Systems, Creativity

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Arts and Science, ‘19

I have been running a series of salons for the last few years (together with XXIX). Guests included business minds, scientist and philosophers. Following a bit of reflection I decided to refocus the series from science (subject matter exploration), to a more meta place. Current tagline is: A Salon Series for Practitioners with a Purpose.

As I am planing next year, I would love for members of this list to suggest possible guests (or nominate themselves).


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Machines That Think Think Like Machines

“Machines that think think like machines. That fact may disappoint those who look forward, with dread or longing, to a robot uprising. For most of us, it’s reassuring. Our thinking machines aren’t about to leap beyond us intellectually, much less turn us into their servants or pets. They’re going to continue to do the bidding of their human programmers.

Much of the power of artificial intelligence stems from its very mindlessness. Immune to the vagaries and biases that attend conscious thought, computers can perform their lightning-quick calculations without distraction or fatigue, doubt or emotion. The coldness of their thinking complements the heat of our own.”

Nicholas G. Carr, from “What To Think About Machines that Think”, edited by John Brockman

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Lower Case

Intentionally not capitalizing could be a powerful statement. It is an act of building something new, free from any Cannon, any top town values.

Our new design needn’t match The Design. It stands on its own, seeking an honest and generous fit. It does not need a certificate. Our design need not a diploma, nor to be an expert (remember that robots are the biggest narrow experts).

It is Taylorism, Six Sigma, and the Standard that got us used to make Best, fast. But with constantly changing thinking schemes and self driving assembly lines who even has the time to capitalize?

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Being absorbed in or involved in thought is incredibly valuable. Firstly because it is innately human (machines can’t think [not for themselves at least]), and because it is good for innovation (assembly lines don’t think either).

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Tech Will Flood Itself Out of a Job


  1. Architectural, R&D, never done–before ideas
  2. Existing technologies in new applications
  3. Lowered costs and better consumer openness
  4. Incremental improvements
  5. Integration to new markets

In this mountain metaphor creativty is concentrated in the middle, the edges will slowly drawn by the output of the sector as a whole. New tools will reduce the need for developers to build algorithms (for example), so that company would have automated itself out of a job. Example of this might be graphic interfaces to build a statistical optimization tool, on the fly real-time translation, adaptive user interface to improve engagement et al.

This will happen across many routine areas of the tech sector, leaving the inner rings more protected from automation. Because this behavior is self propagating, it will also be exponential.

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Climbing Up the Decision Making Tree

Traditional design (up until today) deals with satisfying what people need. For when they’re out in the market, reaching their hand out to a shelf, looking for something to buy.

All of this is conditioned on a decision to have been made (I am going to buy a new car seat, sweater or potato peeler).

Design for agency could climb up that decision making tree, and help with the actual decision making process, independent if that decision turns money to your product (car seat, sweater and potato peeler), mostly because you’re already automating the production, distribution and sale of all of those.

Design that helps decision making is design for agency.
Design for agency helps people make decisions, without having an opinion on what the outcome of these decisions should be.

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Product Cycle’s Negative Space


In the every day life of our prospects a need presents itself to the user, and with some luck our product has enough of a mindshare to be chosen.

Once that need is fulfilled our user is still the same person. If I am seller on Etsy, my passion for a community of making does not disappear when I close that app.

Design for agency is design for the negative space outside the product cycle you’re currently thinking about.

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Design for Agency

Product design exists in the real world (outside our head). We have places we need cabs for, groceries which need delivery, and music we want to listen to.

Companies, and tools seek (needs, attention) and work with those externalities – mostly trading off needs, and value by reading our actions.

As tool–making is shapeshifting what does design for agency (design for the world inside my head) look like?

Plotting ideas on the scale of universality (plug and play, or completely unique, including steps in–between) could be a good place to start.

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On Universality

Tools are designed to be universal, of course. A hammer can’t change to be a screwdriver. With algorithms we now try and use context where possible. With data, sensors and other externalities we might try and change the behavior of our system (the catch–all promise).

Issue is that the context we’re trying to use is rule based. If you did this, then you would want that (note that actions are always external).

Like entropy, context is much easier to mess up than to get right. And with tools claiming false universality (say schedule all of your meetings) context is almost always going to eventually miss its target.

Rather than to try and catch external circumstances, against a perceived task, we might want to think about the individual (and not the tool).

What might that individual care about in an on–going (internal) basis. And what might we do to offer (on–going and not anecdotal)...

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On Experience and Efficiency


Experience and efficiency are opposite on the scale of the human condition.

You can plot poetry, art, design and industries on that line.

On the one side it is meat and potato mentality. Getting things done, with smallest expense, cutting fat wherever possible (MVP).

On the other, it is experience for its own sake, aiming for inner movement, that comes from a truly transformational moments. Looking at a canvas of splashes of paint, starring at the sunset, or otherwise talking about your feelings (or to your feelings = advertising).

The other dimension is our tools. Produced with impossible mission of universality (one tool for everyone), while existing in our behavioral reality (my world is different than yours).

Our lack of logic, or rather the predictability of our illogical behavioral (Kahneman etc) is well known.

Hyper logic, and brute force efficiency (machine learning...

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