They say that great stories start in Cannes, so it was only fitting that I should kick the day off with the bold and brilliant session entitled The Biology of a Creative Idea. Adam Horowitz (MIT Media Lab) and Benjamin Tritt (ArtMATR) delivered a stimulating and challenging examination of how the world continues to divide art and science, and how we tend to choose between either empiricism or experience, never both. But it is when there is a convergence of the two, when we value the surrounding context as much as the event itself, that we create something new. We create a space where art and technology can co-exist and sparks of creativity occur more readily.
Horowitz brought the language of neuroscience into the picture, which always gets me excited and a little daunted. Once we’d established that transient hypofrontality is when you give your brain a rest for a short period of time, say when you’re in the shower or meditating, and allow new neural connections to form, thus increasing the likelihood of an ‘ah-ha!’ moment, it all made sense. Children are highly hypofrontal and we have much to learn from them in terms of how their play is such a rich source of creativity. Intuitively, we know all of this, but it’s hard getting out of our own heads and our automatic thought processes. Yet we have to open up and form new connections (neural and physical) if we want to be creative and create cultures that truly embrace and fuel creativity.
The intersection of engineers and artists
Tritt’s company, ArtMATR, is an example of that very intersection of engineers and artists. ArtMATR has created robotic painting tools that use the motion, speed, angle, tilt, rotation, and pressure of a pen; all of that data is saved into a file, and turned into code. Into code that ‘paints’. The result is that you have a video file that shows the journey of a painting over time; we can see the numerous revisions that an artist made over time to perfect a work of art and that journey is accessible for others to see for as long as we want.
The theme of open access continued into the next session; What NASA and Space Exploration Can Teach Us about Creativity. James DeJulio (Co-founder of Tongal) began by stating why ‘open’ is good. We praise people who are open-minded, open-hearted, who welcome others with open arms. And yet we embrace closed systems and tend to expect the same people in our organization to solve our thorniest problems. DeJulio said that ‘openness is a catalyst to breakthrough’ and that you need new individuals and new groups of people to bring a fresh perspective to your issues.
Jason Crusan (Director of Advanced Exploration, NASA) was the case study on why openness is good. Space exploration is a $300 billion industry, of which $80 billion is funded by the government. That means that rest of the funding comes from commercial entities and that is to be encouraged. In fact, NASA see themselves as an orchestra; they’re creating the infrastructure that allows for commercial exploration beyond lower orbit. This stems from NASA’s mission which is to Share the Journey, to broaden people’s horizons. Their vision means that NASA is ‘one of the most open organisations in the galaxy’, the proof of which lies in their Tournament Lab, which uses crowdsourcing to tackle NASA’s biggest challenges. But being this open comes at a risk, the most recent and hilarious one being their Space Poop Challenge, where NASA called for solutions to human waste management inside a spacesuit for 5 days. The comedian Trevor Noah devoted a lengthy sketch to this on The Daily Show, but as Crusan remarked, if NASA can be this open, surely everyone else can.
I then headed over to the Inspiration Stage to see Man, Machine and Creativity: IBM Watson & Alex da Kid. Bob Lord (IBM’s Chief Digital Officer) talked about how we’re living in times that demand even more creativity, and that AI is both redefining what it means to be creative as well as enhancing human creativity. Many of our assumptions regarding AI have been shaped by popular culture, with film characters such as HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968) and R2-D2 (Star Wars, 1997) painting two extremes. HER (2013) offered a glimpse into a future in which AI would be more nuanced and emotional, and today, Watson can recognize the content and context of language, and understand tone, personality, and emotion. It has become the muse of artists, resulting in collaborations that put social data at the heart of the art. From the 2016 Marchesa & Watson’s Met Ball ‘A Dress That Thinks’, to the Anthoni Gaudi inspired sculpture that was showcased at this year’s Mobile World Congress, Watson is injecting innovation and creativity into the arts and the result is something completely new and thought -provoking.
The creative process
Music Producer and Grammy nominee Alex da Kid shared his creative process with the audience and it was refreshingly honest and funny. It all starts with a dinner (or in Cannes it might be a long lunch!) where he talks to people about the things that they wouldn’t usually tell anyone, because ultimately, he’s after the truth. He wants to go beneath the surface of what the artist says is their vision for an album and figure out what’s really driving them. His need to understand individual human behavior ultimately allows him to tap into the shared experiences that we all feel, and this is where Watson comes in. Watson gave Alex da Kid insight into what was going in society at the time, and revealed that there was a global movement towards darker songs, which in turn influenced the direction of the first cognitive song ‘Not Easy’. He’s now using Watson to analyse the lyrics of award-winning songs over the years to understand human motivation and preference shifts over time. Watson therefore serves as one more point of inspiration in the creative process.
Our desire to access creativity at will for ourselves, for our organisations, even for the systems that we develop is why these sessions were packed. We heard repeatedly that creativity comes from new encounters with man or machine, and that made me think about the importance of festivals like this. When we meet new people and we create a space for spontaneity, wonderful things can happen. Whether it’s your first or thirty-first year at Cannes, the festival delivers inspiration and education if you’re ready for it. I’m looking forward to Day 2.