Human innovation and the creative agency of the world in the age of generative AI

My newly published paper on the relationship between creativity, innovation & novelty, generative AI/LLMs, future potentials, and the creative agency of the world:
Peschl (2024). Human innovation and the creative agency of the world in the age of generative AI. Possibility Studies & Society, (online first, open access)

With the advent of Large Language Models, such as ChatGPT, and, more generally, generative AI/cognitive technologies, global knowledge production faces a critical systemic challenge. It results from continuously feeding back non- or poorly-creative copies of itself into the global knowledge base; in the worst case, this could not only lead to a stagnation of creative, reliable, and valid knowledge generation, but also have an impact on our material (and subsequently our social) world and how it will be shaped by these rather uninspired automatized knowledge dynamics.
More than ever, there appears to be an imperative to bring the creative human agent back into the loop. Arguments from the perspectives of 4E- and Material Engagement Theory approaches to cognition, human-technology relations as well as possibility studies will be used to show that being embodied, sense-making, and enacting the world by proactively and materially interacting with it are key ingredients for any kind of knowledge and meaning production. It will be shown that taking seriously the creative agency of the world, an engaged epistemology, as well as making use of future potentials/possibilities complemented and augmented by cognitive technologies are all essential for re-introducing profound novelty and creativity.

Keywords: AI, cognitive technologies, creative agency of the world, creativity, 4E cognition, embodied cognition, engaged epistemology, future potential, innovation, large language models, possibility, radical novelty, World

Download here: (online first, open access)

#AI #cognitivetechnologies #creativeagencyoftheworld #creativity #4Ecognition #embodiedcognition #engagedepistemology #futurepotential #innovation #LLM #radicalnovelty

The transformative and creative power of walking. Walking as co-becoming with the world

© M.Peschl

„Rather, it seems that I become my walking, and that my walking walks me… And with every step I am not so much changed as modified, in the sense not of transition from one state to another but of perpetual renewal. I am indeed a different person when I arrive… Walking is itself a habit of thinking. This thinking is not however an inside-the-head, but the work of a mind that, in its deliberations, freely mingles with the body and the world… I do not so much think while walking as think in walking… Perhaps the meditative power of walking lies in precisely this: that it gives thought room to breathe, to let the world in on its reflections. But by the same token, to be open to the world we must also surrender something of our agency. We must become responsive beings.“ (Ingold 2017, p 23)

Walking is not just moving from one place to another. Tim Ingold offers a perspective on this activity from the inside out by relating it to a habit of thinking, and even more, to an existential dimension. Cognition, no longer understood as capacity bound to the brain only, is embodied, embedded, and extended. In the activity of walking it enacts our mind (and body) through engaging in a relationship of correspondence with the world. We co-become with the world and the world is transforming us, enabling renewal and re-generation. The world becomes a source of novelty for us.
In the context of innovation and future-oriented work, we might think of walking as an activity of exposing ourselves to and engaging with the creativity of the world by giving our minds room (and time) to breath the fresh air of novelty. Surrendering parts of our agency and projections from past experiences proves key in this endeavor. Correspondence with the world means responsiveness to emerging future potentials.

Ingold, T. (2017). Anthropology and/as education. Oxon, New York: Routledge.

Emergent Innovation — joining forces with the world to enact the unpredictable

„Performers, based on their well-trained skills, and well-formed habits (which involve a heedful flexibility rather than automaticity or repetitiveness) are able to move beyond controlled engagement to the point of not-knowing (embracing a kind of uncertainty or surprise) about what precisely will happen—letting the system (brain-body-environment) move in unpredictable, surprising ways—without a prediction of what happens next. What happens next is that brain-body-environment couple in a novel way—they join forces to enact something unpredictable—they create cortical patterns, and behaviors, and new affordances that are unique to each event. Enactivism explains the possibility of breaking habits (declining usual affordances, resisting predictions) across the various timescales of performance, generating higher degrees of uncertainty about what will happen.” (Gallagher 2022, p 8)

Although the above quote is about improvisation, it offers important insights into an alternative perspective on innovation. Instead of understanding innovation as a purely brain-bound activity that is based on extrapolating past routines and knowledge, this text invites us into a somewhat paradoxical situation: on the one hand, to make use of our well-formed habits that do not primarily mean blind automatic responses and repetition, but that enable us to be adaptive and open to coping sovereignly with uncertainty, unpredictability and unfamiliar situations. On the other hand, it suggests to let go of control and prediction and to engage in interacting with an unfolding reality, as in a dance. In such an act, we enact both our world and our mind in a co-creative manner. This is achieved by making use of potentials that are continuously unfolding and emerging in a process of transforming possibles into actuals. Novelty is created by establishing new affordances and patterns of interaction. Innovation becomes an emergent process (Peschl 2020) that is driven by future potentials in the environment rather than by our own pre-defined (past) ideas.

