In 2018, a famous Harvard study sought to understand which parts of the brain are responsible for creativity. Creativity, as defined in the study, is “the ability to come up with new and useful ideas.” To test it, researchers hooked participants up to fMRI scanners and had them perform both creative and non-creative tasks. They were looking for the parts of the brain that are activated during creative acts.

Ultimately, they found that no such part of the brain existed. Instead, creativity happens when the following three different regions of the brain—subnetworks which do not normally communicate—work together:

  1. The default mode network, which is involved in memory and mental stimulation, responsible for imagination and brainstorming
  2. The salience network, which sorts through ideas to spot important information
  3. The executive control network, which helps keep us focused on useful ideas while discarding those that aren’t important

In other words, creativity does not come from any particular location in the mind but is activated by the connection of subnetworks. Roger Beaty, one of the authors of the study, concluded, “People who are more creative can simultaneously engage brain networks that don’t typically work together.”

Human-to-human and human-to-machine collaboration

Historically, researchers have studied human creativity, the process occurring between the ears, within the brain, of a creative individual. But technologies today are enabling a higher order of creativity. Because of advancements like 5G connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Web 3.0, people can more freely co-create together. And people are able to communicate and collaborate with machines ever more seamlessly.

Professor Tom Malone of MIT wrote, “For a long time, the most important contribution of computers won’t be artificial intelligence; it will be hyperconnectivity—connecting human minds to each other in new ways and at unprecedented scales.”

Hyperconnectivity, not only human-to-human but also human-to-machine, is already creating what Malone calls a “Supermind”—a collection of humans, and now machines, working together in a way that appears to be intelligent.

Imagine: Instead of a world in which a company designs and prints two versions of World Series t-shirts so they’re prepared no matter which team wins that year, the shirts are co-created when an Astros or a Phillies fan sitting in the stands of the stadium during the last few minutes of a championship game livestreams the winning run with his friend who suggests they create a t-shirt commemorating the victory. They input some keywords through an AI art generator which then designs an image, incorporating the team’s branding and styles of past “World Series Champs” t-shirts that sold well.

Once the design is approved—perhaps by the vote of the two humans and the standards of the machine—it is sent to 3D printing facilities in major cities throughout the world. In less than an hour, the shirts are delivered to fellow fans.

The evolution of machine-to-machine communication

This scenario seems “futuristic,” but it is still comprehensible by today’s standards. The real future of creativity will be propelled not only by increased human-to-human and human-to-machine collaboration, but also by machine-to-machine communication.

Collaborative AI, according to IBM research, is about the “evolution of an AI ecosystem towards a self-governed community.” Autonomous AI systems will collaborate with each other to generate and act on new creative options. Because these systems will be continuously expanding, learning, and improving, it would impossible from our vantage point in present day to fathom the potentiality of such connections. Combine them with human-to-human and human-to-machine collaboration, and we will have reached the utmost pinnacle of creative possibility.

Similar to the three different regions of the brain working together to produce creative ideas, human-human, human-machine, and machine-machine connectivity existing at once may produce a “supermind” effect and will be much more profound than we can possibly imagine.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash