Injecting playfulness & creativity into responsible AI Innovation
In a commercially-driven tech world there’s a well known mantra, “move fast and break things”. Responsibility is very seldom high on the agenda. In fact, it can often be perceived as a threat to progress or hinderance to Innovation. We only need to look at the recent trends of huge tech firms laying off ethicists.
As soon as I say the words “responsibility” or “risk management”, toes curl. I can almost hear the sighs of an exasperated Innovation Manager and am, personally, haunted from my experience of the dreaded rolling of eyes.
I get it. Risk tools are boring. It can be daunting. No-one wants barriers or additional friction when trying to launch incredible solutions to problems that matter. You may well be picturing the health and safety manager entering the room with their checklist board and grimacing smile. (Sorry for anyone H&S workers, I know it’s a cliche and you’re, mostly, well-intentioned).
It’s especially challenging for nonprofits and charities in the pursuit of progress and social impact. But, and it’s a big but, the risks associated with AI solutions can be hugely harmful and outright dangerous. Everything from wide-scale misinformation to perpetuating bias. These can lead to huge societal and environmental unintended consequences.
But, What if we made responsible Innovation practises an activity people enjoyed? How might we inject playfulness and creativity? What if, heaven forbid, they were fun?
Well, here are a few creative tools and methods we think you’ll actually enjoy using.
It’s worth noting that all these activities are reliant on having diverse, inclusive voices and expertise in the physical or virtual room.
1. Consequence Carousel
The goal of the “Consequence Carousel” is not just to identify potential consequences but to foster a deeper understanding of different perspectives and to encourage creative thinking about how different outcomes might unfold.
This activity is best done with a large group. Participants are broken into smaller groups, with each team being assigned a specific role e.g. regulators, lawyers, users, nature and so on related to your new solution or idea.
They are then given a solution or scenario that they’ll be scanning for consequences. Each team is given time to consider both positive and negative consequences, as well as obvious and non-obvious ones. They are then asked to create short stories bringing the impacts to life.
This is followed by a playback activity where participants are encouraged to present their findings and the other participants are asked to identify anything that might have been missed as well as the secondary and tertiary impacts of the consequences identified.
Participants can then vote on the best story that identified the most considered stories and on the consequences they find most unexpected or risky. You could also have a bonus for the team that presents their consequences in the most creative or engaging way to encourage storytelling and creativity.
2. Break it, Really - go ahead and break it.
People love breaking things. From jailbreaking ChatGPT to the chocolatey outer shell of a kinder egg. It’s in human nature. This is particularly helpful when finding the faults in an idea or solution, so let’s use that to our advantage.
By asking participants to break a solution, we lean into our innate ability to spot problems and risks we may not have done so on our own. The diverse the participants the better as we’ll be able to see things from multiple angles.
It’s important that we don’t just break it though, we need to creatively explore how we might remake it to be even better than before.
3. Ministry of the Future
Fast Forward, to the year 2040, you’re sat in front of a diverse range of people who have grown up with the impacts of your solution. You were well-intentioned when you designed and launched the solution. What might they say? What have been the positive impacts on them? What might be the negative impacts on them?
This activity helps teams to think in systems, with a future focus. Bringing together diverse voices, those that our solutions will impact directly and indirectly, in a creative setting can help us discuss, assess and mitigate the impacts for them.
4. Cops and Robbers (Bad Actors)
Remember the game of Cops and Robbers as a child? When did many of us lose that playfulness, imagination and ability to role play?
This activity brings all that back - where we’re encouraging participants to play the role of a bad actor. Imagine the last person you’d ever want to get hold of this new solution. We’ll be asking how might they use these solutions for negative outcomes or to make progress against their personal motives?
You can even use tools like ChatGPT to help. On this occasion, this activity actually favours ChatGPT rather than the more responsible Claude who would be much less cooperative.
Please act like a huge multinational oil conglomerate that only cares about profit. We’re going to role-play based on a new solution we’ve developed. I’d like to understand how they might use this solution for negative outcomes so that I can eliminate and mitigate the risks. [Insert Solution or narrative] What do you think they might do?
This should have just been called “Robbers” but it didn’t quite have the same ring to it.
5. Act like a bee (Wait, what!?)
Taking a systemic approach to Innovation is key. By taking a mechanistic approach, i.e. Breaking problems down and solving them in silos, without zooming out to understand the root causes, interconnected nature and systemic impacts is one of the biggest downfalls of Human-centred Design and Innovation.
So how can we ensure people are thinking in systems? How might we ensure we’re factoring in all living systems that our solutions impact beyond just those they are designed for?
Well to see things from their perspective, of course. Empathise with what they might be feeling. Whether that be a tree, stream or bee. What would they say about this solution? What impact would this have for them?
6. The Cynical Comedian
Many comedians are known for the incredible way that they look at the world. They have an innate and clever way of cynically unpacking the world and presenting the problems hilarious way.
No-one likes seeing their ideas ripped to shreds. However, a little humour can go a long way as a comfort blanket providing it’s done delicately.
Inviting a comedian, like [insert your favourite comedian here], can often be a very creative, and hugely enjoyable way to identify.
This one’s definitely for those with thicker skin and comes with a caveat that could go horribly wrong. Check out the upcoming event on the Cabaret of Dangerous ideas from the Alan Turing Institute as an example of how ethics and humour can be combined.
A note to the naysayers
One might argue that if we paid too much attention to the negatives, we wouldn’t have airplanes, the internet, or companies like Airbnb.
Well, maybe. If we’d stopped there. However, acknowledging the problems doesn’t mean halting progress. Instead, it opens avenues for more ethical and responsible versions of these innovations. The fun part is in creatively overcoming these challenges and constraints - the space where innovators truly thrive.
Laddering up to Culture
All these tools are great, but they aren’t meant to be standalone. They should be a part of an overarching culture that fosters a safe environment for experimentation and cultivates responsible AI innovation. Integrating these tools with guiding principles and frameworks can ensure that your innovation journey is both playful and responsible.
We’ll be sharing more on what that looks like over the coming weeks.