The genius behind creating things too impractical to buy

How do companies keep getting you to buy the "latest and greatest" iteration of the product you already own? By testing the boundaries.

Do you really need another iPhone? Not really, but there's going to be another one anyway. That's because companies, as neuroscientist David Eagleman put it, "need to figure out how to feel out the border of the possible." It's a remarkable way to get you to buy more, and it works across the purchasing spectrum from cars to phones to houses. David's latest book: The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.

Technology & Innovation

Hits and misses: How neuroscience can boost your creativity

Some say that great ideas come out of thin air. Neuroscientist David Eagleman posits that perhaps all great ideas are simply built upon old ideas, because thats what fuels the creative brain.

"All ideas have a genealogy," says David Eagleman. A writer, neuroscientist, and adjunct professor at Stanford University, he's definitely clued in to what makes ideas click. He posits that the brain craves something new so much that if you give someone the same thing over and over that after a certain amount of time you'll begin to see diminished returns in excitement. But sometimes "new" isn't necessarily new at all. He points out that although the iPhone is a revolutionary product it bears heavy similarity to an invention from IBM... from two decades ago. New ideas tend to be built upon similar ones, David Eagleman says, because "what we’re doing is building on the foundations of what has come before us." David's new book is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.

Mind & Brain

Be bored: How to tap into your most brilliant thinking

Being bored is great. It's where we come up with our best ideas, and how we become better people by being able to mentally solve our biggest personal problems. So why are we destroying boredom with our phones?

Are cell phones destroying creativity? Podcast host, author, and relentless examiner of the modern human condition Manoush Zomorodi believes that they are. When we are bored, the brain enters what is called "default mode"—think about the way your mind wanders when you're in the shower or doing the dishes. This might not seem like valuable time but our creativity really kicks into high gear. We now use up a lot of that boredom-time by poking at our phones, and in doing so are starving ourselves of a main source of inspiration. This boredom issue goes beyond simple creativity: boredom is also useful for autobiographical planning and being able to solve big problems. Manoush posits that maybe we should put down the phones and start being bored more often. Her latest book is Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self .

Mind & Brain

The science of successful things: Star Wars, Steve Jobs, and Google’s epic fail

So, how do you make something popular? Simple! You just update something old. This applies to storytelling, design, and even tech gadgets.

So, how do you make a product successful? You make it out of something old. The Atlantic editor Derek Thompson gives a more studious explanation of this answer as he poses the question: why did Google Glass fail and why is the iPhone the most profitable product in human history? Poor design comes to mind, but the answer, Thompson suggests, is much deeper than that. Both were wild new inventions, but Google Glass ultimately failed because it looked like a prototype and not at all like any product that consumers had ever seen before. It seemed alien, and that was a bad thing. Butt the iPhone, on the other hand, is merely a design update of the iPod. Consumers already understood how to work it before they even picked it up, and therefore buyers already knew what they were in for. It's this familiarity itself that is the selling point, as this logic applies to the world of storytelling, too. Derek explains the "hero journey" similarities between Star Wars, The Odyssey, and... The Bible. Derek Thompson's latest book is Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.

Technology & Innovation

What it will take for AI to surpass human intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is already outsmarting us at '80s computer games by finding ways to beat games that developers didn't even know were there. Just wait until it figures out how to beat us in ways that matter.

Chances are, unless you happen to be in the Big Think office in Manhattan, that you're watching this on a computer or phone. Chances also are that the piece of machinery that you're looking at right now has the capability to outsmart you many times over in ways that you can barely comprehend. That's the beauty and the danger of AI — it's becoming smarter and smarter at a rate that we can't keep up with. Max Tegmark relays a great story about playing a game of Breakout with a computer (i.e. the game where you break bricks with a ball and bounce the ball off a paddle you move at the bottom of the screen). At first, the computer lost every game. But quickly it had figured out a way to bounce the ball off of a certain point in the screen to rack up a crazy amount of points. Change Breakout for, let's say, nuclear warheads or solving world hunger, and we've got a world changer on our hands. Or in the case of our computers and smartphones, in our hands. Max's latest book is Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Technology & Innovation