Posted By Prucia Buscell,
2 hours ago
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vibrant economy needs more organizations where people thrive, and
evidence suggests we're far from that ideal. A recent Gallop report
finds 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs, and
nearly 20 percent of the disengaged actively resist their employers'
goals. Gallop also reports
disengagement may cost up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity,
and untold losses in employee potential. With only 22 percent of
employees committed to their work and thriving, there clearly is an
urgent need to plant seeds to grow engagement.
In their new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz,
both experienced in business and skilled facilitators, give us an
entire seed catalog: 33 Liberating Structures which, used alone or in
combination, provide an endless variety of ways to include and engage
people in groups of any size.
authors identify the sweet spot where changes are easy to implement and
make a big difference: the routine practices that people use to
structure how they interact when they meet to plan, learn, solve
problems, and make decisions. They call these practices
"microstructures" and they have found that nearly everyone uses the same
five conventional microstructures over and over: presentations and
lectures in the classrooms, managed discussions, status reports, open
discussions and brainstorms. Unfortunately, these five conventional
structures are designed primarily to direct and control and are
inadequate for engaging people. In contrast, Liberating Structures (LS)
are designed to make it easy to include and engage everyone regardless
of rank or seniority.
introducing LS the authors help us become much more aware of the
ubiquitous presence of structures and how they both support and
constrain all our activities. They show us how we can configure them to
help us achieve surprisingly better outcomes. The conversations we
start, the questions we ask, and our listening skills all make a
difference. The authors challenge us to observe circumstances and events
more closely with attention to what's really important to us and to
others. They make it clear that we can all learn to use simple
structures that enable any group of people working together to radically
improve collaboration, innovation and decision-making.
LS everybody affected by a problem can be included in discovering how
to tackle it. The role of leadership is to participate and support but
not dictate. The book has a whole chapter on how leaders using LS can
learn to contribute their own best while energizing others to develop
and flourish in their work.
Creative icons represent each of these microstructures on the Liberating Structures website.
LS are easy to learn. For example, in 1,2,4,All,
participants get a minute to reflect on an issue and write their
thoughts. They get two minutes to share their thoughts in pairs, and two
minutes to repeat the process in a group of four. The four person
groups each decide on the most important points to share with the whole
group. The entire exercise can take three to 15 minutes, and surprising
new ideas are likely. All participants, regardless of position, can
articulate and test their ideas in a safe space and all have an equal
chance to contribute. Good ideas can emerge from anyone. There is no
limit on how many people can be included.
inspired in part by a Russian inventor, participants are invited to
engage in creative destruction and dispatch sacred cows. They think of
an important objective and then list everything they can do to achieve
the exact opposite. Some of the suggestions are likely to be hilarious.
During the second step their task is to identify anything they currently
do that resembles the things on their list. Now they know what they
need to creatively destroy in order to make space for innovation. Other
LS will help with a deeper dig for solutions.
book is elegantly structured and designed for easily accessible answers
to questions. Part One offers a thoughtful discussion of "The Hidden
Structures of Engagement," how to see them under the surface, how they
work, and how the power of small changes can induce transformations
without expensive training and personnel changes at work and without
strife at home. In Part Two, the authors share their wisdom on learning
and using different LS. They suggest ways to match specific challenges
to specific structures. Is your purpose unclear? Try 9 Whys.
It works at home just as well. Lipmanowicz recalls a colleague saying
she used 9 Whys to help her daughter crystallize ideas for a school
paper. Want to analyze progress to date and decide how to proceed? Try What, So What, Now What.
That too works in home and career. Mixing LS can refine inquiries and
discoveries. The authors suggest ways to string several LS together to
work on complex issues. But they stress their examples are not
prescriptions. While LS are easy to understand, advanced skill using all
of them takes practice. "Learning to customize Liberating Structure
designs for the specific purpose of each complex challenge is an art
form that can be improved over a life time," the authors declare.
extensive field guide explains each LS, its structural elements, its
possibilities, its derivation, and some tips, potential traps and
stories from the field are instructive. Lisa Kimball is an experienced
entrepreneur who started using LS in the 1980s. In her work with the
U.S. Army, a User Experience Fishbowl
allowed soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan to hear first-hand
experiences of soldiers returning from war. That included vital
information on how they built trusting relationships with women in rural
villages to improve intelligence and discourage Taliban recruitment.
