A Brief History of Creativity from Athens to Silicon Valley


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"A Brief History of Creativity from Athens to Silicon Valley" (April 2014) at UC Davis - See also www.scaruffi.com/science/artence.html

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A Brief History of Creativity from Athens to Silicon Valley

  1. 1. "A Brief History of Creativity from Athens to Silicon Valley" (UC Davis, April 2014) piero scaruffi www.scaruffi.com
  2. 2. 2 Thesis • We live in an age of accelerating progress – "The 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress" (Ray Kurzweil)
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  4. 4. 4 Why did it happen here? • The technology, the money and the brains were on the East Coast and in Europe (the great electronic research labs, the great mathematicians, Wall Street, etc) • The great universities were on the East Coast (MIT, Harvard, Moore School, Princeton, Columbia), and in Europe (Cambridge) • Bell Labs, RCA Labs, IBM Labs • Britain and Germany won most of the Nobels • Transistor, computer, etc all invented elsewhere
  5. 5. 5 Why did it happen here? • The official history of Silicon Valley – Defense/DARPA – Fred Terman at Stanford and HP – William Shockley’s lab – Fairchild/Intel/semiconductors – Xerox PARC, Apple and personal computing – Unix, Internet, Relational databases, Videogames – The dotcoms – Google, Facebook, Oracle, Intel, HP
  6. 6. 6 Why Silicon Valley? • Until the 1950s the Bay Area was mainly famous for – Eccentric artists/writers • Student protests of 1964 • Hippies • Black Panther Party (1966) • Monterey’s rock festival (1967) • "Whole Earth Catalog“ (1968) • The first “Earth Day” (1970) • Gay Pride Parade (1970) • Survival Research Labs (1978) • New-age movement (1980s) • Burning Man (1986)
  7. 7. 7 Why Silicon Valley? The first major wave of immigration of young educated people from all over the world took place during the hippy era (“Summer of Love”) The first major wave of technology was driven by independents, amateurs and hobbyists (From ham radio to the Homebrew Computer Club)
  8. 8. 8 Why Silicon Valley? • Anti-corporate sentiment • The start-ups implement principles of the hippy commune • SRI Intl and Xerox PARC: computation for the masses, augmented intelligence Xerox PARC The first mouse
  9. 9. 9 Why Silicon Valley? • The Bay Area recasts both Unix and the Internet as idealistic grass-roots movements • Young educated people wanted to change the world • They did
  10. 10. 10 Why Silicon Valley? • Dysfunctional synergy between two opposite poles – The rational and the irrational – Technologists and anti-technologists – Hippies and engineers – Amateurs and corporations – Nerds and outlaws (the "traitors", Jobs, Ellison, Zuckerberg, hackers)
  11. 11. 11 Why Silicon Valley? • What Silicon Valley does best – Not invented here: computer, transistor, integrated circuit, robots, Artificial Intelligence, programming languages, databases, videogames, Internet, personal computers, World-wide web, search engines, social media, smartphones, wearable computing, … – Invented here: disrupting products
  12. 12. 12 Why Silicon Valley? “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” (Marcel Proust)
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  14. 14. 14 Creativity • Why do we value innovation, creativity and originality? • The history of human civilization is about removing the unpredictable from both the environment and society • Humans are genetically programmed to break the rules from a very young age • The biggest reservoirs of creativity are to be found in the slums and villages of the Third World
  15. 15. 15 Creativity • Creativity's peaks often correspond with periods of great instability: classical Athens (at war 60% of the time), 12th-13th century Venice (built on a mosquito-infected lagoon by homeless refugees), the Renaissance (Italy split in dozens of small states and engulfed in endemic warfare), the 20th century (two World Wars and a Cold War).
  16. 16. 16 Creativity • Peaks in the humanities often coincide with peaks in the sciences, and vice versa • Wealth is not a cause or precondition, but an effect of the creative boom
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  18. 18. 18 What is unique about humans? • Animals live the same life of their parents • Humans are the only species whose life style changes from generation to generation
