Why is success deceptive and what does that have to do with robot brains, and more important, our current paradigm of innovation? Because nobody innovates in a vacuum, we can look at innovation as a network phenomenon. Network activity can take things that seem distant or unrelated and prove they belong together. Like dropping out of college to tinker in a garage and later running a billion-dollar company. Or vacuum tubes and computation.
“Nature has an evolutionary algorithm, and it depends on emergence.”
This is precisely what Kenneth Stanley and Joel Lehman, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and authors of the book Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned, wanted to understand when they invented the Novelty Search algorithm. If robots can stumble upon the right answer more effectively than working a plan, maybe there’s a lesson in there for ambitious human beings.
Nature has an evolutionary algorithm, and it depends on emergence. Nature is telling us that wild goose chases can be good or bad, depending on which scale you’re zoomed in on. It seeks novelty and will adapt and assimilate nearly everything in its path.
Path dependence (time’s arrow), prevents us from mapping the great open search space that is the future. We only get intel from the past. Complexification prevents you from copying Steve Jobs’ success plan, and definitely Elon Musk’s. Truth be told, they probably didn’t have one.
So it turns out author J. R. R. Tolkien was right when he said that not all who wander are lost. Sort of. Science is letting on that “getting lost” from time to time seems to be one key characteristic of successful innovators. And robots.
Stacy Hale is Founding Editor of design4emergence and a generally curious person. She believes in teamwork as an evolutionary force.