Officers reported they learned far more from personal exchanges than
from formal summaries. Michael Gardam, MD, medical director of infection
prevention at the University Health Network in Toronto, explains the
way Social Network Mapping
showed new relationships developing across units and diverse
disciplines as people collaborated to stop the spread of infections. Simple Ethnography
interviews, ranging from housekeeping to executives, then documented
the culture changes and differences of habits and behavior brought about
by new ways of working together.
Structures may be the seeds to grow engagement in your organization.
They may also nurture new thoughts and actions in your communities and
To learn more, participant in a PlexusCall May 9, in which Henri and others will discuss Liberating Structures. Buy the book, visit the LS website, and attend the Liberating Structures Workshop May 29-30. Read the Gallop State of the American Workplace Report.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, April 17, 2014
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data, the combined billions of pieces of information available
electronically, can be expected to change the whole realm of managerial
decision making, according to Tom Davenport, a business analyst and the President's Distinguished Professor in Management and Information Technology at Babson College.
Davenport, the author of Big Data at Work: Dispelling the Myths, Uncovering the Opportunities, describes the challenges and changes he anticipates in an interview with Strategy+Business.
For starters, much of the data used in big data analysis is
unstructured, which means it takes considerable time and effort to get
it into a format that allows for analysis, and even then it's not always
easy to get shades of meaning. Another problem, he says, the sheer
speed and volume of data makes it hard for businesses to use it for
that can develop high speed decision making capabilities in response to
the speed of big data will be taking a big step forward, he told the
magazine. He notes that Peter Drucker warned 20 years ago that
corporate IT's reliance on internal data created a dangerous focus on
inward costs and efforts. But big data will create a healthier focus,
Davenport says, because so much of it comes from external sources-from
social media, data gathered from macro economics, science, politics and
weather. Companies that learn how to include this external data in their
models for decision making will have better ideas on how successful
particular products and marketing campaigns might be.
For example, Davenport cites the company Recorded Future,
which scans vast amounts of information on the Internet-news
publications, government web sites, financial data bases, trade
publications and blogs-and analyzes content to forecast future events.
Davenport notes intelligence agencies use Recorded Future data
to assess potential for terrorism, and private companies use it to
evaluate their competition, their present and potential markets, and
changes among customers or suppliers that might impact their success.
data may produce surprising changes in healthcare. Technology experts
expect that wearable devices that record and monitor people's bodily
functions will increase quantity and potential uses of data in health
data bases. Social media is already a rich source of new heath
information. In a recent New York Times column, economist Eduardo Porter described research indicating analysis of the way a woman used the first person singular in her Twitter
posts provided an uncannily accurate prediction of her odds of
suffering post partum depression. Researchers from Georgia Institute of
Technology and Microsoft analyzed two years Twitter posts
from four cities in Mexico and identified numbness and other mental
health issues among bystanders who had witnessed violence resulting from
activities of drug cartels. They said the findings had potential to
provide mental health resources and other aid to impacted groups and
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, April 10, 2014
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brain activities that give rise to thinking may be akin to the dynamics
of earthquakes, forest fires, the spread of contagious disease, the
distribution of galaxies in the universe and the sand in an hourglass.
Flip an hour glass upside down, and sand running into the bottom of the
glass forms a pile that eventually becomes so unstable that one more
grain can cause the pile to collapse into an avalanche. When that
happens, the base of the sand pile
flattens out, another pile begins, and then it too reaches a point
where it collapses. Through several avalanches of varying sizes, the
sand pile maintains overall stability. It's a process Danish-American
scientist Per Bak called "self organized criticality."
