Researchers look to boost crowdsourced brainstorming

The Information Age has drastically changed the landscape of one of humanity’s most creative processes, idea generation or ideation. The emergence of crowdsourcing platforms, such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, has enabled a greater, more diverse audience to contribute to the creative process from the comfort of their own homes.

“However, the very nature of crowdsourcing means that ideators can be overwhelmed by the number of ideas generated, rather than inspired by them,” says Victor Girotto, a PhD candidate at the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. “There are several issues that need to be considered in systems that operate at this scale, such as the organization of the ideas, as well as the subsequent convergence on the best ones,” adds Erin Walker, an assistant professor at the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering at Arizona State University.

In an effort to enhance idea generation within the crowd context, Girotto and Walker partnered with Winslow Burleson, an associate professor at NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing. Together, the trio sought to determine what effect peripheral tasks — such as rating and combining others’ ideas had on ideation performance.

“Embedding peripheral micro-tasks within the ideation process may enable such systems to move from passive to active forms of inspiration and support, resulting in a stronger ideation session,” said Burleson.

Through a series of four experiments on Mechanical Turk, the group tested their hypothesis, utilizing an online module of their own design. Each experiment had a control, an exposure group, and multiple task groups. In every study, where each group was given the same problem for which they were to contribute ideas. The control group only received the problem prompt. Members of the exposure group were given access to an inspiration panel, where they could prompt the system to display others’ ideas. Task groups were given access to the inspiration panel, however, subjects were required perform microtasks on the inspirations: rating, comparing, or combining others’ ideas.

“To determine what, if any, impact these microtasks had on ideation we measured the number of ideas generated by each user as well as the breadth and depth of their ideas,” said Girotto. Breadth is a measure of the number of concepts an ideator explored, whereas depth is the number of ideas within an ideator’s most explored concept. Furthermore, the researchers measured the number of inspirations each user requested, as well as inspiration influence — a user’s average similarity between an idea and the most similar of its preceding inspirations.

“Through our trials we found the performance of the microtask groups to be as good or better than the exposure groups in terms of the breadth of the ideas they generated,” said Burleson. However, the team found these effects to depend on two factors: time of ideation and productivity of the ideator. For time of ideation, they found greater effects on the second half of the ideation session, when ideators are more likely to be running out of ideas, and thus may receive greater benefits from inspirations. As for their productivity, it makes sense that those who generated more ideas would also be more affected by the different inspiration types, as they may be more willing and capable to use them effectively.

“Our research provides some support and guidance in explicitly embedding microtasks into ideation, which will not only be aiding ideators in their idea generation, but will also be generating information useful for converging on the best ideas.” said Girotto. The full findings of this research are detailed in “The Effect of Peripheral Micro-tasks on Crowd Ideation.”

Find more information at: http://faculty.engineering.asu.edu/ewalker/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CHI-2017.pdf

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Can robots write meaningful news?

Robots and computers are replacing people everywhere; doctors, pilots, even journalists. Is this leading to a dystopian society, or could it be something positive?

With this in mind, researchers from the Media Management and Transformation Centre (MMTC) at Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping University have launched the project DPer News (Digital Personalization of the News), with support from the Knowledge Foundation.

Digitalization is the integration of digital technologies into everyday life, but it is also the process of moving to a digital business. The media industry, and news in particular, is the starting point for the Dper News project, but virtually all industries are facing digitalization.

“The angle of digitalization is very much in demand today, and companies are eager to get help to transform,” says project director Mart Ots. “The general question is how can algorithms replace humans in repetitive professions? Journalism may not seem like a repetitive job, but when it comes to writing about finance and sports, it very well can be.”

In some areas, robots can be used to assist journalists by finding and analyzing data, but the journalist still writes the story. In other cases, robots could do the actual writing. The DPer News project wants to find creative methods for robotization that can help the news industry create more interesting news.

