When Machines Start to Play

Carl Jung was fascinated by the cognitive value of playing. To understand it more cleanly, he would spend hours playing outdoors as if he were still a child.

Steve Johnson would say that Jung was onto something. In his book “Wonderland” Steve argues that play has formed an important component to innovation.  The Introduction to the book starts off this way

In the early years of the Islamic Golden Age, around 760 CE, the new leader of the Abassid Dynasty, Abu Ja’far al.Mansur, began scouting land of the eastern edge of Mesopotamia, looking to build a new capital city from scratch. He settled on a promising stretch of land that lay along a bend in the Tigrus River, not far from the location of ancient Babylon. Inspired by his readings of Euclid, al.Mansur decreed that his engineers and planners should build a grand metropolis at the site, constructed as a nested series of concentric circles, and ringed with brick walls. The city was officially named Madinat al-Salam, Arabic for “City of Peace,” but in common parlance it retained the name of the smaller Persian settlement that predated al.Mansur’s epic vision: Baghdad. Within a hundred years, Baghdad contained close to a million inhabitants, and it was, by many accounts, the most civilized urban environemnt on the planet. “Every household was plentily supplied with water at all seasons by the numerous aqueducts which intersected the town,” one conntemporary observer wrote, “and the streets, gardens and parks were regularly swept and watered, and no refuse was allowed to remain within the walls, An immense square in front of the imperial palace was useed for reviews, military inspections, tournaments and races; at night the square and the streets were lighted by lamps.”

More significant though, than the elegance of Baghdad’s broad avenues and lavish gardens was the scholarship sustained inside the Round City’s walls. Al.Mansur founded a palace library to support scholars and funded the translation into Arabic of science, mathematics, and engineering texts originally written in the days of classical Greece — works by Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, and Euclid — along with Hindu texts from India that contained important advances in trigonometry, and astronomy. …

I will stop here in mid-paragraph. You get the idea. Baghdad was advanced for its day. And the genius of its most advanced thinkers was devoted to creating .. toys.

Toys? It seems that creating surprise and delight from surprise has been through the ages a great motivator to innovate. So what happens when machines start to play? At that point, we may achieve a strange sort of singularity.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s