Why creativity is the next economic revolution

First there was the industrial revolution. Then there was the information revolution. Now, says Cartoon Network president Christina Miller, we must prepare for the creativity revolution.

CHRISTINA MILLER: So screen time—I think a lot of people do different things on their screens at this point.

So it is a little bit of a traditional point of “Hey, too much screen time is bad for you,” because—at least for people my age you think of that meaning too much TV.

So it’s about there being choice and control of what that screen time is.

So: are you playing games? Are you watching content? Are you creating stuff? Is it a passive experience? Is it an active experience?

When things work best you’re also able to connect the digital to the physical, so I think that there’s a large gray area now between too much screen time.

It just needs to be defined a bit better. Do you mean too much of a passive watching experience, or do you mean the ability to do a lot of different things to be empowered, to create, to be given tools for creative expression, to be problem-solving and collaborative while being entertained?

I think if it’s that latter, you’d find people saying right at the age we serve (which is the generally six plus), that there is I think more good than bad—if in fact it’s an active, immersive experience as opposed to a one-way passive experience.

We call them plurals. We’ve done a lot of generational research as an overall for Turner, and that was the term that I guess we collectively—obviously Time Warner as an organization—had coined very early on before they were called Generation Z, which I think in fairness is a little less descriptive and it just comes from “Hey we were Generation Y, we were Generation X, so you just go down the alphabet.”

But a lot of people have different names, plurals because of the plurality of the way they consume content and everything they do.

If millennials needed lists because they didn’t come of age—truly the information revolution was happening around them and they needed help filters sorting things out—this generation doesn’t.

They are really comfortable with choice and they actually want to control it. And if you don’t move quick enough for them, like Thomas Friedman, Thank You for Being Late, if you don’t move quick enough for them they just move onto the next thing, because they realize that they have a whole lot of choice and they want to control that.

So I think the plurality of everything available to them is more indicative than just a letter.

So, Cartoon Network focuses really on creative confidence and this core belief that we have an obligation to raise the next generation of creators, makers and innovators. So if you believe that there was an industrial revolution, an information revolution, we believe that the next one is all about creativity—that if there was a time where people were referring to “geeks inheriting the earth,” well I think the whole-brain thinkers and the creative folks will really be the ones that supercharge innovation in the future.

And making sure the kids know that, if you learn things like coding and computer science, that it doesn’t just mean “engineer” or “programmer,” but it can mean “animator”, “video game developer”, it can mean learning skills for self-expression that will help you through the rest of your life.

I grew up in Generation X over here, I grew up and I was always told that team sports really helped you in the future so it built better leaders, it helped you with working in a larger team.

If you believe that, and there’s definitely some truth to it, but if you apply that to things like coding and giving kids creative tools to learn self-expression, that ability to solve problems—to work collaboratively, to create and make—will serve them and ready them for anything that comes next, not just necessarily to “hey, be an animator.”

So I think that’s the—if you want to change the world, you start with kids because everything else is iterative. If you really buy into that, I think that’s the higher thinking reason why to do it.

On the flipside of that, the commercial reason why they do it I would say is: they expect it from us.

At the earliest stages they’re starting to, again, learn to swipe before anything else, learning to participate in their media, whether it means they go and they play Minecraft and they start to add to that building or they want to play games that allow them to draw whiskers on things or put ears on things, they expect there to be some amount of “give and get” and us meeting their expectations is core to what we do.

So being able to do everything from create animation to create games to create content and experiences that puts them at the forefront has to reflect them. So a lot of the ways we find our way into that sweet spot between creativity and technology is by reflecting our audience.

And of course we want to do right by them, both in the day-to-day and sort of in a bigger way.

First there was the industrial revolution. Then there was the information revolution. Now, says Cartoon Network president Christina Miller, we must prepare for the creativity revolution. It's an imperative both for individuals looking for their place in the new economy, and for companies creating products for new generations—digital natives who expect a seamless experience of digital products. That's an intimidating demand if you're not a digital native yourself, so Miller suggests that companies actively listen to their audience, and even turn to them for fresh ideas.

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Dubai to build the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant

Can you make solar power work when the sun goes down? You can, and Dubai is about to run a city that way.

Photo credit: MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • A new concentrated solar plant is under construction in Dubai.
  • When it opens next year, it will be the largest plant of its kind on Earth.
  • Concentrated solar power solves the problem of how to store electricity in ways that solar pannels cannot.
Keep reading Show less

19th-century medicine: Milk was used as a blood substitute for transfusions

Believe it or not, for a few decades, giving people "milk transfusions" was all the rage.

Photo credit: Robert Bye on Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Prior to the discovery of blood types in 1901, giving people blood transfusions was a risky procedure.
  • In order to get around the need to transfuse others with blood, some doctors resorted to using a blood substitute: Milk.
  • It went pretty much how you would expect it to.
Keep reading Show less