“Without creativity we wouldn’t have anything. It’s what moves us forward as a species and makes us a better one,” says Brian Magerko.
As an associate professor of digital media and head of the Adaptive Digital Media (ADAM) Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, Magerko works with his students in the inter-disciplines of human creativity, cognition and computing.
“We are treating creativity as a formal process – trying to de-mystify it, de-magic it – and understanding how this formal process helps design technologies that can support creativity or even make something creative themselves through artificial intelligence,” the Michigan native explains.
According to Magerko, human creativity is simply somebody creating something new that has some kind of personal or societal value. And the one characteristic all creative people share is that they’re very knowledgeable and really informed about their fields. Expertise is the most important thing.
Even as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) studies become more popular, it’s actually STEAM (STEM + Art & Design) studies that Magerko says will really educate successful, prosperous students who can transform our economy in the 21st century.
“By integrating science and technology with the arts we can learn more about the world than without that integration. Putting them together in a meaningful manner opens up an array of studies for students, particularly for engaging the underrepresented ones who view STEM topics as being uncool or daunting.”
Though Magerko was always interested in computers, it wasn’t his first love. Music and improvisation were. He played trombone in his high school marching band, and at Carnegie Mellon University he DJ’d at the school’s radio station and acted in a local improv group.
And he never forgot his love of music and the aesthetics even while he was taking computing and psychology classes. It all came together his senior year at college when he studied with Herbert Simon, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence.
“I got this idea that I would do a cognitive study on jazz improvisation. Simultaneously, I took a mobile robot planning class, where I focused on building an improve robot comedy troop. Both projects worked in parallel to give me a formal understanding of creativity from a cognition point of view and a computing point of view.”
Today, Magerko is exactly where he wants to be: at the crossroads of learning, computing and aesthetics. His creation (in collaboration with Georgia Tech colleague Jason Freeman) of EarSketch, an integrated approach to teaching computer science through computational music remixing, is used by thousands of high school students annually in the U.S.
And he’s still occasionally performing, most recently with The Imperial Opa Circus house band as the resident accordionist and trombonist.
But if he decides one day to chuck academics, he’d love to be a Disney Imagineer. “It’s an interesting combination of technology, arts and entertainment. What a supercool and fun job that would be.”
Rosemary Taylor, writer and digital content strategist at email@example.com