When he died in 2002, The New York Times described Dr. Bak
as an "intellectually pugnacious physicist who sought to understand how
complexity arises in the world," and how the simple particles that make
up the universe could be transformed into the extraordinarily intricate
order found in nature. A story by Jennifer Ouellette in Quanta Magazine and reprinted in the Scientific American,
explains that Dr. Bak found an answer in phase transition, the process
in which materials pass from one state to another. The phase change of
water to steam, for example, depends only on temperature and air
pressure. Ouellette explains Dr. Bak proposed phase change in which
local interactions among many elements of a complex system could
spontaneously self organize to reach the tipping point he called
criticality. In a 1987 paper in Physical Review Letters,
Dr. Bak and coauthors described self organized criticality as the
underlying mechanism behind the flow of rivers, the luminosity of stars,
and what happens in sand piles and other dynamical systems. His book How Nature Works expands on the idea.
didn't immediately embrace Dr. Bak's idea on brain function when he
proposed it 15 years ago. In the last decade, however, EEG recordings of
the interactions among individual brain neurons, large scale studies
comparing computer model predictions and fMRI images, and examinations
of slides of cortical tissue, have produced evidence that the brain
exhibits properties of criticality. Neurophysiologist Dante Chialvo,
from the University of California at Los Angeles, is among the renowned
scientists who now think self organized criticality could explain brain
activity. The idea is also being explored by national and international
Getting back to the hour glass. Ouellette explains that when the sand
pile-a complex system with millions of tiny elements-reaches the
critical point, there is no way to predict which next grain will cause
the avalanche, how big any avalanche will be, or how many there will be
before all the sand is in the bottom of the glass. The things you can
predict are that the falling of one extremely tiny grain can have a big
impact; and that while overall stability of the system is
maintained-there's still a pile-and there will be more small avalanches
than big ones, in line with what mathematicians call power laws.
exact moment of transition in a phase change is the critical point when
the system is half way between one phase and the next. Each of the tens
of billions of neurons in our brains, their connections and their
interactions, produce "the emergent process we call thinking," the Quanta
article says. It goes on to say that Dr. Bak's idea "implies that most
of the time, the brain teeters on the edge of a phase transition,
hovering between order and disorder."
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, April 03, 2014
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What is happening in that mysterious space between people who discover they have fine interpersonal chemistry?
Suzanne Dikker, a cognitive neuroscientist at New York University,
hopes dancing holds clues. She is using dance to investigate human
brainwave synchronization and learn how it can happen. "NeuroTango" was hosted recently by the Greater New York City Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience as part of its Brain Awareness Week. It was also an opportunity for Dikker to get pairs of tango dancers to wear EEG headsets to measure their brain waves as they danced and thought about dancing. A Scientist.com story by Eli Chen describes Dikker's experiment.
who were experienced dancing partners danced to music as they usually
would. They then switched partners, so they were dancing with a new
partner or someone less familiar. Next, they stood still with their
original partners and imagined dancing. Dikker projected graphics onto
the walls, showing when dancers' brains were in sync, and not. Other
studies have shown that experienced dancers coordinate their movement
differently from novices, and that both dancing and mentally rehearsing
the dance stimulate similar brain activity.
Dikker said she is using the tango
because the dancers perform fast, intricate movements that require
exceptional coordination and the need to anticipate each other's every
step, sway and twirl. In addition, leaders and followers have different
mental tasks. She also hopes to learn whether the EEG can reliably
measure brain activities of people who are moving. The Scientist story
says Dikker had worked with Marina Abramovic on "Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze,"
at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow in 2011. In
that event, designed to examine empathy and nonverbal communication,
Amramovic and volunteers sitting opposite her gazed into each other's
eyes while EEG headsets captured their brain activities. In that case,
the subjects were stationary.
Lawrence Parsons, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sheffield, did a neuroimaging study of dancers in 2008. An article he co-authored for the Scientific American says coordinated dancing may not occur anywhere in the animal kingdom except among humans. "Our
talent for unconscious entrainment lies at the core of dance, a
confluence of movement, rhythm and gestural representation," the article
says. "By far the most synchronized group practice, dance demands a
type of interpersonal coordination in space and time that is almost
nonexistent in other social contexts."
Lewis Hou, a research associate at the University of Edinburgh, is studying what happens in the brains of Scottish folk dancers
as they perform. He praises NeuroTango as excellent science
communication and a good way to engage the public in neuroscience. Hou
will be participating in a science festival this April in Edinburgh where the dance performances will be partnered with scientific explorations.
