A.I. and the Decline of Human Intelligence

When my daughter Alex was in third grade she had the reigning Marin County (California) Teacher of Year. Her name escapes me (I’ll blame it on the chemo brain). The parents of all the kids in this Tiburon classroom were beside themselves with praise for her. Me … not so much. A big one thing I had a problem with was she encouraged the students to use calculators in her class. Her reason was that it would be good practice for real life – where no one did math long hand anymore. Well, I do.

Now I still use a calculator, but daily I make every effort to do math problems in my head. Percentages, grocery bill estimates, gas mileage … anything and everything. it’s something I’ve always done and probably always will. It’s cerebral exercise, and it’s something I’ve encouraged my daughter to do also. On road trips as a grade-schooler, she’d have to look at the mileage, take in account our speed, and determine when we’d get to the next stop. I don’t know if she liked it … but she did it anyway.

Now I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite. On the contrary, I self-taught myself how to program in college on FORTRAN 77 on my college’s IBM 360/370 (how many of you remember FORTRAN or a 360/370). I’d sneak in to the computer center at night and drop off my boxes of punch cards. I wasn’t so bright that I used a terminal like the other nocturnal geeks in training though. I used punch cards … and for a many months carried around my three boxes of 1400 cards.

I bought my first Mac in 1985 and I was transferring data online before there was an online. My first email address was at the Well in the San Francisco. In fact I gave Well email addresses for Christmas presents. Alexandria was raised on a Mac, and instead of going to college when she graduated high school … she went to Apple.

That said, I didn’t like the idea of supplanting the exercise of the brain for the exercise the fingers hitting the calculator buttons. And the excuse: “they’ll need to learn how to use a calculator in real life when they’re older” is lame. What they’ll need to learn is how to use their brain. And considering who this country elected as president – we’re in short supply of those that either can or will.

Now I’m not blaming calculators and their use in grade school for the orange clown in the White House and utter disintegration of the democracy before our very eyes … but then maybe I should. Maybe we should look it as a symptom … a touchstone of sorts, emblematic of how we view intellectual development in this country. I get the whole “recognizing the value of tools” thing. But unless the foundation is built for which the tools are to be used (and hopefully complement) – we’re building a skyscraper or citizens’ equivalent of it – on a landfill.

During that time Alex was in grade school, I ran a recruiting firm that specialized in electronic prepress. Over the fifteen years I was a headhunter, I saw the prepress industry evolve from journeymen craftsmen working on stripping tables manually composing high-end film and color etching dot-by-dot … to everything being done via electronic workstations (Photoshop for example). Many of my candidates made the transition and some didn’t. Those who did, those who had the conventional experience and knew how everything fit together manually, were worth much more than candidates who came to me with only electronic background. The latter didn’t have the fundamentals and didn’t know the reasons the code behind the screen was designed to do what it did. Working every day with these people is what flamed my visceral reaction to Alex’s 3rd Grade teacher. Without doing it long-hand or better yet in your head … the numbers on the calculator are just that – numbers. They don’t have history and context.

The mind is like a muscle. The more we think and figure things out … the more we’ll be able to figure other things out. Even something as mundane as a grocery bill guess is like walking a cerebral mile. Every bit counts. Shouldn’t we be looking for opportunities to think more – not less? Just because we can automate and mentally farm something out … should we?

Unintended Consequences

This brings me to A.I. – artificial intelligence. In my Twitter stream, my curated portal to the world, there is no single topic at present that takes up more characters than AI. And if it’s not A.I., it’s what feeds it – big data (I hate that term). Google has even created an A.I. app that can make a haircut appointment for you and sound like a human doing it. Great … no not great. Do we really need our computer to set up a haircut appointment for us? What happened to the opportunity to communicate with someone? No one can tell me they’re so busy that they can’t spend two minutes to make a phone call and engage with a fellow human. And if they are … they shouldn’t be.

This is insane – even while writing this, I’m getting bombarded by more A.I. obsession. Teaching A.I. in grade school just popped into my stream. We’re going headlong into STEM at the expense of everything else (different topic for a different day). Where are the visualists, the artists and the social scientists who will help us communicate with each other and nurture our humanity rather than sending us in the other direction of letting us avoid each other. Never before in my sixty years on this earth have we needed more engagement.

It’s like we’ve just given up on the concept human-to-human interaction. I’m wondering if the ultimate goal of all this is just machine-to-machine engagement. Us humans, at least the majority of us, will sit on the sidelines of life waiting for yet another algorithm to tell us what we’re suppose to be doing and what we’re suppose to be feeling. Those creating the algorithms will run the game — because … well, most of us don’t know any better and can’t do anything about it.

