Larry Kilham Blog
My father, who was an artist and creative inventor, was left-handed like Leonardo da Vinci. They were both right-brained. I'm not sure what it all means, but I thought you might like to know.
See more in my book, MegaMinds: How to Create and Invent in the Age of Google. It describes how people think creatively and how to use the computer clouds for more success. Steps and examples provide practical guidance for the reader’s projects. A number of people, industries, and development areas are discussed. Larry Kilham reviews the major thinkers such as da Vinci, Edison and Einstein and then moves on to the latest in computer-aided thinking. He reviews artificial intelligence and highlights its limitations and then goes on to explore the possibilities offered by Google and Web-based intelligence. To read the whole book, click here.
To make new theories, new inventions, and other great creations, we have to do better than adjusting existing theories and designs. We must move out of our conscious world and focus our mind in a new place occupied only by the new creation.
When an inventor comes up with a truly novel idea or insight, he or she has been exploring relationships, patterns, and associations until a productive interplay of ideas, images, and data of all kinds is found. That encouragement signals the brain that the chase is on. The mind is to be projected to a special little world encompassed by this project.
Einstein placed himself in speeding trains, moving clocks and elevators in space. This was more than metaphorical thinking; it was a mind transforming itself to another place. Einstein's strength came from his imagination and creativity.
My father, Peter Kilham, invented a phenomenally successful bird feeder that is the very familiar plastic tube with metal perches. He started by imaging himself to be a bird on a perch. Then he envisioned a geometry that would be most accommodating to the bird. Only after the bird was satisfied did he select the materials and manufacturing processes to make an attractive and economical product.
Very popular for some reason:
President George Washington knew that invention and innovation were key to American growth. He urged Congress to pass a patent statute where "there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science." In 1790 the first patent statute was passed and the United States leadership in industrial innovation began.
Almost two centuries later, President John F. Kennedy said in an address to the Irish Parliament in 1963 "The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were."
See more about vision and invention here.
“For three weeks, the Huygens probe had coasted, dormant, after detaching from the Cassini spacecraft and being sent on its way to Titan. Those of us watching anxiously felt a deep personal connection with the probe. Not only had we worked on the mission for a large part of our careers, but we had developed its systems and instrumentation by putting our minds in its place, to think through how it would function on an alien and largely unknown world.” So wrote Ralph Lorenz and Christophe Sotin in the Scientific American about their great space adventure.
These space scientists nailed it: to make new theories, new inventions, and other great creations, we have to do better than adjusting existing theories and designs. We must forcefully move our mind beyond the existing thinking about the subject. We must move out of our conscious world and focus our mind in a new place occupied only by the new creation.
Reduced to its simplest elements, what you are required to do is solve a problem or construct a work of art without a complete set of instructions or without comprehensive data. In a creative process you are using your imagination to make an appealing or useful whole from a set of components that would not appear to be sufficient or adequate for the job. To do this you need to see beyond mere recollection or simple association. You are projecting the mind’s eye to another point in space or time. You are putting your conscious being in an entirely different surrounding environment.
One way of looking at this process is that you will be creating a new mind out of your regular mind.
Einstein placed himself in speeding trains, moving clocks and elevators in space. This was more than metaphorical thinking; it was a mind transforming itself to another place. Einstein’s strength came from his imagination and creativity. For the most part his mathematics is a precise description of the relationships he discovered rather than the way he arrived at those relationships.
See more at the invention page.
Don't give up. In one famous incident an associate found Thomas Edison at his lab bench surrounded by a sea of storage battery test cells. 9,000 experiments had been carried out with no promising developments. His associate offered condolence: "Isn't it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done, you haven't been able to get any results?" "Results!" Edison replied, "Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work!" For a major invention like the light bulb, this is what's involved. Even minor inventions seem to take more time than imagined to get to the prototype stage. When you sell your company for millions, you can laugh about all those endless experiments and false directions.
For more on inventing, visit here.
As we get older almost all of us yearn for the carefree times of childhood. Despite the many problems that hemmed in almost every child, the child still has the almost naïve capability of unfettered imagination. Some people, very few, keep this imaginative ability through adulthood. Their imaginings leads to inventions, art, designs and explorations of many frontiers never seen before. Emotion is part of this creative formula, and perhaps the emotional element is what is hardest to reconcile in equating the human mind (or even possibly a dog's mind) to an advanced computer. Did you ever see a computer cry?
