Can computers help you think?

Contents


Can computers help you think?

What is meant by the term Creativity Software? Do computers have any relevance in the task of generating ideas and helping people think of new advertising slogans, write novels or business plans, or think of new uses for things, or find a new way of doing things?

In much the same way that a Word-processor does not directly help a writer create a better story, the computer is a tool enabling the writer to do some things better, such as moving text around, easy deletion and inserting text in the middle of sentences.

I like to use the metaphor of a carpenter's workshop. When I was in primary school, I liked to make things with wood. I was only allowed to use the brace and bit for drilling holes, and the handsaw for cutting. What I was able to produce and the time taken were limited to the power of the tools and my energy in operating them. Now I use an electric drill, power sander, and circular saw, enabling me to make many more things in less time, with greater precision and using much less energy.

The steps of the creative process where software can be used include generating ideas, recording ideas, manipulating ideas, and implementing ideas. Many thinking techniques which are performed manually, maybe with pen and paper can potentially be encapsulated in a program. The main benefits are the compact storage and ease of access.

Computers are good at storing information and retrieving this information. They are also very good at manipulating information - sorting, selecting and picking random items from lists.

Who could use this software?

Just about anyone could benefit from using software that helps generate ideas. Some of the uses would be to generate ideas for writing stories, articles or scripts, advertising campaigns, names of products or projects, what to buy your mother for your birthday, or even for your child's "show and tell" time.

A Lexicon of Software

Contents

  1. Text based outliners
  2. Visual Outliners
  3. Idea processing
  4. Questioning Programs
  5. Story Development
  6. Idea Implementation
  7. Idea Prompting/Reference Tools
  8. Idea Stimulators
  9. Communications (and the Internet)
  10. Games
  11. Artificial Intelligence

1. Text based outliners

Outliners appeared quite early on the personal computer scene, with Thinktank for DOS. An article from the Sydney Morning Herald discusses outliners. Modern-day word-processors usually have an outline mode built in, such as Microsoft Word, however specialised outliners are available, e.g. Acta or More.

Powerpoint from Microsoft contains an outline mode, but this is designed to produce presentation slides or handouts. This could be useful in a brain-storming session or meeting.

2. Visual Outliners

Many programs attempt to automate the process of drawing graphical outlines, mind maps, and concept maps. Some people rave over such programs, but I still like drawing maps with pen and paper. These programs are certainly useful for presentations and publication. Examples include

3. Idea processing

Word processors are great for processing words, but what program do you use to process ideas? The Axon Idea Processor is such a program, and offers a visual workbench with a range of tools to record, process and manipulate ideas.

4. Questioning Programs

Several programs take a relatively small amount of input from the user, and then use sets of questions, keywords, or exercises to provoke new ideas. The Creative Whack Pack, for example, is a computer representation of 64 cards. An idea is presented, and cards picked at random to provoke ideas. MindLink, and Idea-Fisher are two key products in this area.

5. Story Development

These programs are aimed specifically at writers of fiction.

6. Idea Implementation

Once you have a good idea, it needs to be implemented. Depending on the size and scope of the project, a Project management package could be used (Mac Project, Microsoft Project), a task management package such as In Control, or perhaps just a to-do list manager.

7. Idea Prompting/Reference Tools

The next area of computer software uses the computers ability to store large amounts of information and to retrieve it quickly. Some examples include

8. Idea Stimulators

Program to display Quotations or Affirmations at random can be useful for triggering ideas, as well as (abstract) Pictures and lists of various items, including male and femaile names.
The Axon Idea Processor contains many such lists.

A program is a good way to get a random word, and some of the fortune-telling systems (I-Ching, Tarot and Runes) could be adapted to help with idea generation.

9. Communications (and the Internet)

The global reach of world-wide communications, including the Internet is a great way to bring people together for communicating and sharing ideas. The Grouputer program is used for bringing people together in a virtual meeting room and facilitate the generation of ideas.

Some of the ways communications could be used include:

10. Games

Games are a valid method of taking a break from the task at hand, as well as developing thinking skills. The most popular strategy games include Chess, Checkers, Go, Reversi and Japanese Chess (Shogi). Computer versions exist of all these programs for a variety of mchines.

11. Artificial Intelligence

The field of Artificial Intelligence (or AI for short) is endeavouring to make computers emulate the human brain. Using my metaphor of wood-working, this is similar to building a machine capable of designing furniture, and then building the product. AI may shed more light on how the brain works, but my view of using computers in thinking is that the computer is the tool and not the creator.

Some of the disciplines within AI are listed below, but do have a look at the special AI document on Jorn Barger's web site. Also have a look at the works of Margarate Boden, and her book "The Creative Mind". Professor Boden was in Sydney in late 1994 and had a few words to say about computers.

Hardware Platforms

Personal computers for all intents and purposes, means Microsoft Windows, therefore most of the available programs will only run on Windows. However, there are many good programs for the Macintosh, and personal creativity programs can be created with Hypercard. I have used Macintosh for five years and currently developing some Hypercard stacks to implement several ideas.

The real question of which personal computer is best (Windows or Mac) for creative thinking also relates to the type of person most likely to use such programs. Macintosh is very popular in graphic arts, design, music and desktop video.


The May 1994 edition of MacWorld contained an article discussing eight of these Macintosh programs.
Last updated: 1st November 1997