TheBrain Technologies recently released a new web-based version of its popular personal knowledge management tool, TheBrain, that’s now enhanced with AI. But it’s much more than simply bolting a ChatGPT query engine onto its existing application.
As you’ll see, it takes a very intelligent approach that is designed to help you get the maximum value out of this cutting-edge technology. In this review, we’ll take a closer look at this well-designed enhancement and what it makes possible. I’m impressed with it and I predict you’ll be, too.
So let’s take a closer look!
But first: My POV about AI
If you watched my Biggerplate presentation in May (The Brave New World of Visual Thinking Tools), then you know that I take a highly pragmatic view of AI and mind mapping. First and foremost, I don’t like applications that enable you to build an entire mind map out of a single text prompt. The results are mediocre at best. I’m also not very fond of those that add numerous branches to my map, without letting me decide which ideas to add and which to ignore.
I guess I’m kind of a control freak at heart.
From a creative standpoint, I don’t believe AI is capable of dreaming up original ideas – especially since it is essentially remixing content from the existing web. But I do see several practical uses for it.
First, it’s very useful for helping me look at creative challenges from different perspectives that I may not have considered. Often, such a “sleight of head” exercise can reveal new insights.
I also think it can be a valuable tool for primary research – although it’s currently hard to find AI tools that cite their sources. It’s a lot faster than conducting a series of Google searches, and then copying and pasting useful ideas and insights into your mind map.
Finally, you can ask AI tools to explore how other industries or professions have solved problems similar to the one you’re facing. There may be solutions you can adapt instead of reinventing the wheel. AI can help you to surface them.
TheBrain on AI
I really like TheBrain’s implementation of AI in the latest update of its web client. It gets a lot of things right while side-stepping some of the shortcomings of other Ai-powered visual mapping tools.
The Brain is, first and foremost, a personal knowledge base – with the emphasis on PERSONAL. So how does an impersonal tool like AI align with the Brain’s highly personal raison d’être? By providing users with a multi-layered set of tools that complements and amplifies your thinking – not replaces it.
At first glance, little appears to be different when you open TheBrain web client. The difference comes when you click the search/create box at the top of the screen. There’s a new computer chip icon in the upper right corner of the search box that enables you to activate TheBrain’s new superpowers.
- Generate thought structure: This builds out an entirely new section of your brain, up to 3 levels deep. You’d use this option if you were conducting research, for example.
- Generate child thoughts: Just like it sounds, this option adds a single level of AI-generated child thoughts to the currently-selected thought.
- Generate note: This is much more like the “traditional” approach to using ChatGPT. TheBrain’s AI engine populates the note section of your brain’s currently-selected node.
There are several other tools in this dialog box that make TheBrain AI’s approach completely unique. First, you can either let its AI engine have complete freedom on its output, or you can focus it by either “setting a context thought” or using the existing child thoughts of the currently-selected thought to provide context. This is an excellent way to ensure that the AI engine’s output is relevant to your needs. Very smart!
The other unique tool is a creativity slider. Sliding it to the left will produce results that are more literal, to the right, more creative. Cool!
During my evaluation of TheBrain’s new AI toolset, I tried several thought experiments. First, I added a new topic entitled “The history of Albert Einstein’s discoveries” and told it to use the AI engine to build out a thought structure based on it. TheBrain quickly generated three levels of thoughts covering the brilliant thinker’s early life and education, his impact on physics and society, his scientific achievements and more.
When TheBrain’s AI engine adds new content to your map, it does so “temporarily.” In other word, the new topics appear with a blue glow around them. In the upper right corner of the screen, a new pop-up asks if you want to accept, re-do or discard the AI’s engine’s output. Accept adds it to your brain. Re-do runs the same AI query again. And discard does just what its name suggests. It gets rid of the AI output entirely.
I love this approach, because it gives you more control over what gets added to your brain. It doesn’t just “dump” it there.
Next, I tried adding child topics to an existing node in my brain. I drilled down into his achievements, and discovered 6 new child topics. One of them was an achievement I never heard of: His discovery of the gravitational redshift. So I selected it and told the AI tool to add child topics based on it. It inserted 9 new child thoughts.
Finally, to try out the add note option, selected one of the gravitational redshift topics and invoked the “generate note” command. TheBrain quickly populated the notes pane of that topic with a clearly-written summary of this phenomenon.
As a final test, I decided to try something that was less focused on historical research and more on generating fresh ideas. So I told TheBrain’s AI tool to create a new thought focused on for the title of a new creativity newsletter, and selected a higher level of creativity. It generated multiple categories of ideas. Most were too broad to be useful, but one caught my attention: creative spark. Drilling down into it revealed some newsletter names that were quite intriguing, including “Brilliant Brainwaves” (nice alliteration!) and “The Thinker’s Palette.”
This line of thinking looked promising, so I told it to generate additional ideas for the topic “creative spark” using the add child topics AI option. It gave me a huge number of options that were much too broad. They were focused on the idea of a creative spark in general, and had nothing to do with newsletter title ideas. They were intermingled with the original ideas. But I could easily identify the new ideas by the blue glow around them.
Ultimately, I decided not to keep these ideas, so I selected the discard option and decided to re-run the AI query but with some more focused options. “Re-do” removes the new ideas from your brain and returns you to the AI dialog box, where you can select some different options and try again.
This time, I selected the context thought of “ideas for the title of my new creativity newsletter” and re-ran the query. Still not that great. So I did another re-do. That’s one of the great things (and sometimes frustrating things) about AI – each time you run a query with the same prompt, you get something different. It’s a great way to keep exploring until you find something worthwhile.
Try TheBrain’s AI-enhanced web client – for free
Want to try these new AI enhancements to TheBrain? Simply go to app.thebrain.com, create a new account and start building your first brain with AI.
TheBrain Technologies says its AI engine is only available on the web-based version of TheBrain, but it’s working on incorporating it into the next release of desktop version of TheBrain.
One truly remarkable thing about TheBrain AI is that it’s free! Most AI tools require you to purchase a certain number of credits to run AI queries because of the computing horsepower involved. The developer of TheBrain believes it’s more important to get people playing around with it and discovering the possibilities of using AI to enhance their digital brains.
Want a deeper dive into TheBrain’s new AI features? Check out this recent webinar with TheBrain inventor Harlan Hugh:
New: Cross-brain searching helps you connect more dots
One final innovation that got lost in all of the AI hoopla surrounding TheBrain: The developer recently expanded the search functionality of its web client to enable cross-brain searching. In other words, it not only searches all of the thoughts in the brain file you’re currently using, but also all other brains you have created – PLUS any created by others that you have the rights to view.
Why does this matter? Because it’s like connecting the dots – ON STEROIDS!
I’m excited to see what’s next from TheBrain Technologies. I think they’re really on track with their well-designed, intuitive application of AI to what is already the best visual personal knowledge tool on the planet.