  19. 19. 19 What is unique about humans? • Children disobey, teenagers are rebels
  20. 20. 20 What is unique about humans? • Animals only “innovate” when there is a genetic mutation • Humans innovate all the time Beaver civilization over the millennia Human civilization over the millennia
  21. 21. 21 What is unique about humans? • Art is pervasive in nature (eg birds make nests and sing, bees dance, spiderwebs, humpback whale songs, etc) • Each animal has the same aesthetic, generation after generation • Human aesthetic changes from generation to generation
  22. 22. 22 What is unique about humans? ……. Human aesthetic over the centuries Spider aesthetic over the centuries
  23. 23. 23 What is unique about humans? • Being creative is the natural state of the human mind • Creativity is what truly sets humans apart from other living beings • It is unnatural for the human race to be creative only in one field
  24. 24. 24 Welcome to the 21st Century • CP Snow’s “Two Cultures” (1959) – a widening gap between the two cultures of contemporary society: sciences and humanities • The age of hyper-specialization – “What do you want to be when you grow up”? • The age of accelerating progress… • …or not?
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  26. 26. 26 Accelerating progress? • One century ago, within a relatively short period of time, the world adopted: – the car, – the airplane, – the telephone, – the radio – the record – cinema • while at the same time the visual arts went through – Impressionism, – Cubism – Expressionism
  27. 27. 27 Accelerating progress? • while at the same time science came up with – Quantum Mechanics – Relativity • while at the same time the office was revolutionized by – cash registers, – adding machines, – typewriters • while at the same time the home was revolutionized by – dishwasher, – refrigerator, – air conditioning
  28. 28. 28 Accelerating progress? • while at the same time cities adopted high-rise buildings
  29. 29. 29 Accelerating progress? • There were only 5 radio stations in 1921 but already 525 in 1923 • The USA produced 11,200 cars in 1903, but already 1.5 million in 1916 • By 1917 a whopping 40% of households had a telephone in the USA up from 5% in 1900. • The Wright brothers flew the first plane in 1903: during World War I (1915-18) more than 200,000 planes were built
  30. 30. 30 Accelerating progress? • On the other hand today: – 44 years after the Moon landing we still haven't sent a human being to any planet – The only supersonic plane (the Concorde) has been retired – We still drive cars, fly on planes, talk in phones, use the same kitchen appliances
  31. 31. 31 Accelerating progress? • We chronically underestimate progress in previous centuries because most of us are ignorant about those eras.
  32. 32. 32 Accelerating progress? • Accelerating progress happened simultaneously in the sciences and the arts Monet Stravinsky Einstein Gaudi Edison
  33. 33. 33 Decelerating progress? • Today there is a lot of change • But change is not necessarily progress Insert here a picture of a notice from your bank that the policy for your account has been “upgraded”, resulting in additional charges Insert here a picture of the “new improved” release of the software application that you have been using for years with no problems and that now causes a system crash
  34. 34. 34 Decelerating progress? • Accelerating change is a why, not a what piero scaruffi www.scaruffi.com
  35. 35. 35 Decelerating progress? • Hyper-specialization in every field • Practitioners do not interact • Their audiences do not interact
  36. 36. 36 Decelerating progress? • Scientific memes are understood only by science world • Artistic memes are understood only by the art world • Not CP Snow’s “two cultures” but the “two gaps”
  37. 37. 37 Decelerating progress? • Science is often slave to an agenda of self-replicating research • Technology is often slave to marketing, profit, fashion • Art is slave to critics, museums and galleries
  38. 38. 38 Decelerating intelligence? • The Turing Test was asking “when can machines be said to be as intelligent as humans?” • This “Turing point” can be achieved by 1. Making machines smarter, or 2. Making humans dumber HOMO MACHINE IQ HOMO MACHINE IQ 1. 2.
  39. 39. 39 Decelerating intelligence? • Humans want to build machines that think like humans while machines are already building humans who think like machines
  40. 40. 40 Decelerating intelligence? (MIT Forrester Institute, 2012)