“DPer News is about how we can make news stories that are not just cheap and convenient, but more meaningful and personal. It worries me that just because we can get robots to mine and condense data, that’s all we’ll do,” says Professor Daved Barry. “Robots can target you and quickly give you the content you want, like the latest sports scores. But what about giving you content that would surprise you, that would help you think in out-of-the-box ways?”

Journalism, at its heart, is a very human enterprise. Can it be done by robots? Representing different views on this, the project involves experts on data mining, innovation and creativity, the news company Hallpressen, and computer consultants Infomaker and PDB. It connects with two other research projects at MMTC: DATAMINE which has received Regional funding, and the Digital Business Innovation Studio has received a grant from Vinnova.

The project team consists of Daved Barry, Karl Hammar, Anette Johansson, Ulf Johansson, Tuwe Löfström, Henry Lopez Vega, Mart Ots, Andrea Resmini, Ulf Seigerroth, and Håkan Sundell.

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Too much structured knowledge hurts creativity, shows study

Structure organizes human activities and help us understand the world with less effort, but it can be the killer of creativity, concludes a study from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

While most management research has supported the idea that giving structure to information makes it easier to cope with its complexity and boosts efficiency, the paper says that comes as a double-edged sword.

“A hierarchically organized information structure may also have a dark side,” warns Yeun Joon Kim, a PhD student who co-authored the paper with Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the Rotman School.

The researchers showed in a series of experiments that participants displayed less creativity and cognitive flexibility when asked to complete tasks using categorized sets of information, compared to those asked to work with items that were not ordered in any special way. Those in the organized information group also spent less time on their tasks, suggesting reduced persistence, a key ingredient for creativity.

The researchers ran three experiments. In two, study participants were presented with a group of nouns that were either organized into neat categories or not, and then told to make as many sentences as they could with them.

The third experiment used LEGO® bricks. Participants were asked to make an alien out of a box of bricks organized by colour and shape or, in a scenario familiar to many parents, out of a box of unorganized bricks. Participants in the organized category were prohibited from dumping the bricks out onto a table.

The findings may have application for leaders of multi-disciplinary teams, which tend to show inconsistent rates of innovation, perhaps because team members may continue to organize their ideas according to functional similarity, area of their expertise, or discipline.

“We suggest people put their ideas randomly on a white board and then think about some of their connections,” says Kim. Our tendency to categorize information rather than efficiency itself is what those working in creative industries need to be most on guard about, the researchers say.

The paper is forthcoming in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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Scientists win Memprize competition with best vocabulary learning method

Language learning app Memrise has announced the winner of its first Memprize: a competition to find the world’s most efficient vocabulary learning technique. The team from Radboud University and Radboudumc was crowned victorious following more than a year of in-depth real-life empirical experiments, involving more than 10,000 participants.

The task of the international competition was simple: find a way in which participants can learn the meaning of 80 words as effectively as possible, within one hour. The winning learning method, developed by a research team from Radboud University and the Radboudumc, was based on a clever combination of techniques and strategies based on research into memory and learning. Data were collected at the Donders Institute for Brain and Cognition and the Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University, but some team members currently work at different research institutes around the world.

Most effective and most enjoyable method

Overall, the winning method more than doubled memory performance compared to the standard technique of repeated study. The method combined adaptive retrieval practice, where the hardest words to remember were presented more often, and an introduction to mental imagery. A unique feature of the program: volunteers were asked to imagine the words in certain rooms so that they could later practice recalling the words by room. Besides being the most effective, participants also found the winning method to be the most enjoyable of all submissions. All data and findings from the project will shortly be made publicly available on www.memprize.com and will be described in a joint scientific article of all researchers involved in the competition.

