6 min read

A Curious Compliment

A Curious Compliment
Prompt: "an abstract image of A Curious Compliment" ...meh

This week is all about curiosity. It's a superpower!

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Mad Science Solves...

As AI increasingly intrudes deeper and deeper into human capability, it's easy to surrender to dystopian visions of a future where humans are mere bystanders. Amidst this growth in AI, however, there's an overlooked truth. Human curiosity is not just an advantage; it's our superpower. Curiosity is poised to become our most valuable asset.

As AI relentlessly conquers complexity, it heightens the value of our exogenous fascination with the unknown. AI excels at crunching numbers and churning out code. Embedded within LLMs is much of the world’s knowledge. But all of AI’s astonishing capabilities derive from patterns in history--the known, the well-posed, the routine. Curiosity and creativity remain our competitive edge, the very essence of what makes us human makes us valuable.

Curiosity isn't just an abstract virtue; it's a quantifiable economic force. Studies have shown that curious employees are more innovative, productive, and engaged. They're the ones who ask the right questions, challenge assumptions, and spark new ideas. In short, they're the ones who drive progress. As this week’s Research Roundup shows, the most curious among us are driven by an endogenous motivation to explore, not simply answer.

Beyond the workplace, curiosity don't just fuel our zest for life, it gives produces healthier, happier lives. It's what compels us to explore new places and engage deeply with the world around us. It reduces depression and extends cognitive health. It's the driving force behind our greatest achievements and our most cherished memories. Perhaps most needed today, it is also the most powerful shield against lies and conformity.

Some may argue that AI can replicate our curiosity by generating endless hypotheses and patterns, but true curiosity is more than a random walk through possible answers: it's a quest for the right question. It's a pursuit of understanding. AI mimics our questions, but (for now) no model feels our wonder at new connections.

In a world where AI is rapidly evolving, embracing our curiosity is not just a choice; it's a necessity. It's our superpower, our ticket to a future where humans and machines coexist in harmony. Cultivate our curiosity. Encourage it in others. Harness its transformative power to shape a world that is both prosperous and profoundly human.

Weekly Indulgence

I’m so excited to announce that the new Neurotech Collider Lab at UC Berkeley has asked me to be the founding chair of their external advisory board. 

The Lab is an “an interdisciplinary space for neurotech” launched jointly by the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub and Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. Students and faculty from across Berkeley can come together, explore the brain, and build transformative neurotechnologies. We just finished our first hackathon on Sunday.

Learn more about NCL at https://ncl.berkeley.edu/.

Stage & Screen

My Spring is quickly filling up (and even next Fall)!

  • Apr 16, LA: it's no longer virtual! Come see How to Robot-Proof Your Kids with the LA School Alliance.
    • btw, I'll be in LA all week: book me at a discount!
  • May 8, Boston: chatting with BCG on lifting Collective Intelligence and The Neuroscience of Trust.
  • May 8-10, Santa Clara: I return to Singularity University
  • May 23, Seoul: keynoting the Asian Leadership Conference! (from last year)
  • May 1, London: hosting an amazing dinner in support of Crisis and their work to end homelessness in the UK.
    • (Anyone want to help sponsor this trip? I'm in the UK for the week. Book me!)
  • May 3, Porto: All entrepreneurs in Portugal, come see me at SIM.
  • June, UK: we are working on something very special, London.
  • June 14-15, Stockholm: Buy tickets for the Future of Talent Summit!
  • July, DC: Keynote at Jobs For the Future Horizons!
    • Early Bird registration is open.

If your company, university, or conference just happen to be in one of the above locations and want the "best keynote I've ever heard" (shockingly spoken by multiple audiences last year)?

<<Please support my work: book me for a keynote or briefing!>>

Research Roundup

Uncertain Innovation

In the realm of scientific discovery and human potential, uncertainty is simultaneously an obstacle and an essential ingredient. Unfortunately, human nature treats uncertainty with suspicion, prioritizing familiar paths over the uncharted. Progress and growth flourish when we engage with uncertainty.

Recent research highlights how uncertainty is inextricably linked to innovation even as it drives negative judgements. For example, more novel ideas produce greater variability in judgments of its value. This variability is treated by domain experts as a signal of potential, but both lay people and investors treat it “as a signal of risk, reducing their willingness to invest”.

This experimental finding plays out in the real world. Evidence shows that funding agencies penalize early-career researchers for pursuing risky projects, even when they have a history of high-gain publications. This bias against the unknown stifles creativity and undermines the very purpose of scientific inquiry.

In fact, the very feeling of uncertainty evokes a negative bias against creativity, interfering with our ability to recognize and appreciate innovative ideas. We become prisoners of our own limited perceptions, blind to the potential that lies beyond the conventional.

Our negative reactions to uncertainty are harming human potential, slowing exploration, experimentation, and the birth of new possibilities. But uncertainty aversion is not an insurmountable barrier. Seek the discomfort of uncertainty. Invest in a culture that encourages and supports exploration. These are truly challenging endeavors but the rewards are transformative.

Curiouser & Curiouser

Curiosity is not a fixed quality. It evolves. That evolution describes the path of our careers, our lives, and our impact on the world. New research explores the curious complexity of curiosity...and why the most curious of us never want to be given the answers.

As we explore a new place or problem, curiosity evolves “in concert with other emotional states and with confidence”. By asking the right questions and discovering answers at just the right pace (never too easy), confidence and curiosity grow together. But if answers are never discovered, curiosity in a new experience can drive negative feelings.

In my own research I’ve written about subjective utility: the belief, deep and often implicit, that your hard work will pay off. If you can develop this quality, within yourself or another, every challenge becomes an opportunity. In fact, this new research found that when curiosity was high, individuals would choose to continue exploring over simply being given the answer. They have not only learned that their hard work will pay off, but that it makes them better.

In curious contrast to the desire of the most curious to continue exploring, another paper found that the average person often wants answers immediately. They “are impatient for information regardless of how they expect to feel after receiving the information”. This preference for “immediacy” of information was even stronger “than for monetary rewards”, “even when the perceived instrumental value of information remains unaffected by the delay”.

Why the difference between those who passed on answers in favor of exploration in the first paper and those who demanded immediate answers in the latter: agency. When individuals’ curiosity was high (combining confidence and positive affect), continued active exploration fed those positive feelings and increased their subjective utility. When forced to simply wait through a delay, all of the confidence and positivity drops, leaving individuals without agency and curiosity. It trains them that hard work doesn’t pay off.

NEW: SciFi, Fantasy, & Me

I'm adding a brief new close to my newsletter. Feel free to ignore it, but as a lover of books and movies (particularly of the fantastical variety) it is an itch I need to scratch. I'll share my favorite recent science fiction & fantasy favorites in books, movies, shows, and podcasts.

To kick this off: The Tainted Cup. I quite thoroughly enjoyed this story and its rather quirk protagonists. This is undeniably a fantasy novel, though the fantasy is alchemical and biological in nature, giving the setting a steampunk flavor. (FantaSci? SciFitasy?) In any case, it’s really a murder mystery—arguably a whodunit. The twists turned and then twisted back: Holmes meets Chinatown set in Full Metal Alchemist. It’s a standalone story, but I’m already excited for a sequel!

Done. (Now that wasn't too painful.)

Vivienne L'Ecuyer Ming

Follow more of my work at
Socos Labs The Human Trust
Dionysus Health Optoceutics
RFK Human Rights GenderCool
Crisis Venture Studios Inclusion Impact Index
Neurotech Collider Hub at UC Berkeley