Silicon Valley and all its other “silicon” siblings seem to have this competition for who metaphorically has the biggest one. “What can we have the computer do that will be cooler than the guys (and it’s always guys) down the street are doing?” Driverless cars are the big thing; and I’m sure there will be a time in the not so distance future where knowing how to drive will be a long-lost art. Even with the prevalence of automatic transmissions, operating a manual transmission is one of these arts. Alex, who can, is always called upon to help when there’s moving to be done. It’s not because of her sinewy 120 pound physique – but rather her ability to drive a manual truck. Driving a manual transmission is more than just not shifting. It’s knowing when to shift – and that means thinking … again, like a walking a cerebral mile.

I’m sorry if I’m coming off like Luddite again – and I’m not against A.I. or technology. In fact my Community 3.0 project uses A.I. and database marketing to elevate the health and well-being of our communities by bringing people together. But we can’t let advanced human-like technology displace our own human functions in the process.

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the future, King’s quote will become even more applicable if we continue on our current path. Our epidemic of physically obesity will be replaced by cerebral obesity as our brains turn to mush from lack of use. The exact thing we need to train our minds for, more complex thinking – is what we are weaning ourselves of. The daily task of navigating our car has been supplanted by GPS. The days of “fixing things” are long gone and with it are the critical thinking skills we need for the remaining jobs not taken by the artificial intelligence we’re suppose to be embracing. Quite the paradox.

I recently read an article about physicians second guessing themselves and their intuition honed from years of experience because they instead default to data interpretation. Many of my radiologists fiends on Twitter are struggling with the spectre looming in the future that will push their careers to be among the first casualties of A.I. in healthcare. Would A.I.-driven diagnostics improve outcomes? The data says it would – but will it really? I suppose if it replaces physicians who aren’t using their minds to their fullest, it may. But what if these same physicians, didn’t default to technology – but instead used technology more as a complimentary tool, with their minds being the primary processor. But if they don’t continue to think and use their stores of experiences – they won’t run (or even walk) those cerebral miles needed to keep in shape. All too often the EHR software at your healthcare provider operates as  malignant shadow government. The interface design of Epic and its competitors covertly dictate our relationships with our doctors, PAs and nurses. If there isn’t a field for it, it doesn’t matter – or worse, doesn’t exist. Technology, and especially artificial intelligence systems are only as good as the algorithms that drive them and interfaces that allow one to interact with them.

The proponents of A.I., or should I say the obsessionists, say that it frees up our minds from mundane activities in order to pursue cerebral deep dives – deep dives that will result in societal fixes that will save our imperilled world. These deep dives don’t just come when called though. There’s no magic bag of pixie dust that when sprinkled liberally, life-saving ideas will fly out our eyes like butterflies. More often nothing comes out. When we over-rely on technology, we haven’t trained of brain to do much of anything – let alone save the world. But to question the pious of A.I. is akin to blasphemy. Ironically IBM just announced significant layoffs of 50 to 70% in their Watson Healthcare division. Its Watson division was supposed to bring artificial intelligence to markets such as healthcare, although it ended up attracting the wrong sort of headlines when some projects faltered, and financial analysts described it as a money pit.

A Collective Call to Action

Steve Jobs was once asked about creativity and how one becomes creative. His response was epic:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they had more experiences and they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

They had more experiences and then they thought about those experiences more. The operative word was “thought.” We need to not sacrifice our minds for technological progress. And I rather doubt that’s intent of those who drive the artificial intelligence bus. But rather if it’s intended or not – it could very well be one of those dreaded unintended consequences – the ones who no one thinks about in the euphoria of the moment. Well I’m thinking about it … and we all should.

Being aware is the best counterbalance. We shouldn’t necessarily try to curb the innovation benefits of A.I. – not at all. We just must be aware of the price that may be paid if we ride along never taking off our rose-colored glasses. The old adage “use it or lose it” is especially applicable here. We all need to make conscious efforts to walk (or run) that extra cerebral mile. We need to trust our gut once in while. Dust off that map book and shut off the GPS for your next trip. A wrong turn won’t be the end of you. Don’t just default for technology. Be present and engage with the world around you. As Steve Jobs said; “have experiences and think about them.”