Enabling smarter study choices

The Memprize consists of 10,000 USD, which will be shared by the team. “We’re delighted to have won the first Memprize,” says Gesa van den Broek, PhD candidate at Radboud University’s Behavioural Science Institute and Memprize project lead. “This was a fascinating project for our team, which allowed us to combine our different research backgrounds. Our hope is that these results will raise awareness around key findings from the learning sciences. Learners who understand basic workings of memory, for example, can make smarter study choices. Therefore, it will be great to see the ideas collected in this project inspire the development of effective learning apps, a process that the team would be interested in being involved in.”

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What is innovation, and how can we awaken its dormant traits and cultivate them?

What innovation is and how it can be cultivated are two of the compelling questions raised in a paper exploring the potential for fostering innovation in students in the new issue of Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors® (full text).

“Relatively little is known about how we can cultivate innovative thinking,” said paper lead author Victor Poirier of the Institute for Advanced Discovery & Innovation at the University of South Florida (USF), “and even less is known about how we can help individuals use and improve their innovative powers.”

According to the authors, innovation can be defined as “the introduction of something new and different” that is created by inspiration and creativity. Innovation, they said, is “critical to improvements in how we live” and provides “social value.” The beginning of the innovative process is usually associated with “a fragmented inspiration” that is further developed by “joining with other fragmented thoughts to finally arrive at a creative inspiration.”

The authors pointed to six key characteristics of innovation:

      * The timing of an innovative idea;

* The environment in which the idea is formulated and developed;

* The time to develop an idea or inspiration;

* The time and organizational environment that allows for idea cross-fertilization;

* Learning from errors; and

* The development of an idea in one field that can be adapted in another.

While education may not be able to create innovative traits in individuals, education may be able to improve the ability of individuals to better utilize the traits of creativity and innovation they already possess. However, how do we cultivate innovative thinking processes and unleash the creative powers of the individual? And, by what processes can educators help individuals to better utilize their innovative traits?

“It takes a village,” explained Poirier, pointing out that Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park was an environment in which a variety of minds and skills came together to achieve innovative processes. Innovative industries such as Bell Labs, Xerox, Apple, and Google, as well as many of the federal government’s laboratory systems, such as NIH and NASA, are examples of creative environments that foster innovation collaboratively.

Innovative processes do not always create something new, said the authors. Sometimes they greatly improve something already in existence or help to solve a problem. Motivation, persistence, and goal setting may also be keys to this process.

“Contrary to the view that inspiration is purely mystic or divine, [it] is best viewed as an interaction between one’s current knowledge and the information one receives from the world,” suggested the authors. “We do not need to try to create innovative characteristics; rather, we simply need to show individuals how to cultivate innovative thought.”

The first step in encouraging and nurturing inspiration and innovation, said Poirier, is to identify the characteristics and traits that can be fostered and developed through education. These include: abstract thinking and problem solving; a desire to ‘fill gaps’; motivation; creativity; curiosity; taking risks with no fear of failure; a positive attitude; persistence and passion; dissatisfaction with what exists; open-mindedness; and vision.

These characteristics can be foundational to an educational process aimed at unleashing the creative and innovative potential that students possess. Therefore, as Poirier explains, our goal is “to develop an educational process whereby we could show individuals how to fully utilize the [innovative] traits they have, [and] awaken traits that are dormant.”

The authors acknowledged that there may be roadblocks or resistance to this process from both students and faculty, as there are many who think that innovative thinking is something inborn in the individual and cannot be learned. However, the potential rewards — including an increase in innovative production — are substantial and warrant meeting and overcoming these challenges.

To that end, Poirier and his co-authors are part of a team at the University of South Florida involved in an experimental training program in innovation. They anticipate future publications in which they will report on the results of those efforts.

 

Scientists pinpoint sensory links between autism and synesthesia

Concrete links between the symptoms of autism and synaesthesia have been discovered and clarified for the first time, according to new research by psychologists at the University of Sussex.

The study, conducted by world-leading experts in both conditions at Sussex and the University of Cambridge and published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that both groups experience remarkably similar heightened sensory sensitivity, despite clear differences in communicative ability and social skills.

