The AI Equation: Making progress through imagination, optimism and fearless persistence
In today’s world, there’s no shortage of negative headlines about artificial intelligence (AI). Whilst concerns about commercially-led models, and irresponsible AI use, are undoubtedly scary, more often than not, we find ourselves fixated on the potential dangers, risks and uncertainties.
As humans, we are driven by the inherent need of our more primitive part of the brain, our amygdala, to scan for threats and alert us to trouble, which more often than not results in fear and anxiety.
The main challenge with this, in an Innovation context, is that it’s our more primitive part of the brain and when activated we’re not thinking logically or rationally when this happens. It results in a fight-or-flight response to ensure our survival, which in many cases is extremely helpful, even life saving.
But that is a huge brick wall when it comes to exploring new ideas and opportunities. More often than not the results in action paralysis and it robs us of agency.
Tim Urban, author of “What’s Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies”, suggests that humans have two modes of thinking which he calls the “primitive mind” and “higher mind”. Our primitive minds help us react quickly to danger while our higher minds help us plan and think abstractly about the world. We need both, but we need to activate our higher-level thinking to solve problems and create a better future for all.
Could our natural inclination towards “survival” be holding us back from seeing the new possibilities that AI technologies present? Is that prohibiting us from contributing to the futures of AI we want to exist?
We believe it could be.
Our team is made up of a diverse people, ranging from designers and developers to artists and scientists. What unites us is our purpose to use Digital for Good and the desire to unlock new possibilities to make meaningful progress.
Lately, I’ve been exploring how AI could impact – and even enhance – that. What AI technologies might unlock new possibilities to solve complex, wicked or seemingly “impossible” problems and how might they challenge the very foundations on which Torchbox, and our clients, work.
Creativity opens new possibilities
Creativity is a vital ingredient in unearthing new possibilities. Influential individuals like DaVinci, Einstein, Franklin, Tubman, Lovelace, Shakespeare and many more have all made significant contributions to art, science, civil rights, mathematics and literature. They were pioneers with an incredible ability to reimagine possibility, all evidenced in their amazing achievements. Creativity was one of their super powers.
So as you might imagine, I took a deep dive into the science of creativity and was represented with Ruth Noller’s famous formula for creativity. Her formula is that creativity (C) arises from interactions between Knowledge (K), Imagination (I), and Evaluation (E), all catalysed by the person’s attitude.
C = ƒa(KIE)
Given the most recent generative AI advancements, particularly LLMs, the line between Human and Machine “interaction” is further blurring. Generative AI systems can now be used as a partner in this equation providing us with knowledge, evaluation and some aspects of what some might say are elements of Imagination e.g. combinatorial thinking and other patterns of thought. These systems also allow us to solve problems in new and novel ways we just couldn’t before. It’s definitely not, however, a replacement for human ingenuity (yet or do I ever what it to be).
What this equation also resurfaced was the importance of attitude - a factor often missed in creative exploration. One in which is essential for both reframing problems and exploring possible solutions.
So, that got me pondering, is there an equation for progress enabled by AI?
Our destination is Progress, not creativity.
Our goal in the Innovation team is to find the new opportunities that AI advancements now present for us, and our clients, to make meaningful progress against their mission and vision. We aim to overcome the negatives, go beyond obvious technology-first efficiencies, ask bold questions, identify the most important problems to solve, and then explore what’s now possible.
That definitely requires creativity but that isn’t sufficient for progress on its own.
So what else is needed?
Innovation at its core is about creating and delivering new value, at Torchbox we do this by taking a problem-first approach. Identifying the problems worth solving, taking a systematic approach, and prioritising those that matter may sound obvious but is a crucial part of leveraging AI for good and therefore our progress equation.
A deep understanding of how far AI technology can be pushed, responsibly - what’s potentially feasible, is another. We need to understand the feasibility boundaries we can push, play and experiment within.
Another key ingredient is a positive outlook and belief in the likelihood of favourable outcomes - let’s call that “optimism”.
So far that gets us to new possibilities: New possibilities = problems that matter / (imagination x optimism x Artificial Intelligence)
But are they all the pieces of the puzzle?
Not quite, this equation only unlocks new possibilities through divergent thinking - there are 2 more critical components. It’s necessary to include, similarly to Noller’s equation, careful and responsible evaluation (convergent thinking). As part of this evaluation, we need to ensure we’re acting responsibly and scanning, mitigating and eliminating the unintended negative consequences.
And finally, for progress, we need to push on in the face of resistance. Change and Innovation is commonly resisted at first, we also need resilience and recognise when to push forward and when not to - or what I like to call fearless persistence.
Our AI Equation for Progress
So when you combine all these, our AI Equation, looks more like this:
Progress = (problems that matter / (imagination x optimism x Artificial Intelligence)) + evaluation + fearless persistence
What new possibilities will you imagine?
By identifying and prioritising problems that matter, and approaching these challenges with optimism, while allowing us the creative licence to push the boundaries of our imagination, paired with fearless persistence we believe there are completely new opportunities for meaningful progress.
Whether that be how we work, communicate, personalise our communities’ experiences or solve complex problems that are the heart of our organisation’s purpose - we can now envision, and have new routes to, previously impossible destinations.
Numerous inspiring organisations are already pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with AI.
What if rather than asking “What might go wrong?”, instead we purposefully focused on, “What might go right? We’d love to explore where the limitations of yesterday are transformed into the new possibilities of tomorrow for your organisation. Please get in touch with us.
This article was written by Andy, a human, with a little help from Claude, an LLM, to check spelling, punctuation and grammar.