Yes, and… A.I. | Adventures… #63

Augmented intelligence, improvisation, and creative career choices

Yes, and… A.I. | Adventures… #63
Saturday afternoon in Toledo.

Hello. This is the Adventures… newsletter: a trip into finding your inner groove, creating work that sustains, and making more sense of the world. It’s put together by me, Howard. Not a subscriber yet? Change that immediately >

Greetings from Madrid. I’ve been in Spain this past week, speaking at a big tourism & events conference in Barcelona on how A.I. can be used in live experiences.

This trip has also been a timely reminder. Just as a prototype is worth a thousand (Zoom) meetings, the same is true of in-person connection.

At the conference I was part of a crew of 15 speakers, and many of us ended up hanging out together. We arrived with few plans or expectations - none of us had attended before - but it all came together in a wonderfully fluid kinda way.

Always at the back. Always.

Whether it was our conference talks and workshops, a late-night trip to a heavy metal bar, or visiting a backstreet tattoo parlor - the key to success came from two little words: 'Yes! And...'.

And while I departed Barcelona with new friends, I'd arrived in the company of two old pals: Keith & Colin.

Masks & Wimps

A few months ago I borrowed (ok, stole) Keith Johnstone’s book 'Impro' from my mate Tom.

Written back in 1979, Impro is a delight. It's ostensibly about improv theatre, but really it’s about being human - with 'yes, and...' at the core. The book is packed with tips, games, and methods, as well as the underlying principles that enable effective improvisation. Here are three of 'em:

  • Status Transactions: People constantly adjust their social status in interactions. Understanding and manipulating status leads to scenes that are dynamic and engaging.
  • Theatrical Masks: By putting on a mask, you can access different emotions, attitudes, and characters, allowing for creative expression and deeper exploration of the self.
  • Blocks and Wimping: Improv is all about making offers to others. 'Blocks' are when offers are resisted. 'Wimping' is when you don't make compelling offers. The aim of the game? Overcome blocks and avoid wimping.

As you may have guessed, this goes far beyond being funny or theatrical. These principles show up everywhere: in sports and culture, at work and school - and throughout our personal lives.

Keith Johnstone knows the principles inside out. And so does Colin.

Colin is a one in a million talent. Perhaps one in a billion. Yet no one's ever heard of him. Unless you’ve watched ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’.

Instead of trying to sleep on my flight, I went into a Colin Mochrie rabbit hole on YouTube. Like ChatGPT, his ability to take any prompt and immediately generate a unique, sometimes bizarre response - well, it's kinda mind-boggling.

Colin's weird and wonderful skill set involves tapping eclectic topics, making unusual connections, switching off the monkey mind, and being comfortable with the unknown. Sounds simple, but certainly not easy.

Mochrie can make a mockery of your mockery.

Perhaps because of this, it's well known that improv is not for everyone.

But I wonder if now, it is. Because it has to be. And it's all down to two other little words.

Small bets

On stage at the conference I said Artificial Intelligence (specifically AGI & ASI) now concerns me even more than climate change. However, our session offered a few simple ways forward. Here are two:

  • Technology = Technique: It's a way of doing things. The wheel is technology. So is the clock, the printing press and the QR code. Some people don't want you to understand these things. But you can.
  • Small Bets: Avoid the overwhelm by testing the smallest thing you can think of. Make the tiniest bet. As an example, Dave Gamble, head of programming at the Royal Albert Hall, shared 'What Would Albert Do?' - a chatbot that gives him tips on who to book to play at the venue. He built the first version in... 15 minutes.
The Royal Albert Hall. See those mushroom things on the ceiling? There's an amazing story behind them...

AI: Augmented Intelligence, Improv, Imagination

Speaking of music, these ideas also came up in two long-form features I published this month.

The first is a fascinating glimpse into how to teach improvisation, with Swedish artist Sebastian Muellart.

The second is one of the best things I've ever written (if I do say so myself). It's a deep-dive with techno legend Richie Hawtin on a new musical instrument that empowers teenagers to learn both physics and music. As he puts it:

“having a way to allow kids to find a sensitive connection to technology and unlock their emotions is a great asset for the world we’re leading into."

Richie Hawtin's creative career in three words? Combining Humans & Technology.

While the majority of today's clearest, most practical AI use cases are rooted efficiency and automating simple/boring/repetitive tasks, I wonder if the most exciting ones relate to what Richie is talking about. Emotions, sensitivity, connection... improv.

Why improv? Well, AI is very bad at it; yet paradoxically it can do wonders to stoke our own - human - imaginations.

These tools can get us past the blank cursor problem; bridge the gaps from concept to reality; unlock a new way of approaching about a problem or idea.

The key is in 'Yes, and...'.

Just as Colin Mochrie's mind pulls on strange threads most of us don't see, in our brave new world we need the widest possible range of influences. We need more of the unusual, the unexpected... the weird and the wonderful.

The big challenge for individuals, teams, and companies alike is to figure out how to best find their A.I. Groove. How do you get humans & technology in sync, riffing together as co-pilots and collaborators?

Whether it’s creating code, writing a script, sketching an idea, or figuring out which dish the crew will love most at El Xampanyet - the key prompt might just be...

Whose line is it, anyway?

I'm putting a lot of my energy into exploring these emerging A.I. Grooves, and helping others do the same. If this area piques your curiosity, do hit reply - I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.


P.S. Tell me what you’re doing, what you’re seeking, what’s on your mind. I want to know, and I always reply.


Confessions of a middle class startup founder: A refreshing take in a world with way too much bluster and bravado.

How to resist audience capture: The latest gem from Matt Klein - this time on the perils of social media sharing.

Silicon Valley's fear of AGI: A prescient piece. From 2017....


Arthur Russell - Calling Out of Context

I discovered this last week, and had to check the release date. Songs from the 80s, released in 2000, that sound spectacularly fresh in late '23.


3 things I’ve been doing of late.

  • Building educational simulator games: with A.I., of course.
  • Visiting Toledo: A gem of a city, with an extraordinary history.
  • Contemplating NYC: While I still love it, the trade-offs get ever tougher to justify...

Just one more thing...

Want more Howard in your life? You do? Well, when you’re ready, I can help you:

  • Bring out your inside genius and become a more accomplished teacher, presenter and speaker
  • Develop your A.I. groove
  • Create vibrant content and experiences that people actually care about

More info >

Btw - I aim not to check unsubscribes, it’s not good for my wellbeing. So go ahead... make my day.

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