And don’t just have experiences; get out of your comfort zone.  Humans are creatures of habit.  We tend to do the same things, associate with same types of people and be influenced by the same sources as we always have. If you’re a doctor, hang with a plumber. If you’re white, talk to a black person. Take the bus sometime (no – people on buses don’t bite). If you live on the west side, have dinner on the east side. And most of all if you’re old (yes Boomers you are old) … get some insight from someone young – someone that’s not your own kid. Our brains are nothing more than synaptic connections which are built and strengthened through habitual activity and thought. If this habitual activity actually isn’t thinking (e.g. leaning on A.I.) – that’s even worse.

While we can all make efforts personally – we also have to look at how we can leverage these efforts. Make sure our kids’ schools aren’t over-relying on technological crutches. We must stress critical thinking and basic problem solving  – and start early. Kindergarten isn’t for obsessing over reading. It’s about play and learning dispute resolution in the sandbox and on the playground.

Success does not mean looking to past, nor does it mean blindly ignoring it. Technology is a tool, and tools are meant to compliment. It’s our responsibility to evolve along with the tools we create … or the compliment will end up replacing us. We need civic and social solutions that take into account the unintended consequences. Societal norms need to be established. What if engagement and thought was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity too often over-emphasized by the naiveté of the echo chamber. Rather than focusing wholly on jobs for “hard-working folk,” we create paths for “hard thinking” people. Too often, in efforts to include everyone, we lower the bar. We look for inclusion in the current state – not at potential. While hard work is fine, hard thinking provides the future – individually and collectively as a community.

Think about it.

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If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo and help us build based on the true power of the minds of those in our communities  … please check out  Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and well-being is priority. Or even better email me at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

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“Give us your huddled masses … or maybe not!”

On the forefront of political discourse, again – is immigration reform … or should I say what’s the best way to keep out or kick out the Mexicans. And intertwined into this dialogue is jobs. The two seem to be forever at odds with each other. “Them damn foreigners are taking away our jobs!” can be heard far and wide.

Nothing could be further from the truth. But then again I don’t live in Arizona or watch Fox News, so maybe I don’t know what the real truth is.

Regardless, one thing I do know – jobs are created primarily by small business and small business requires creativity. Yet all our “standards-based” public education system has done is to stifle creativity and new business development. It seems the most creative Americans ended up that way only by resisting the conformity of conventional American schooling and its “lock-step” rote memorization curriculum.. Even our large corporations, hardly a haven for entrepreneurial thought, say they often have to look overseas to find creative thinkers.

In addition, information tech positions, the employment drivers of the economy and the exact type of jobs our schools are supposedly training our students for – remain unfilled. And it’s not just high-tech jobs. Crops rot in the fields, because migrant workers are afraid to go to work for fear of being deported, rightfully or wrongly … because of the Draconian racist immigration laws passed in numerous states.

And we continually complain about balance of trade issues. “China is beating us at our game,” beats the drum! Yet when we invite the best and brightest of other countries to go to college here, we kick them out when they’re ready to be productive members of our communities. And then we’re surprised when they go home and start the businesses they wanted to start here, only to “kick our butts” further exasperating our balance of trade problem. And on top of it, the “insane clown posse” wandering aimlessly throughout the halls of Capitol Hill, refuses to acknowledge that immigrants are co-founders of 40% of Silicon Valley firms, a prime sector of the American future. I guess that’s what happens when your vision carries you only as far as K Street. At least Sarah Palin could see to Russia.

Our jobs problem is not about unemployment … it’s about the unemployable. There are jobs out there, they’re just not the jobs the American unemployed can perform (at least currently). At present, there’s a gap between education and the available positions. Unfortunately this problem isn’t going fix itself overnight. But in the interim, poaching the best talent from abroad seems to be a pretty good solution. Any coach will tell you the best offense is a good defense. And whoever has the best players is going to have the best team. Goes for sports, and goes business!

What is a small business supposed to do if it needs talent … engineering and programming and even farm workers – and can’t find it state-side? Nothing … that’s right, they’ll do nothing. They can’t hire anyone and they can’t grow. Give one for the racists and paranoid over small business and the economy!

What if we ran our country like the NBA or MLB? 18% of the NBA is foreign-born and 28% of Major League Baseball comes from abroad. Imagine if professional baseball spent the time and money, often years, to season a prospect – only when they’re ready for the big leagues … kick them out of the country. Yet that is exactly what we do in the business world.

“Should we kick him out too?”

The hypocrisy of the clowns in government is bewildering. You don’t see a New York Senator complain when Mariano Rivera (Panamanian) takes the mound in the 9th for yet another record-breaking save. You don’t see Phoenix Suns fans, elected officials included, complain when Steve Nash (Canadian) shreds the defense with another game winning assist. And you sure didn’t see U.S. Representative John Culberson of Texas’s 7th District yell “commie” when Yao Ming (Chinese) of the Houston Rockets slammed down another dunk.

