Where’s the big idea? #63 #cong18


What could happen if our ideas were focused on solving more important problems than serving the market and what will be our role in a world of artificial intelligence.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas are being stifled by the straitjacket of consumerism and the market

  2. As a result, really big ideas are in short supply

  3. Technology is likely to limit the environment for ideas even further

  4. AI could make things even worse

About Billy MacInnes:

Freelance editor/journalist/trainer Billy MacInnes is a former editor of MicroScope magazine. He has written about the IT industry, for a number of publications, for more than 20 years.

Contacting Billy MacInnes:

You can email Billy or follow him on Twitter.

By Billy MacInnes

Having read through a number of submissions to Congregation 18, the first thing I have to say is that I am impressed by how many different takes people have managed to produce on this year’s chosen topic of ideas. I had no idea there were so many things that could be said about the subject.

To me, ideas come in many shapes and sizes, great and small, good and bad, priceless and worthless, powerful and pitiful, rare and plentiful. But whatever they are, they all emerge from the same source: us. They are given form by you and me, by people down the road or on the other side of the world. How we give birth to those ideas is a product of who we are, who we aren’t, where we are, what we know, what we don’t know, what we see, what we don’t see, the prevailing culture of our time, the forces and beliefs that prevail around us and the things that surround us.

What this means is that ideas are often the product of their time and their culture. Today, our world is constrained by the forces of commerce, business, technology and innovation. Those forces act as a limitation on the scope of our ideas. For example, people spend millions of hours working on producing smartphones that are a different size with a better camera and more screen only for that effort to be discarded and superseded within a year or so – if they’re lucky. And that effort is duplicated across a number of companies producing smartphones. Every day of every year.

Imagine how much resource could be devoted to generating worthwhile ideas to make the planet a better and safer place for us if we were capable of thinking outside the box that consumerism and the market has wedged us in to so tightly. If people spent as much time coming up with ideas to counter real problems, such as world hunger, climate change, pollution, homelessness and over-population, we could probably eradicate many of them. Of course, it’s not just about ideas, it’s about turning them into reality and devoting the energy required to put them into action. But that’s the point, ideas are only the start of the journey.

The problem we face today, is that ideas on big issues such as how to save the planet and ourselves are being killed at birth or discredited and disparaged because they are somehow ethereal and don’t take account of “the real world”. Well guess what, the real world is everywhere you look when you’re not staring at your smartphone. And the real world is suffering because of a lack of ideas and action to try and protect and preserve it. Why? Because right now, the currency of ideas is profit, efficiency, cost and distraction. Those are the areas where ideas can make money. So those are the areas where ideas, anemic as they are in the great scheme of things, are allowed to develop and grow.

Essentially, we get the ideas the market is prepared to pay for. The biggest idea today, the one that has been elevated to the status of religious belief, is that the market will create the optimum environment. If something goes wrong, the market will correct it. But if we allow the market to become the straitjacket for our ideas and actions, our creativity and imagination, what are we left with? You only have to look at the government’s feeble response to the homelessness crisis afflicting Ireland to see the result.

In an environment where the market and commerce are elevated above so much other human endeavour, what kind of ideas are most likely to be created? What ideas are likely to be favoured in a world where people and governments have ceded so much control of our today and tomorrow to market forces?

Looking at that tomorrow, what happens to ideas in a few years time (assuming it takes that long) when the application of artificial intelligence and big data generates its own insights and creates its own time and culture? Who decides what ideas are the right ideas for that age? Who sets the conditions against which some ideas are nurtured and encouraged and the rest are discarded? Human beings or AI? More importantly, who gives birth to those ideas? Human beings or AI?

Philip K Dick’s sci fi novel of 1968 famously asked Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, so perhaps we should be asking ourselves: will AI form the ideas of the future? AI might do a better job of generating ideas that help to solve the world’s real problems. But it might not. If AI‘s foundations are based on the principles of the market and it suffers from the same restrictions on imagination, creativity and vision, do we really believe those ideas will be any more effective than they are today? We might also want to ask ourselves if there’s any reason why those ideas should include us.

Which leads to another question: is there a point where the idea dies? If an idea isn’t created by a human being, can itstill be an idea? In other words, will the idea die if we die? Or will it live on through technology? An idea created by what was once an idea.

While Talking to Myself in My Attic #51 #cong18


Sometimes I just surround myself with boxes of my old Moleskine journals and talk out loud about old ideas. The A.I. does the rest.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. You shouldn’t hesitate to talk out loud.
  2. Let your voice make your story into text.
  3. Read and listen to influential voices.
  4. Share your ideas through immersive experiences.

About Bernie Goldbach:

Bernie Goldbach is a drone instructor pilot and a creative media lecturer at the Limerick Institute of Technology–for the next 590 days.

Contacting Bernie Goldbach:

You can read Bernie at Inside View or tune into his podcasts at Spreaker. He uses both Otter.ai and Rev.com for teaching and learning.

By Bernie Goldbach

I’ve been in situations where my gut tells me something feels just right. And over the decades, I’ve broken down what “feels right” by what I hear, how I’m influenced by what I’ve heard, and how easily it is to immerse in the feeling.

Writing about ideas for #cong18 feels right. Moreover, it feels right to talk about my thoughts because my Notes to Self are better formed when I articulate them through my voice.

Over the years, I’ve heard myself talking about good ideas. And through the emergence of clever technology, I’ve been able to share my thoughts through podcasts and through the written word. Surprisingly, my voice feeds my typing.

