacting to the news, and so on.
This is one of the hidden costs of social software. Let’s call it the cost of values-misaligned systems.
Any social environment can be misaligned with our values, but with social software it is harder to resist. Compared to past social systems — governed by social conventions or laws — software gives less space for personal reinterpretation or disobedience. It tends to code up exactly how we are intended to interact.
Our Choices Are Structured
Consider how social conventions shape our lives: teenagers are ostracized for wearing the wrong clothes, adults for saying the wrong words or spouting unpopular beliefs. But it’s still possible to flout convention, and by operating expressively, outside of conventions, a person can sometimes initiate a new trend or subculture. With software, on the other hand, acting in a way the designers didn’t intend is often impossible: a user can’t sing “Thrift Shop” to a stranger on Tinder or wear their Facebook cover photo on the bottom of the screen. The software has structured the sequence and style with which they interact.²
We see something similar if we compare software with laws. Imagine if Twitter were implemented through government regulation: there’d be a law about how many letters you used when you spoke, and an ordinance deciding who wore a checkmark near their face and who didn’t. Imagine bureaucrats deciding who’s visible to the public, and who gets ignored. Could a law make you carry around and display everything you’d recently said?
In practice, laws can’t structure social life that tightly. Even in the worst dictatorships—when the Nazis had Jews wear stars—they couldn’t ensure complete compliance. As law, the “Twitter Code” would be impossible to enforce. But as software, it’s impossible not to comply.
Social software is therefore different from laws and social conventions.³ It guides us much more strictly through certain actions and ways of relating. As a result, we have less of a chance to pursue our own values. The coded structure of push notifications makes it harder to prioritize a value of personal focus; the coded structure of likes makes it harder to prioritize not relying on others’ opinions; and similar structures interfere with other values, like being honest or kind to people, being thoughtful, etc.
This doesn’t just cause problems for individuals. In the follow-up essay, I show that the problems I mentioned at the outset — election manipulation, fake news, internet addiction, teen isolation/depression/suicide, the mistreatment of children — are fuelled by the fact that actors are guided along in ways that don’t accord with anyone’s values.
So Zuck, let’s return to the issues that you are struggling with: meaningful interactions, time well spent, and the future of politics.
Since they are connected to the nature of software, it won’t be an easy fix. But I believe you’re serious about making a time well spent Facebook, and serious about addressing the harms to democracy and society.
So what can you do? What can any software team do?
There are two approaches that could work: in the long-term, you (and other technologists) can learn to build software that’s less constraining, software that works more like social conventions, which can be defied, expressively reinterpretted, and remodeled by the user. But realistically, that will take decades of research, innovation, business change, and cultural evolution to achieve.⁴
The only other option (besides rejecting the idea of social software entirely) is to learn a lot about values, and to explicitly redesign everything to be as value-aligned as possible, making room for the broad diversity of values of your users.
If you go this route, technology products must be re-conceptualized. They must be considered as spaces: virtual places where people struggle to live out the acts and relationships they find meaningful.
Teams will face questions like these:
What are the variety of values that users have?
For each such value, are there features of social spaces which make practicing it easier?
How do users decide which values to bring into their socializing? How can software support this decision?
Are there more or less meaningful kinds of conversations? Is there a way to identify less value-aligned talk?
Can we accomplish all of this without imposing our own corporate or personal values?⁵
Tackling such questions may seem impossible. But this kind of focus on meaning can work out. It’s part of what’s made Couchsurfing (in its heyday), Meetup, and Wikipedia less objectionable than Facebook has been. They were designed with a deeper understanding and prioritization of the values of their users, as spaces for practicing those values. A complex and general product like Facebook will have to go much further in this direction
Following the surprise announcement Kodak stock price sky-rocketed over 60% signaling the potential game changing nature of this out of the blue pivot.
There’s a growing list of companies that have added language about blockchain or cryptocurrency into their names and mission statements, and it makes sense. Kodak, which just launched its own KodakCoin, a cryptocurrency for photographers. As soon as the news was announced, Kodak’s stock (KODK) jumped up, and as of this writing, its stock price is $5.02, a 60 percent gain.
KodakCoins will work as tokens inside the new blockchain-powered KodakOne rights management platform. The platform will supposedly create a digital ledger of rights ownership that photographers can use to register and license new and old work. Both the platform and cryptocurrency are supposed to “empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management,” according to the press release. The digital currency is meant to create a new economy for photographers to receive payment and sell work on a secure platform.
Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke said in a press statement, “For many in the tech industry, ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who’ve long struggled to assert control over their work and how it’s used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem.”
There’s also a precedent for selling artwork or illustrations through blockchain technology, as the world saw with the Ethereum-based CryptoKitties. CryptoKitties features artwork drawn by Guilherme Twardowski, who drew every single cat and cat feature in the game.
But while Kodak’s proposed blockchain-powered platform and virtual coin sound good on paper, it’s not clear why the photography company needs to use blockchain to achieve its goals, rather than just create another social media platform instead. It appears that Kodak, like the other tea and vape companies that received media attention last month for making the abrupt leap to blockchain, could just be trying to capitalize on the current cryptocurrency mania.
KodakCoin’s initial coin offering opens on January 31st, under SEC guidelines as a security token, and it’s open to US, UK, Canadian, and other investors.
