Dr. Charles “Ed” Bailey’s career path intersected with his personal life. In a big way.
A medical doctor with a bachelor’s degree in biology, a practice in psychiatry and clinical research in psychopharmacology for the past 15 years, Dr. Bailey successfully paired biology and evolutionary computation while also finding a fast friend in Dr. Ken Stanley at the University of Central Florida.
He met Stanley seven years ago while researching his book “Mind Code: How the language we use influences the way we think.”
And that created a lifeline.
More than two years ago, Bailey was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although remaining relatively strong and steadfastly thinking “outside the box,” he acknowledged in March that beating the odds was a long shot. Sadly, the clock was ticking down on his life. Yet, his research mission was helping to keep him alive – offering hope for his health as well as the future of science.
On June 18, Bailey died. But not his mission.
“We live in a world of possibilities and probabilities,” said Bailey. “Unfortunately, we tend to think and act and speak like we’re in a world of certainty and that uncertainty is the exception. That’s not the case … I’m more interested in thinking about other ways to do things instead of this is the way it’s always been done.
“You stumble across some great discoveries. In the meantime, you enjoy your research – the research is exciting.”
That journey led him to Stanley, a computer science associate professor/researcher and innovator in the field of artificial intelligence. He runs UCF’s Evolutionary Complexity Research Group, which focuses on “abstracting the essential properties of natural evolution that make it possible to discover astronomically complex structures such as the human brain.”
Stanley creates brain-like programs inside computers that enable robots and vehicles to operate increasingly without the help of humans. His works have been cited more than 5,000 times by other researchers.
While much of his efforts center on building technologies that heighten the usefulness of computers and robots, they have also taken him to scientific places far and wide, what he calls “novelty research” – a theory about discovery and innovation. That destination is reached by employing artificial intelligence programs that “show counterintuitively we can actually solve some problems better by not trying to solve them.”
The research resonated with Bailey. Professionally and personally. He became a staunch advocate of Stanley’s work and a charitable giver to the cause. Stanley’s cause and his own.
Each fueled the other’s lofty scientific aspirations.
“To put it simply, the giving [brought] freedom,” Stanley explains. “What Ed [did was] encourage the kind of research that would be hard to propose to the typical funding agencies that scientists pursue, because this research is open-ended and does not follow tidy milestones laid out from the start.
“[I could] explore really creative ideas, really high-risk ideas, without worrying about not fulfilling a particular checklist.”
“Our research has shown that often if you’re trying to achieve something very ambitious or do something really creative and innovative, or find a solution to a problem that’s never been solved, you’ll have a higher chance of solving it if it’s not your objective,” says Stanley. “Sometimes it’s better simply to try to follow the path of novelty rather than follow the path of a specific objective, just to try new things and be creative instead of trying to achieve a specific goal.
“To put it another way, sometimes you just have to pursue your passion because it’s interesting to you without actually knowing where it will lead.”
For Bailey, the research gave him hope for his health along with the future of science.
“Education, learning, creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand with the exploration for information and novelty research,” he asserted in March. “We can take it a step further and consider the difficulties of living in a world of possibilities, probabilities – fraught with uncertainties that science strives to help us understand through research.
“In science, we are overwhelmed with data. A lot of what Dr. Stanley does is deal with these things in abstraction. He compresses the data to where the dimensions aren’t as large. He takes abstract concepts and makes them into something where you can understand things. The better you understand things, the better chance you have of interacting with it in an effective way.”
Until the end, the two researchers remained close.
“Ed was really germinating risky ideas all over, and that’s what he meant to do,” Stanley concludes. “I think it was a personal mission for Ed. He wanted someone to think outside the box without having some solution in mind.”
His words live on: “Searching for the sake of searching for information is in and of itself an important challenge for science and an important component of scientific thinking.”