I’ve started using free voice-to-text services as a method of jump-starting my creative process. I just let myself talk and Artificial Intelligence takes over. It’s so easy to ask your phone to create text as you speak. Google Voice does that on many Android handsets. I’ve taken a few additional steps and educated two other apps to the nuances of my voice and now I’m producing this written copy just by talking about it.

I use the free Otter.ai app and also the machine language Rev.com app. Once trained and then used in a quiet space, both of the apps produce text content that is better than 90% accurate.

I also talk to myself in my attic while surrounded by several hundred Moleskine journals. Each of those hard cover journals have 190 pages. I normally fill seven Moleskines every year and my collection spans the every year of the 21st century. Occasionally I will go back ten years in my journaling to see what I was thinking about then. And then I start talking to myself while Otter.ai cranks out my thoughts on screen. I feel like a storyteller in my attic during my deep dives into my Moleskine archives.

Throughout my 18 years of teaching third level students, I’ve accumulated hundreds of electronic titles on my Kindles. I don’t simply read on Kindle; I write on Kindle pages. Kindle annotations are another major source of ideas for me. It’s so easy to extract both the original text as well as the notes I’ve made surrounding key parts of books, documents, and newspaper clippings on my Kindles. I’ve created lectures and practical lab sessions emerging as ideas from those Kindle extracts.

I buy most of the content that appears on my Kindle. Those authors I read on Kindle influence me. They add to the ideas germinating in my head as I try to sort out what I really think or what sort of plan I believe should emerge from unformed thoughts.

Sometimes I sketch snippets of thoughts as four frames of a storyboard. Other times I just let my pen flow and create word clouds inside hand-drawn rectangles and spontaneous circles. I can actually feel an idea coming into the light through this tactile kinaesthetic process inside my Moleskine journals.

These ideas have to get out of my attic, be spoken to my favourite A.I., and then shared outside my private space. In my case, that means taking my unformed ideas into casual chats like #cong18.

Every year, I block out a weekend in November to visit Cong. I’ve missed more sessions than I’ve attended but if you looked at my Moleskines through the past five years, you would probably think I was in Cong since the very beginning. This year, I’m talking out loud about sharing ideas and watching those ideas form on screen. If you’re in Cong on 24th November 2018, you can hear me voice my thoughts out loud. I hope to share ideas from friends whose stories I’ve followed.

Is it time to Brainstorm with Google? #35 #cong18


We are seeing technology disrupt and fundamentally change our society. Soon AI will be able to suggest ideas based on insight. It will change how we see creativity, but ideas will be a precious commodity. Where do ideas come from now?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Technology has remapped society
  2. Our notion of creativity and ideas need to change
  3. AI will one day suggest ideas based on data
  4. Ideas will be a currency that we need to invest in now to avoid disruption

About Cyril Moloney:

Cyril Moloney is a Director at Teneo, specialising in technology, with nearly 20 years in technology communications in Ireland and internationally, he has seen technology go from the back room to the good room.

Contacting Cyril Moloney:

You can contact Cyril by email , connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

By Cyril Moloney.

Voltaire once wrote ‘originality is nothing but judicious imitation’. In an age of data driven insights, iterations and reboots, are we in danger of losing the creative spark?

In a famous TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson said that we needed to re-evaluate education as we needed to teach and prepare the next generations for industries that did not exist. That was 2006;

  • Twitter was founded
  • iPhone was nearly a year away
  • Bebo was popular in Ireland
  • Facebook was two years old and was finally opening itself to the public
  • Google had just acquired YouTube
  • Cambridge Analytica was still five years from being founded

Fast forward to today and we are seeing more disruption at an ever-quicker pace. But are we seeing the ideas needed to adapt? Everything around us today, ranging from culture to consumer products, is a product of ideas coupled with intelligence.

Algorithmic Intelligence
With the coming of Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the next few years, will this be a milestone that will force us to embrace creativity and up our ideas game? At the most basic level AI needs data to analyse and will derive insights based on what has already happened. As it develops its ability to deliver insights at an exponential rate, is there room for ideas, or will we use AI as a crutch to create, safe in the knowledge that we reduce risk of that idea failing?

However, one lesson to bear in mind is that Big Data is not automatically Big Insight. Data can hide biases, be skewed or be incomplete. It may not represent the bigger picture or give you an insight that you can build on.

Ideas as Currency
Robinson highlighted that creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value’
As AI and other new technologies infuse into our collective psyche, we have no concept of how it will change our society, our working and personal lives. All we do know is that ideas will likely become more valuable than money. We can bank on AI transforming job sectors and roles. With that will come disruption, but also the opportunity to create new industries around it. If you look at the car, that not only made horse drawn carriages obsolete, it created roads, service stations, and remapped societies and human behaviour in less than a century.

To that end, we will need to fundamentally reassess how we encourage, foster and support new idea generation. It may be time to rip up things we thought were certain, as we may only have a few years to adapt ideas to an ever-changing reality that will create more questions and enable new realities.

A recent Microsoft and EY report highlighted that Ireland was beginning to ramp up its AI activity, and needed investment and support. Now is the time for government, academia, business and the artist to get together and generate ideas for a society that may not exist yet and help address new challenges and opportunities that have yet to pass.

In 2004, a book called “The First Idea” suggested the development of our higher-level symbolic thinking, language, and social skills could not be explained by genes and natural selection but depend on cultural practices learned anew by each generation over millions of years, dating back to primate and prehuman cultures.

We rapidly need to create a culture of ideas and creativity if not, we run the risk of judicious imitation, something AI can already do.