Technology versus Art

Last week, I read the in-flight magazine on the Air Baltic flight I was on to Vilnius, Lithuania. It’s a big chunky magazine and can keep you busy for a short hop flight.

There was an article in the magazine about Stuttgart which really irritated me and demonstrates clearly the problematic thinking most people have about the act of Creativity.

The article outlines how amazing Stuttgart is (so far so good) and looks at all its attractions and history (also good) and then goes on to make weird remarks about how surprising it is to find so much art, culture and museums in a city full of technology companies and ideas.

As if these two things have nothing in common.

Art and technology are not polarities, they are not mutually exclusive, and cities do not face a choice of having either one or the other of these phenomena as a distinctive feature.

Technology is just as much a product of the human creative instinct as art. It is possibly more collective, more commercial and more practical, but it is no less creative. It is no surprise to me that a city with many technical minds, inventing and developing new and impressive technologies, can also play host to famous painters, composers and sculptors.

Why? Because creativity of any kind has a specific kind of vibe necessary to manifest. A vibe that includes a stimulating environment, a diversity of interesting people, positive feedback, communities of people working together and almost endless sources of new information.

New technology has always led to new art and new art has often led to new technology as the imagination paints possible futures from the pieces of the present.

This attitude I find particularly dangerous when you start to look at the advances of AI, robots and automation. The attitude of this writer would put man against machine in a battle to the death. In fact, machines set us free from dreary, repetitive work. They free up time (think the washing machine, the stove, the dishwasher, the ATM, self-service cashiers). And yes, they also take away jobs.

But if we are paying attention and not seeing this as a war, we will quickly see that this leaves space for better jobs that require more humanity, more knowledge, growth for the people who do this work.

When ATMs where invented, we all thought bank tellers were an extinct species. Now, there are more than before the ATM was invented. Why? Because now they are highly trained customer service people who deal with complex, personalised issues in order to stimulate customer loyalty, upsell and maintain the banks’ image.

The same can happen in so many fields. It’s time to start looking for the synergies, where the load that is lifted by AI and robots is replaced by meaningful, purpose-driven work that challenges and grows humans instead of beating them down and stupefying them.

To get to that point, we first need to stop insisting that Creativity only ever means art, and to start to see the magic of ideas, problem-solving and invention all around us.

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