Two previous studies had found an increased prevalence of synaesthesia in autistic subjects, suggesting that although they are not always found in conjunction, the two conditions occur together more often than would be expected by chance alone. However, this is the first study that has attempted to draw a definitive symptomatic link between the two.

Synaesthesia and autism seem on the surface to be rather different things, with synaesthesia defined as a ‘joining of the senses’ in which music may trigger colours or words may trigger tastes, and autism defined by impaired social understanding and communication.

The new research shows that both groups report heightened sensory sensitivity, such as an aversion to certain sounds and lights, as well as reporting differences in their tendency to attend to detail. However, the synaesthetes tended not to report difficulties on the traditional communicative symptoms that usually define autism. While the research shows that there are certainly links between the two conditions, these appear to be sensory rather than social.

The study was led by Professor Jamie Ward, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Co-Director Sussex Neuroscience group, alongside Sussex Psychology colleague, Professor Julia Simner; and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Autism Research Centre.

Commenting on the research, Prof Ward said: “Synaesthesia has traditionally been considered more of a gift than an impairment, whereas the opposite could often be said of autism. Our research suggests that the two have much more in common than was previously thought, and that many of the sensory traits that autistic people possess are also found in those who experience synaesthesia.

“Though further research is required, our understanding of autism in the context of synaesthetic abilities may help us unlock the secrets of some of the more positive aspects of autism, such as savantism, while also uncovering further neurological links between the two conditions.”

Another research paper by the group of researchers, looking more closely at the question of savantism in people with autism, is also due to be published soon.

Reinforcing their initial research, it shows that synaesthesia tends to be particularly prevalent in people with autism who also have unexpected ‘savant’ abilities, such as superior abilities in arithmetic, memory and art.

Prof Ward added: “Though some theories propose a causal link between increased sensory sensitivity and impaired social functioning in people with autism, our research so far demonstrates the value of considering synaesthesia on the same spectrum as autism from a sensory point of view.

We hope in future to be able to continue to explore the relationship between perceptual, cognitive and social symptoms and abilities in autistic and synaesthetic people.”

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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s — a key discovery about human memory

As Superman flies over the city, people on the ground famously suppose they see a bird, then a plane, and then finally realize it’s a superhero. But they haven’t just spotted the Man of Steel — they’ve experienced the ideal conditions to create a very strong memory of him.

Johns Hopkins University cognitive psychologists are the first to link human’s long-term visual memory with how things move. The key, they found, lies in whether we can visually track an object. When people see Superman, they don’t think they’re seeing a bird, a plane and a superhero. They know it’s just one thing — even though the distance, lighting and angle change how he looks.

People’s memory improves significantly with rich details about how an object’s appearance changes as it moves through space and time, the researchers concluded. The findings, which shed light on long-term memory and could advance machine learning technology, appear in this month’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

“The way I look is only a small part of how you know who I am,” said co-author Jonathan Flombaum, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “If you see me move across a room, you’re getting data about how I look from different distances and in different lighting and from different angles. Will this help you recognize me later? No one has ever asked that question. We find that the answer is yes.”

Humans have a remarkable memory for objects, says co-author Mark Schurgin, a graduate student in Flombaum’s Visual Thinking Lab. We recognize things we haven’t seen in decades — like eight-track tapes and subway tokens. We know the faces of neighbors we’ve never even met. And very small children will often point to a toy in a store after seeing it just once on TV.

Though people almost never encounter a single object the exact same way twice, we recognize them anyway.

Schurgin and Flombaum wondered if people’s vast ability for recall, a skill machines and computers cannot come close to matching, had something to do with our “core knowledge” of the world, the innate understanding of basic physics that all humans, and many animals, are born with. Specifically, everyone knows something can’t be in two places at once. So if we see one thing moving from place to place, our brain has a chance to see it in varying circumstances — and a chance to form a stronger memory of it.