Gallagher, S. (2022). Surprise! Why enactivism and predictive processing are parting ways: The case of improvisation. Possibility Studies & Society 0(0), 1–10. |

Peschl, M.F. (2020). Theory U: From potentials and co-becoming to bringing forth emergent innovation and shaping a thriving future. On what it means to “learn from the future as it emerges”. In O. Gunnlaugson and W. Brendel (Eds.), Advances in Presencing, pp. 65–112. Vancouver: Trifoss Business Press. |

Science and technology has become less innovative and disruptive in the last decades

A highly interesting paper revealing the decline in the level of innovativeness and disruptiveness in science (and patents) since 1950. This recently published paper in Nature is based on a study of an extensive body of 45+ million papers and suggets “across fields, we find that science and technology are becoming less disruptive.” (p 139)
“Relying on narrower slices of knowledge benefits individual careers, but not scientific progress more generally.” (p 143)

What does this mean for our funding agencies, our universities as supposed places of innovation, and academia in general?

The authors suggest some ways out of this development (p 143f):

  • scholars may be encouraged to read widely and
  • given time to keep up with the rapidly expanding knowledge frontier.
  • Universities may forgo the focus on quantity, and more strongly reward research quality, and
  • perhaps more fully subsidize year-long sabbaticals.
  • Federal agencies may invest in the riskier and longer-term individual awards that support careers and not simply specific projects,
  • giving scholars the gift of time needed to step outside the fray,
  • inoculate themselves from the publish or perish culture, and produce truly consequential work.

I would like to add:

  • interdisciplinary cooperation that is truly interdisciplinary (in the sense of integrating and synthesizing premises from different disciplines and cultures of thought). Innovation often happens at the edges and intersections of fields/disciplines.
  • engage in a mode of co-creation, co-becoming, correspondence (Ingold), and “thinGing” (Malafouris) with the world, leading to
  • assuming a more humble attitude of openness and a mindset of listening and of being led by the creativity of the world (see also Peschl (2019, 2020, 2022))

Park, M., Leahey, E., & Funk, R. J. (2023). Papers and patents are becoming less disruptive over time. Nature, 613, 138–144.

Thank you Thomas Grisold for pointing me to this paper

On the “creativity”​ of AI — Preliminary critical remarks

Praise for the creative capabilities of recent developments in AI technologies is ubiquitous in the media and relevant blogs.

Although really astonishing (as an example, have a look here [and the examples in the article]), creating novel ideas by using AI seems to have intrinsic limitations.

To us humans, these results sometimes seem really “creative”, “novel”, or surprising. However this is mainly due to the limitations in our own imagination, which is simply not capable of processing such huge amounts of data.

In essence, AI’s creativity is the result of hyper-complex processes of learning and adaptation that is based on an almost endless ocean of data/”knowledge” (without meaning). This has several implications concerning the underlying premises of such an AI-driven understanding of creativity and bringing forth novelty:

  1. These systems are based almost exclusively on already existing knowledge. Hence, their learning algorithms apply a strategy of learning from the past.
  2. This leads to a form of creativity that is grounded in the idea of (re-)combining already existing concepts/things. This is an accepted and valid strategy well known from creativity and innovation research. However, we have to keep in mind, that the results will remain in the realm of the predictable, or, from a Kuhnian perspective, within the paradigm of what already exists.
  3. It is a purely “brain/mind-based” form of creativity that does not take into account the world and its potentials (e.g., affordances) as a possible source of novelty (e.g., by interacting and engaging with it).

If we are interested in really “ground breaking”, radical, or disruptive innovations, these strategies will not suffice. As we show in our research, we will have to follow a strategy of Emergent Innovation, “Learning from the future and future potentials as they emerge” as well as acquire futures skills and a perspective on innovation that is grounded in an enactive understanding of cognition.

Will AI be able to sense the future by learning from it, its affordances and potentials, and from interacting with and enacting its environment?