As I was leaving childhood it was the 50's and 60's. That was a carefree time bridging the national self-confidence after World War II with the hope coming out of the labs - big cars with tail fins, "Atoms for Peace," Miracle Drugs, Electronics. The world was not ready to think about the big ecological picture except for some strange voices like Rachael Carson who wrote so stirringly about impeding ecological crises. We forgot that a major reason that the Japanese entered World War II was that they thought that their oil supply was threatened.
I recall the excitement when computers became useful in the early 60's. As an engineering student, I learned to program those huge machines full of glowing tubes. A coffee pot was kept warm on an equipment rack. Replacing burned out tubes was as routine as sweeping the floor. Transistors were just being invented and circuit chips were a figment of someone's imagination. Data was fed into and out of the machines by punched paper tape and later by the familiar IBM Cards with the rows of rectangular holes. The most advanced machines, accessible only by pedigreed top researchers, had less computer power than today's personal computers.
At MIT I was an assistant to professor Franco Modigliani who later received a Nobel prize for his Life Cycle Theory of Savings. He would call me anytime, day or night, "Larry, it's time to run some more data!" This always seemed to happen on Saturday night and my date would help sort punch cards into decks to feed the hungry computer. The next day, Sunday, there would be printouts to review with the professor. The data for a typical run of multiple regression modeling would come from old published studies such as United Nations data about savings propensities by age, country, etc. Squeezed tightly, all the data for one run could be written on the back of an envelope. Professor Modigliani would review the correlations, modify his model, and I would head for the patient computer to do another run. The world at that time was ready for econometric-based economic theory but not major complexity.
A few years later, I graduated and took my first real job with a Cambridge, Mass. think tank called Arthur D. Little, Inc. One of my projects was working with an antisubmarine warfare team. We designed long-range sonar for tracking Russian submarines, and we also devised mathematical scenarios for predicting how the Russian submariners would try to traverse the oceans to the US. "He thinks that we don't know that he knows a special route free of sonar…" The thought gaming simulations were entered by a clackety-clack teletype to a time-shared sort-of-super computer far away. I think the net computing power was still less than today's better PCs. On at least one occasion, when the scenario became to huge or complex for computer analysis, it was simply assumed that the captain wouldn't choose to take that route!
Meanwhile, back at MIT in the 60's and 70's professor Jay Forrester and his colleagues produced computer simulations of many years of interactive cycles of socio-economic-resource systems of various entities including the world. Their results were described as counterintuitive and many of their scenarios forecasted the stagnation and fall of the world's economy somewhere in the 2020-2030 era. Oil would be running out and pollution would still be rising. Subsequent simulations published as the famous Limits of Growth. A group of European industrialists and others calling themselves the Club of Rome tried to rally world opinion behind this study. In the 80's, much of the attention drawn to these arresting findings found new causes and drifted elsewhere.
Early in the 90's I moved back to my native Santa Fe, New Mexico to sort of quiet down after all that heady eastern experience. I found the Santa Fe Institute. It was working on complexity problems such as modeling evolution and stock market trading behavior. This was an eclectic group of Nobel Prize winners and broad scale thinkers from a variety of disciplines. The Santa Fe Institute thinking tended to be strongly mechanistic. If you had enough microbes, ants, people or whatever progress would happen in a statistically predictable way. By now the computers had mega-capacity and so meaningful number-crunching analysis could be done of many, many micros acting as a macro.
But nagging questions were arising: what about free will and consciousness? Could these cause a powerful mind to jump out of the box of many micros and produce a major invention or bold new insight? Think of quantum mechanics or relativity.
Certainly, human intelligence adds additional challenge to the analysis. What is consciousness or free will? Can they be replicated by a Turing Machine or do they go beyond that mechanism? How do we deal analytically with originality, artistic expression, invention and unrestricted wanderlust? In the short run, such as over a week in the life of an ant hill or a stock market, these factors may not be significant. But in the greater sweep of history, these factors become key in defining civilizations and leveraging their success in forbidding environments.
Unfortunately the great issues seem to be swept aside as almost everyone seeks answers in search engines. There's nothing wrong with search engines up to a point. But they are looking backwards, not forwards. The Internet mesmerizes as the Muse of Dataland. We mine heaps of data and risk overlooking the glacial shifts or exogenous shocks.
Larry Kilham is a Sloan School of Management graduate from MIT, received three patents, and has founded two high-tech companies. Many of his product designs required innovative use of computers, and as early as the 1960s he was researching artificial intelligence (AI).