How Artificial Intelligence Helps Creativity by Reducing Cognitive Load

How Artificial Intelligence Helps Creativity by Reducing Cognitive Load

In a recent interview, Elon Musk was asked how many hours a week a budding entrepreneur should invest into his or her business. His answer? No less than 100 hours a week. As an entrepreneur myself, I contemplated his answer seriously and passed it on to some experts and friends, in pursuit of their two cents.

In our discussion, one prominent business professor, let’s call him “Barry”, said he utterly disagrees. To support his position, he offered the following anecdote from his days as a math PhD student. As many ambitious young mathematicians are tempted to do, he decided to tackle a never-before-solved mathematical problem. This, despite skepticism from his advisor who urged him to avoid wasting his life and talents on a “brick wall”. Our young mathematician set out on his task, not by sitting at his desk for twelve hours a day, but rather, as he described it, “by thinking for long hours in the morning as I lay down in bed”. “Without giving thoughts time to incubate”, he says, “you can’t reach the higher spheres.” With the use of mathematical theories unfamiliar to his peers, he was able to solve the problem and attain his PhD in a record three months.


Barry’s story meshes well with my own experience of the creative process. Creativity requires time and mental space, and as Barry said, “When you’re busy all day with trifling matters, it’s hard to be creative”. In the 21st century, the abundance of digital stimulation drains people and leaves them cognitively unavailable to think creatively, with technologies taking up the precious space we need to be creative.

So how can we use technology to free our minds rather than increase the load? In his blog, investor Thomas McInerney mentions Uber as one example. By saving us the need to drive in traffic, an often tiresome experience, Uber allows us to do other work or just relax. In psychology, we describe this as reducing cognitive load.

Cognitive load is the amount of effort used by your working memory, or your ‘present’ memory. The use of technology in an attempt to ease the cognitive load isn’t new. In fact, it’s at least as old as the common calculator!

Think of physicists dealing with complex quantum theory. Having to run all the calculations in their heads would enforce a massive cognitive load and would slow them down immensely. The calculator allows you to think big and saves you the minutiae.

Artificial Intelligence takes this idea to another dimension by relieving us of the mundane. Think of how much time and effort you spend scheduling appointments, keeping track of your schedule and in your inbox alone every single day. New AI-based assistants help with such daily tasks. For example, Knowmail acts as your intelligent inbox assistant by learning your behaviors and habits, helping you focus on the most urgent items before others. In addition, juliedesk and handle the back-and-forth of scheduling appointments. Such assistants have become such a regular part that many users actually don’t realize such assistants are digital and converse with them as real people (the good and bad).

In his blog `Stem to Business`, Jeff Krimmel compared AI to electricity. Back in the day, electricity reduced our manual load by taking cranks and levers out of the equation. AI will introduce a new age where we are free to use our intelligence for novel and creative endeavors, free of trifling concerns.

Now let’s go back to Elon Musk’s dramatic 100-hour claim. In my mind, the question now becomes, 100 hours of what? In the near future, 10 hours of work could be more productive than 100 hours of our current time. Time is the most precious and irreplaceable resource we have. Let’s save every second.


Aviv Sheriff
Aviv Sheriff

Aviv Sheriff is a venture-oriented researcher who studies education technologies and memory neuroscience at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

Aviv Sheriff

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  1. I really like your post Aviv. And I think you’re right. The raw hour count correlates only weakly with real impact. The key challenge is knowing what your most important contribution actually is. Then you can focus relentlessly on it.

    That’s one way AI is super helpful. It can handle the other stuff, the stuff that isn’t your most important contribution. AI can support you, as you cut through the clutter to do the work that matters, as Seth Godin would say.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Aviv

      Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for replying! I’m glad you liked the article.
      I absolutely agree that the main challenge ahead of millennials is identifying or choosing their core passion and contribution. Perhaps someday AI could help with this as well? 🙂

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