Apple Inc. is weighing an expansion into digital glasses, a risky but potentially lucrative area of wearable computing, according to people familiar with the matter.
While still in an exploration phase, the device would connect wirelessly to iPhones, show images and other information in the wearer’s field of vision, and may use augmented reality, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a secret project.
Apple has talked about its glasses project with potential suppliers, according to people familiar with those discussions. The company has ordered small quantities of near-eye displays from one supplier for testing, the people said. Apple hasn’t ordered enough components so far to indicate imminent mass-production, one of the people added.
Should Apple ultimately decide to proceed with the device, it would be introduced in 2018 at the earliest, another person said. The Cupertino, California-based company tests many different products and is known to pivot, pause, or cancel projects without disclosing them. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment.
Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is under pressure to deliver new products amid slowing sales of the iPhone, which accounts for two-thirds of Apple’s revenue. In July, he expressed enthusiasm for augmented reality after the rise of Pokemon Go, a location-based game that uses the technology. AR, as it’s known, adds images and other digital information to people’s view of the real world, while virtual reality completely surrounds them with a computer-generated environment.
The glasses may be Apple’s first hardware product targeted directly at AR, one of the people said. Cook has beefed up AR capabilities through acquisitions. In 2013, Apple bought PrimeSense, which developed motion-sensing technology in Microsoft Corp.’s Kinect gaming system. Purchases of software startups in the field, Metaio Inc. and Flyby Media Inc., followed in 2015 and 2016.
“AR can be really great, and we have been and continue to invest a lot in this,” Cook said in a July 26 conference call with analysts. “We are high on AR for the long run. We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity.”
Apple has AR patents for things like street view in mapping apps. It was also awarded patents for smart glasses that make use of full-fledged virtual reality. Apple is unlikely to leverage VR in a mass-consumer product, Cook suggested in October.
“I can’t imagine everyone in here getting in an enclosed VR experience while you’re sitting in here with me, but I could imagine everyone in here in an AR experience right now,” he said during an onstage discussion in Utah.
Apple’s challenge is fitting all the technology needed into a useful pair of internet-connected glasses that are small and sleek enough for regular people to wear.
Google’s attempt to develop internet-connected eye wear flopped in part because its tiny battery ran out quickly. Google Glass, as it was called, also suffered a privacy backlash and poor public perception of its external design.
After that disappointment, technology companies largely turned their immediate focus to VR and away from AR. Google recently introduced a VR headset alongside its Pixel smartphone, and Facebook Inc.’s Oculus VR unit has teamed up with Samsung Electronics Co. on a similar headset. Microsoft has the most public AR offering. Its HoloLens product shows holographic images in a user’s field of vision.
Apple’s effort may be more difficult because the chips, batteries and other components that will be available in a year or two may still not be small enough and powerful enough to build slim glasses capable of handling compelling AR experiences.
However, given time, technical challenges may play to Apple’s strengths. The company specializes in turning technology that others have struggled with into easy-to-use devices for the masses. For example, Apple simplified fingerprint technology into an unlocking mechanism for the iPhone and took touch screens mainstream with the original iPhone.
Augmented reality “is going to take a while, because there are some really hard technology challenges there, but it will happen in a big way, and we will wonder when it does, how we ever lived without it,” Cook said last month. “Like we wonder how we lived without our phone today.”
After the recent earthquake hit, rescuers in the village of Chautara got two prototype units of the device called FINDER, or Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response. The core of the device is a system that bounces microwaves around to “see.” Crucially, it can discern faint heartbeats and breaths in people buried under several feet of rubble.
In this case, FINDER was apparently able to detect the heartbeats of two men each in two different collapsed buildings. The men had been trapped for days, under as much as 10 feet of rubble.
The protons are injected at a relatively low energy to begin with. But over the coming months, engineers hope to gradually increase the beams’ energy to 13 trillion electronvolts: double what it was during the LHC’s first operating run.
After 08:30 GMT, engineers began threading the proton beam through each section of the enormous circle, one-by-one, before completing multiple full turns. It was later joined by the second beam, in parallel.
The experiment teams have already detected “splashes” of particles, which occur when stray protons hit one of the shutters used to keep the beam on-track. If this happens in part of the pipe near one of the experiments, the detectors can pick up some of the debris.
“It’s fantastic to see it going so well after two years and such a major overhaul of the LHC,” said Prof Heuer.
“I am delighted and so is everyone in the Cern control centre – as are, I’m sure, colleagues across the high-energy physics community.”
Physicists are frustrated by the existing Standard Model of particle physics. It describes 17 subatomic particles, including 12 building blocks of matter and 5 “force carriers” – the last of which, the Higgs boson, was finally detected by the LHC in 2012.
Prof Tara Shears, from the University of Liverpool, works on one of the LHC’s four big experiments that will soon recommence their work, slamming protons together and quantifying the fallout.
“Of course in every particle physics experiment we’ve ever done, we’ve been wanting to make a big, unknown discovery,” Prof Shears told BBC News.
“But now it’s become particularly pressing, because with Run One and the discovery of the Higgs, we’ve discovered everything that our existing theory predicts.”
In order to explain several baffling properties of the universe, things beyond the Standard Model have been proposed – but never directly detected.
These include dark energy, the all-pervading force suggested to account for the universe expanding faster and faster. And dark matter – the “web” that holds all visible matter in place, and would explain why galaxies spin much faster than they should, based on what we can see.