In the beginning of the international integration of professional sports you heard, “those foreigners are taking away jobs from good Americans.” But quickly the jingoistic “hoots and howls” wained as people realized the quality of the games was better with these “foreigners” … a lot better.

And not only did they not take away jobs, they made the leagues much more profitable – creating more jobs for all types of American born workers. For example, the NBA juggernaut extends well past the court into corporate boardrooms and into the closets of males and females ages 8 to 78. This produces jobs, lots of them. And this is just one of many examples. The list is endless.

I believe the one main obstacle to this country’s economic prosperity is our immigration policy … not trying to keep them out, but just the opposite – not finding ways to bring them in. Contrary to what the government believes, there’s really very little they can do to alter the fate of the economy. All I ask is they abandon their paranoid self-defeating immigration policy – and allow business, especially small business to hire the talent they to make our country competitive.

If our businesses don’t hire them … someone else, somewhere else will. And we may not like the result.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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What’s your personal Venn Diagram?

I’m a graphic information freak.  My idol in Edward Tufte.  I don’t how many times I’ve read his books about graphically displaying nouns, verb and adjectives.

I’m also a database freak.  This probably stems from my headhunting days when my life was dependent on my databases.  I was always in pursuit of the proverbial “Black Box” that would automatically find the right candidate for the right position and would render the best relationship for me.

Those days are gone.  But new days have arrived, and Twitter is an integral part of them.  And I’m back in the same game – the pursuit of the “Black Box.”  “The Black Box” has a different purpose these days though.

My current professional endeavour is my 1:1 marketing company, the bleedingEDGE.  And part of the “Black Box” will definitely be identifying and furthering the proper connections in that genre.  Unlike recruiting, the bleedingEDGE will need relationships much more in-depth and longer term.  The people I work with have will essentially be partners and collaborators.  This means connecting on more than just a business front but also personal.

I want the “Black Box” for more however.  Life is more than just business, and longer I’m around, “the wider I cast my net.”  But I don’t want my life to be segregated.  I don’t want to be a salad bowl.  I want my life to be a melting pot – my relationships multidimensional.  Our most scarce resource is time .. so my time needs, as should yours, be spent to its fullest (that sound very cliché – but it’s true).

Getting back to Tufte and graphics.  At the core of my “Black Box” is going to a Venn Diagram.  You remember those things we had to make in high school math class.  Those circles that we didn’t think had any practical application;  those circles, where as we got older, we tried to find a use for … just because they looked neat.  Well, I’m going use them.

This is where Twitter comes.  Twitter as great way to get in contact with people in a myriad of disciplines with a myriad of interests.  Now the key is to find for where the overlap is.  Who is a good business prospect, that say likes antique lamps and is a Led Zeppelin fan.  On Twitter, you’ll find, categorize and follow who you want – how you want.

For example,  here’s some of my interests:

  • 1:1 database marketing
  • communication theory
  • generational analysis
  • wind energy
  • education reform
  • Pop Art
  • sociology
  • Minnesota Twins baseball

To maximize my time, productivity and fun … I need to find people who share more than of them and how they intersect.  How do I represent that.  With a Venn Diagram, that’s how.

Now I’ll be able see, using my right brain, the people I have the most in common with.  It kind of sounds like ‘match.com’ but without the marriage stuff.  Imagine the potential as a time management / productivity tool.  You’ll find the people you have the highest likelihood of connecting with … business or personal.

You can use the concept for whatever you want.  It doesn’t make any difference.  It’ll also provide a great tool for 1:1 marketing.  Just structure a campaign, any campaign, around not just one interest variable but several.  Neat!

I suppose you don’t have to actually make a Venn Diagram.   Nobody says you have to run out to the school supply store – you  probably had enough of that recently.  But as long as you get the concept, you’re good.

Our time and resources are limited.  We have use them best we can.  And that means choosing and maximizing our relationships.  Too many times we have a tendency to be reactive.  Who ever comes our way, professionally and personally – is who we end up spending our time and effort with.

I know being reactive is easier.  We just have to … well, react.  But where does that really get us.  Does it put us on “The Road to our Perfect World?”  Maybe … maybe not.

The best way ensure you get where you want to go is drive yourself  And when you drive, you need a map.

Maybe you can thank your high school math teacher after all.

