There is a danger when one creates a new product that, as the saying goes, if you only own a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.
But as I look at the tsunami of hype about generative artificial intelligence that is currently engulfing the world of information technology, and soaking the general media, I cannot but think that the eight-year journey that last month resulted in the launch of my PlayCards couldn’t have happened at a more opportune moment.
Today’s narrative appears to be that we have just opened a door to a brighter future/a Pandora’s box of misery by releasing products like ChatGPT that will unleash unforeseen human potential/enslave us to the machines in the coming months and years (delete as appropriate).
Having now reached an age where I can be safely described as something of a veteran in the field of information technology (30 years this October since I started working), I can both sense the excitement and smell the cynicism of an industry that depends on renewal in short cycles for its continued growth.
This current crop of data-driven, machine-learning tools is very impressive. It’s also deeply incomplete.
Imagine if you will seeing the delight on William Sturgeon’s face when, in 1832, he presented to the world the very first direct current electric motor capable of powering machinery. It took until 1864 until a version had been refined that could actually be used practically, and the 1870s before anyone had any sort of commercial success with them.
Of course the electric grid was another decade away, and it took until the 2020s until they’d start to be used at scale in personal transportation.
The thing is that invention and innovation isn’t really like how it’s portrayed. Whilst I’m in no way saying that the achievements of OpenAI with GPT is equivalent to the electric motor in the 1830s, I would suggest that what they have developed, through the combination of existing technologies packaged together cleverly in recent years is to create something about as useful as an electric motor. As in, if you don’t know what you are going to do with it, an interesting novelty. A toy, if you will.
Ask ChatGPT a question, and it will give you a clever simulation of an answer. It’s fascinating. It’s engaging. It, in itself, is pretty useless in the same way that the electric motor in my kid’s Snap Circuits kit is pretty useless.
When new technologies emerge they are almost always regarded as toys.
There is only one credible thing you can do with a toy. Play with it.
And the work I’ve been doing since 2015 has convinced me that not only do organisations and the education system systematically remove our abilities to play as we progress through academic and work life, but even more they make people actually uncomfortable using the skills that are necessary to really understand the possibilities of new technologies.
Play isn’t only unworklike, but you should feel bad about doing it.
In absence of such capabilities, organisations either apply the wrong approaches to emerging technologies, betting the farm on something that is still at the “just an electric motor” stage of development, or buying into snake oil from technology companies who do not and cannot understand the context of a particular industry to be able to make something for it that will actually serve a purpose.
What are the skills that organisations and individuals need to be able to play effectively?
They fall into three general categories –
Collaborative skills that allow explorative work in teams to happen effectively, understanding the need for diversity at many levels and for openness in approach.
Iterative skills that break away from the idea that you can know precisely what you will do before you start doing it.
Deviance skills that allow individuals to break free of the accepted wisdom to which they have been repeatedly exposed that makes play feel uncomfortable.
The PlayCards explore 13 PlaySkills across these three categories that help individuals and teams recognise, identify and build these capabilitiesthe ability to play. That in turn help them to, for example, work out what generative AI technologies might offer rather than just waiting for others to tell them answers that will probably be wrong.
There’s plenty more information about the skills at stamplondon.co.uk, opportunities to sign up for free primer sessions, and of course the ability to buy packs of the cards in both physical and digital editions.