By Thomas Köplin and Dirk Dobiéy
Part 4: Automation, Routine, and Play
Machines reduce our workload thanks to automation. They take on dangerous tasks, tasks that require precision, or tasks that bore us. The increasing efficiency or (if you will) intelligence of the systems makes it possible also to automate knowledge-intensive or complicated activities. Even though our perception of the associated benefits quickly wears off and everyone indeed develops their perspective on these benefits. No doubt, automating routine operations gives us new freedom that we can, at best, fill out with more meaningful activities.
The automation of routine activities gives us new freedom.
Moreover, of course, automation also takes some of our responsibility: the first thought of most people will be about potential job losses, perhaps followed by questions of ethics and security. However, hidden from it, almost unnoticed by the public discourse, there is another question that is central to our self-image and our future: What does it do with our creativity when we leave our routines to machines? What will eventually become of practicing, repeating the same actions that are necessary to attain the maturity that will make it possible to rise above it and outgrow it?
Without the foundation of routine, something new cannot be imagined.
The cultural scientist Andreas Reckwitz considers routine as an essential ingredient for the emergence of creativity. Innovation without routine is unimaginable to him. “To a considerable extent, writing a novel or painting a picture is a routinised technique. It also requires specific skills that need to be acquired and trained in an extended process. (…) It is not about a routine that relies on mindless repetition, but on complex skills.” Although he seeks his examples in art, it does not matter to which area you move. Be it a violinist, software developer or chef – without the foundation of routine, something new is unimaginable.
Routine closely links to our penchant for playfulness, which trains our flexibility in thinking and flexibility in action. Bernd Rosslenbroich, head of the Institute for Evolutionary Biology at Witten / Herdecke University, is convinced that the tremendous evolutionary changes were not just adaptations to environmental conditions, but an interplay and exchange of organism and environment. For him it is consistent and natural that more highly developed organisms start to play: “Evolutionary research that focuses on adaptation can hardly explain this situation because playing has no adaptive value. At this point, you can consider the playing of humans and realize that humans engage excessively in play. Children play very extensively. If you build on this thought, you can recognize a certain creativity. Flexible actions are practiced although no particular behaviour; however, a variety of behavioral possibilities are practiced. Flexibility itself is learned, and that’s creativity. This particularly characterizes mankind. We have degrees of freedom that we train by playing. “
Flexibility is creativity.
The many varieties of the play – experimenting, designing, rehearsing, composing, combining, improvising and a few more – found in the artistic, but of course also elsewhere, indicate that playing is an important thing for us humans. Moreover, rightly so: if you understand routine as a source of our ability, the key to creativity lies in playfulness, and the combination of both gives you the chance to bring about innovation. On the other hand, putting too many of our routines in the hands of machines automatically reduces our incentives to develop playfully. However, with that, we are removing the basis for a design competence and innovative ability that is repeatedly demanded from us by many sides.
Click here for the last part of our series > Ratio and resilience
In the fifth part of our series, we think about how digital intelligence could devalue our intuition and reduce our resilience, by overemphasizing rational decision-making.
This essay is based on our research over the past four years. What makes our findings true-to-life and applicable is that we have conducted more than 100 interviews with artists of all genres to date, but also with scientists of various disciplines and with numerous business representatives. We report on this in detail in our book “Creative Company” (https://creativecompany.ageofartists.de).
 Age of Artists. Interview with Andreas Reckwitz. 11/06/2015.
 Age of Artists. Interview with Bernd Rosslenbroich. 14/10/2015.
Image source: Franck V on Unsplash