Likewise, if something is behaving erratically and we can’t be sure we’re seeing just one thing, those memories won’t form.

“With visual memory, what matters to our brain is that an object is the same,” Flombaum said. “People are more likely to recognize an object if they see it at least twice, moving in the same path.”

The researchers tested the theory in a series of experiments where people were shown very short video clips of moving objects, then given memory tests. Sometimes the objects appeared to move across the screen as a single object would. Other times they moved in ways we wouldn’t expect a single object to move, such as popping out from one side of the screen and then the other.

In every experiment, subjects had significantly better memories — as much as nearly 20 percent better — of trackable objects that moved according to our expectations, the researchers found.

“Your brain has certain automatic rules for how it expects things in the world to behave,” Schurgin said. “It turns out, these rules affect your memory for what you see.”

The researchers expect the findings to help computer scientists build smarter machines that can recognize objects. Learning more about how humans do it, Flombaum said, will help us build systems that can do it.

Creative people sleep more, later, and less well

Do you ever dream of becoming the next Picasso? A new study at the University of Haifa comparing art and social science students has found that visually creative students evaluate their sleep as of lower quality. “Visually creative people reported disturbed sleep leading to difficulties in daytime functioning,” explains doctorate student Neta Ram-Vlasov, one of the authors of the study. “In the case of verbally creative people, we found that they sleep more hours and go to sleep and get up later. In other words, the two types of creativity were associated with different sleep patterns. This strengthens the hypothesis that the processing and expression of visual creativity involves different psychobiological mechanisms to those found in verbal creativity.”

One of the leading approaches to the subject defines creativity according to four characteristics: fluency — the ability to produce a wide range of ideas; flexibility — the ability to switch easily between different thought patterns in order to produce this wide range of ideas; originality — the unique quality of the idea relative to the ideas in the environment; and elaboration — the ability to develop each idea separately.

The current study was undertaken by Prof. Tamar Shochat of the Department of Nursing and doctorate student Neta Ram-Vlasov of the Graduate School of Creative Art Therapies at the University of Haifa, together with Amit Green from the Sleep Institute at Assuta Medical Center and Prof. Orna Tzischinsky from the Department of Psychology at Yezreel Valley College. The researchers sought to understand how two types of creativity — visual and verbal — influence objective aspects of sleep such as duration and timing (indexes such as the time of falling asleep and waking up), and subjective aspects — sleep quality.

Thirty undergraduate students from seven academic institutions participated in the study, half of whom were majoring only in art and half of whom were majoring only in the social sciences. During the study, the participants underwent overnight electrophysiological sleep recordings, wore a wrist activity monitor (a device that measures sleep objectively), and completed a sleep monitoring diary and a questionnaire on sleep habits in order to measure the pattern and quality of sleep. They also undertook visual and verbal creativity tests.

The findings show that among all the participants, the higher the level of visual creativity, the lower the quality of their sleep. This was manifested in such aspects as sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction. The researchers also found that the higher the participants’ level of verbal creativity, the more hours they slept and the later they went to sleep and woke up. A comparison between the sleep patterns of art students and non-art students found that art students sleep more, but this in no way guarantees quality sleep: art students evaluated their sleep as of lower quality and reported more sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction than the non-art students. The researchers add that possible explanations can be offered for the connections found between the two types of creativity and sleep patterns. Further studies may help determine whether creativity influences sleep or vice versa (or perhaps neither is the case). “It is possible that a ‘surplus’ of visual creativity makes the individual more alert, and this could lead to sleep disturbances,” the researchers suggested. “On the other hand, it is possible that it is protracted sleep among verbally creativity individuals that facilitates processes that support the creative process while they are awake. In any case, these findings are further evidence of the fact that creativity is not a uniform concept. Visual creativity is activated by — and activates — different cerebral mechanisms than verbal creativity.”

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