How the future can drive innovation | Markus F. Peschl | TEDx Med Uni Graz

TEDx talk by Markus F. Peschl: How the future can drive innovation (April 1, 2022)

Innovation entails anticipating and shaping the future.

Why is it that most innovations are not so much about the future, but about extrapolating the past and coming up with more of the (almost) same? Taking a closer look at our cognitive capacities reveals that our mind has great difficulties dealing with a future that is highly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (i.e., today’s VUCA world).

This TEDx talk shows how assuming a radically future-oriented perspective will change the game. It is about actively engaging with future potentials and co-creating thriving innovations by making use of an unfolding future.

This talk was given at the TEDx Med Uni Graz event (April 1, 2022)  | #TEDxMedUniGraz #innovation #perspective # neuroscience

We used to tell the designers what to do, now they’re showing us what is possible

A recent McKinsey report offers interesting insights into the changed role(s) of designers in organizations: “Design the business, not just the product”.
This may come as no surprise to those involved in latest design research or design(-erly)-based businesses. The interesting point is that this report is based on a fairly broad empirical study demonstrating the (mostly positive) impact of a broader understanding of designers’ roles and functions in companies. “Instead of trying to ‘protect’ designers within the design studio, leading Chief Design Officers (CDOs) work with the C-suite to embed designers into cross-functional teams and give them the training and the tools needed to collaborate and lead successfully.”

See here for further details.

Innovation vs. disruption: Shifting our focus from disrupting markets to creating them

Greg Satell shows in a recent post why it is necessary to rethink our obsession with disruptive innovation and replace it with a mindset of profound innovation. Such a shift is based on value creation for “real” human needs as well as on scientific knowledge rather than on a strategy of disrupting existing markets by increasing returns of a few large companies with almost no increase of productivity.


Inflation of innovation (Ö1 Dimensionen)

Die Inflation der Innovation

Das Neue und seine wortreiche Verhinderung
Von Mariann Unterluggauer

Ö1 Dimensionen | Radiosendung  | April 26, 2021

Seit den 1970er Jahren, ist die Anzahl an Innovationen gesunken, sagen Ökonomen. Diese Feststellung ist aus zweierlei Gründen weniger erstaunlich, als man vermutet könnte: Erstens nahm die Anzahl der Jobs, bei denen nichts produziert aber viel geredet wird, in der vergangenen Jahrzehnten zu. Und zweitens ist es gar nicht so leicht, mit einer Innovation Gewinne zu erzielen. Profit aber ist die Maßeinheit für Innovation – ob sie nun technisch, grün, transformativ oder disruptiv genannt wird.

Auf jeden Fall müsse Innovation weh tun, lautet ein Credo von Investoren in den USA. Und vorteilhaft wäre, fordert man in Europa, wenn sie auch an den Universitäten gelehrt würde. Klar ist, schnell muss es immer gehen: gestern entwickelt, heute am Markt. Sieht man sich innovative Lösungen aber genauer an, dann haben sie nur selten etwas mit Geschwindigkeit zu tun.

Häufiger schon mit fantastischen Wortkreationen, denn mit neuen Begriffen lassen sich auch alte Ideen verschleiern und verkaufen. Und bei all dem rhetorischen Dauerhype ums Neue wird dann auf reale Anstrengungen und notwendige Investitionen gerne vergessen. Kein Wunder also, dass das „Konzept Innovation“ nun kritisch hinterfragt und mancherorts überarbeitet wird.

→ Link zu Sendung (©/mit freundlicher Genehmigung: Mariann Unterluggauer [for educational purposes only])


English Version:

The inflation of innovation
The new and its eloquent prevention
By Mariann Unterluggauer

Since the 1970s, the number of innovations has declined, economists say. This finding is less surprising than one might suspect, for two reasons: First, the number of jobs that produce nothing but talk a lot has increased in recent decades. And second, it is not at all easy to make a profit with an innovation. But profit is the measure of innovation – whether it is called technical, green, transformative or disruptive.

In any case, innovation has to hurt, is a credo of investors in the USA. And it would be beneficial, they say in Europe, if it were also taught at universities. It’s clear that things always have to happen quickly: developed yesterday, on the market today. But if you take a closer look at innovative solutions, they rarely have anything to do with speed.

More often, they have to do with fantastic word creations, because new terms can be used to disguise and sell old ideas. And with all the rhetorical hype about the new, real efforts and necessary investments are often forgotten. No wonder, then, that the “concept of innovation” is now being critically scrutinized and revised in some places.