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
From "Among School Children" by William Butler Yeats
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, March 27, 2014
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conversations create identifiable networks that have structural
differences depending on the topic and the influence of dominant
individuals. The structures are created as participants in the network
choose the people they answer, retweet, and mention in their own
messages, according to the Pew Research Internet Project.
The Pew researchers found six identifiable network structures: divided, unified, fragmented, clustered, and inward and outward hub and spoke structures. The report summary contains explanations and examples of teach type.
who tweet about political topics, for instance, tend to form divided
structures, in the form of two separate and polarized conversational
networks. Participants in these differing networks don't interact with
each other and they rely on very different sources of information. In
many controversial conversations participants in the networks that Pew
identified as liberal or conservative cited very different websites and
distinctly different words and hashtags. People in the liberal groups
generally cited URLs for mainstream news outlets, whereas conservatives
tended to cite URLs for conservative news and commentary websites, the
report says. The report says the finding underscores the partisan nature
of political tweeting and group reliance on different people and
organizations as well as different news sources. It also shows the two
groups usually ignore each other despite intense interest in the same
networks are tight crowds of highly interconnected people often joined
together by professional interests and hobbies. These structures often
show how networked learning communities work and how social media can
foster sharing and mutual support. People who form Twitter groups based
on their interests in brands, products or celebrities, tend to form
fragmented networks because they focus on their interest, but don't
usually connect with each other.
conversations often look like bazaars with many centers of activity,
the report says. For instance, people interested in the disappearance of
Malaysian Airlines flight 307 could follow the news presented in
several languages by several news outlets. Any global story, the report
says, can generate multiple and diverse audiences that illustrate
diverse opinions and perspectives.
networks tend to form a hub and inward spoke structure, in which
participants repeat and comment on the output of well known media
outlets. Participants are often connected to and in conversation with
the hub, not each other. Support networks, such asbusinesses trying to
resolve customer complaints, create a hub and outward spoke structure,
where the hub business sends replies and information to many
media is the new public square, Pew researchers say, and the network
maps formed by Twitter conversations are like aerial photographs that
show size, composition, and network locations that are analogous to
positions of strategic importance in physical landscapes. These
locations can help identify key people who influence social media
conversations. Read the Pew Research Internet Project report for more information, illustrations of the maps, and further sources on network data and visualizations.
Thanks to Buck Lawrimore for pointing out this story.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, March 20, 2014
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Army is making more of its positions gender neutral but women are still
a minority in the rank and file and an even smaller minority in
leadership. The new Women's Mentorship Network at Fort Hood, Texas, is
designed to move the numbers by cultivating capable, resilient female
Heather Gunther, communications officer for the 3d Brigade Combat Team,
First Cavalry Division, sees mentorship as a professional
responsibility. She recognizes the math problem: women make up only 17
percent of all active duty forces, and women are underrepresented in the
brigade combat team of more than 4,500 soldiers. Those numbers will
grow as the Army opens more previously closed positions to women-there
could be more than 10,000 positions newly available to women by early
next year, and as many as 90,000 in five years. Just a year ago, Major
Gunther, a signal officer, could not have served at the Battalion level.
Only a man could be the signal officer in a combat arms unit. The Fort
Hood cavalry division was one of the pilot units for the Women in the
Army research and is now leading the way in gender integration.
you look at that many soldiers, and recognize the relatively few women,
you feel a real professional responsibility," Gunther said. "There are
professional development groups for officers and Fortune 500 companies
have employee engagement groups and networks. We wanted something
powerful for women in the military."
and colleagues started by holding brown bag lunches where people could
come voluntarily, on their own time, to examine issues women face
aspiring to professional growth and leadership. "We had battle buddies
up and down and across the installation asking 'can we come,' and before
we knew it, there were circles of women meeting everywhere, wanting to
expand the conversation to non commissioned officers and junior
enlistees. We talked about mentorship, role models, challenges,
opportunities, and psycho-social supports."
The Army has a long tradition of male mentoring, and many famed leaders were beneficiaries. Just to name a few, Major General Fox Connor, operations officer for the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, mentored Dwight Eisenhower.