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If you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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Falling leaves and the opportunity of change

Yesterday was  not the best day I’ve had recently.  It wasn’t terrible, just not productive.  One of those “take one step forward, two steps back” times … only without the one step forward.

A lot of this has to deal with the fact we are embarking upon another holiday this weekend.  I have this love hate relationship with holidays.  Living the proactive life I have right now, launching my new company, is in direct conflict with holidays.  If you need to talk to somebody, anybody – you can’t.  If they’re not gone physically, they’re gone mentally.  And this is a fact I have to come to realize.  Switch gears and focus on internal productivity.

Fall in Minnesota

For me Labor Day is a time of thought.  The summer’s done … a season I’m not particularly fond of.  And fall is here … a season I am.  I love autumn’s weather, no matter where I’m at.  And being in Montana, the first time I’ve been outside of California for the fall in twenty years, I something I’m looking forward to.

Labor Day represents change, probably more than any other time.  Leaves are changing, school’s starting and the summer’s lack of focus excuses have expired.  I know everybody’s all into the New Years and its resolutions.  But how much do things really change from December to January … well, except for changing the year when writing checks.  But who writes checks anymore.

When was planning out my next day, which I do the night before, I decided to embrace Labor Day what it means for me, contemplation … looking at back at the last three months and looking forward at what’s possible in the next three.

I look forward to the new arrivals of a few select bloggers.  One was in my inbox this morning when I got up. It was a post by from Life Literacy Labs and my buddy C.A. Kobu.  It was titled “Do you know how to be like Janus?” It was like I channeled her last night when I was “agendazing.”  Read it.  It’ll get you thinking.  All of C.A.’s work does.

As you get ready for the long weekend, anguish the end of summer and relish the fact that the kids are back to school … think of Janus and look a the changing leaves.

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If you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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Gladwell’s 150 rule … how does it apply to social media?

In his 2000 book, “The Tipping Point,” renown author, Malcolm Gladwell, cited the example of a manufacturing firm on the East Coast and its adherence to relationship building and numbers.  This firm determined that having more than a certain amount of people in one building or facility would actually prove detrimental to building teamwork and camaraderie.  In other words … the employees wouldn’t get to know everybody and they would form cliques instead.

The magic Tipping Point number

Their magic number was 150.  Up to this point everybody, more or less, would exist like a large extended “work family.”  Any more contacts than that was beyond the normal person’s ability to maintain let alone nurture.  Once they got to 150 in one building (due to expansion), they would split that facility’s workforce and build another building.  They had done this several times and Gladwell was amazed at the teamwork throughout the company.

Further research by Gladwell found that this wasn’t an isolated example.  It was a sociological phenomenon across many disciplines.

I noticed the same situation when I was recruiting.  I may have had a database of over 6000 candidates … but really only communicated regularly with only about 100 to 150 of them.  I actually flagged these as “preferred.”  This was in the nineties well before the “Tipping Point.”  Some faded away over time, but others took their place in the regular call rotation.  However, the number of my core group stayed about the same, 100 to 150.  When I tried expand the number – my rapport with the core suffered.

Now, this brings us to social media.  If you look at the numbers;  Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers – you’ll see numbers well into the hundreds if not thousands for some people.  The question is, “Is having this number so high beneficial or detrimental?”  Social media is not like working in a company or having real life contacts though.  The difference is how many of these people are active in your life.  How many make comments, tweet your stuff, receive your replies, etc.  And how many are wallflowers – just out there to unilaterally receive whatever you choose to send them.

I suppose a person’s social media “group” is pretty much like my recruiting candidate database.  A certain amount will be your “core group,” those that will be a regular part of your life.  And the rest will be … well, just will be there – being just a number.

What can we learn from this.  Everybody’s situation is different … but is it really?  We use social media to make and further relationships (for the most part).  These relationship are professional, personal or in some cases just conduits for information.  But they are still relationships that involve time and attention.

Maybe we should look at our social media strategy first in terms of numbers.  And maybe that number is 150.

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If you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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The morning … the key to a productive day.

I’m a morning person.  If I don’t get my butt out bed before the sun does … I feel like I’m behind the eight ball.

Yesterday I read posting by Jennifer Good, “Killer Habits For Starting Your Day.”   It’s a tremendous guide to “getting out of the shoot and down the track” first thing in the morning.  I already do a lot of things suggested, but there’s a couple I implemented this morning; such as getting something done before checking email and descending into the social media abyss.

I could get into detail here … but why when you can read it yourself.

You’ll thank me – or should I say thank Jennifer.

P.S.  This is for you Alex.

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I can be reached on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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