While Eisenhower was on his staff, Connor designed a course of study in
which Eisenhower did extensive reading in military history and had
daily practice writing field orders for every aspect of command. General George Marshall, the Army chief of staff when the U.S. entered World War II, mentored Omar Bradley, who eventually presided over the American D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy.
notes that the Army's senior leadership has cited the need to create
conditions and support that will help develop women leaders. She adds
that some of her own best mentors have been men, and she wants the new
group to empower men to join women in positive, informed discussions. To
be inclusive and transparent, the Womens' Mentoring Network (WMN) is
open to men and civilians as well as Army women. And as Gunther puts it,
the organization has to be "scalable and starfishy." Before coming to
Fort Hood, Gunther had been at the Army's general staff college at Fort Leavenworth. While there, she participated in a 2011 leadership development program with Ori Brafman, the author of The Starfish and the Spider, a book about successful organizations that are decentralized and adaptive. She also met Lisa Kimball, a former Plexus Institute
president, organizational development leader and skilled facilitator,
who has worked with the Army on leadership development. She conferred
with both about the WMN and she and colleagues decided to infuse the new
venture with some of the processes and practices that had inspired
participants in the groups at Fort Leavenworth.
WMN was launched in January, 60 women attended a clinic directed by
Brafman, and since then 19 women have been trained as facilitators who
know how to guide discussions and use such techniques as improv, and
several Liberating Structures
that can quickly identify crucial questions and issues even in a large
group. Each facilitator hosts a one hour session according to her
schedule, so participants can select the session best suited to their
schedules and needs. Facilitators introduce the interactive exercises in
ways designed to engage attendees as both mentors and mentees,
depending on the situation. In that way, participants can develop
relationships, form networks and share resources even when they are
WMN members can bring up a range of issues, Gunther says, including
controversial ones if they wish, facilitators help keep the discussions
focused on professional development and leadership and at the same time
maintain military values of respect, service and trust. While women's
mentorship initiatives have formed at half a dozen Army bases, not all
have generated wide support. One in Georgia that featured the slogan
"divas in boots" and offered advice on household tips and couponing
aroused the ire of military women who complained it was "too much June
Cleaver and too little GI Jane." Gunther doesn't dismiss domestic
concerns. She just wants the women in WMN to maintain the vision of
career development and a support system that will eventually enrich the
Armed Forces with experienced, confident women who are ready to lead
when the opportunity arises.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, March 13, 2014
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Indian Port cities that have enjoyed a long history of ethnic tolerance
even as regions around them succumbed to violence, commerce may have
provided the path to peace.
an assistant professor of political economy at Stanford Graduate School
of Business, who studies conflict among different social and ethnic
groups, looked at the level of violence in medieval port cities in
India, which tended to have greater ethnic diversity than other towns.
He discovered that when differing groups provide each other with
complementary goods and services, their cities are more peaceful.
examined the history of Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, where they
have interacted for more than 1,500 years. The two groups have done a
lot of fighting, but they have also had peace, and Jha wanted to learn
what conditions led to some long periods of tolerance and cooperation.
His research showed that port cities were five times less prone to
Hindu-Muslim riots between 1850 and 1950, and half as prone from 1950 to
1995. In the Gujarat state in India, port cities were 25 percent less
likely than similar inland towns to experience violence in the ethnic
rioting that swept the region in 2002. The medieval port city of Surat in Gujarat was peaceful during that upheaval.
a minority group, or group not native to the area, provided goods or
services that couldn't be duplicated, peaceful coexistence was likely.
In a paper in the American Political Science Review,
Jha wrote that seventeenth century Muslims had something Hindus wanted.
They had transoceanic trade routes, developed through religious
pilgrimages. For millions of Muslims from all over the world, the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mohammed's birthplace in Mecca
in Saudi Arabia, in a time-honored obligation. Jha writes that from the
700s through the 1800s the world's largest textile market was in Mecca
during the Hajj. Ocean trade routes couldn't be stolen or replicated,
Jha writes, so the Muslim dominance in Middle Eastern trade was valuable
to Hindus, and made the two groups less prone to conflict.
also found that institutions and organizations, especially those that
emerged from historic ethnically diverse trade, can help counter
conflict. For example, he writes, the Bhoras were Muslim traders who had
promoted ethnic tolerance and community disaster relief as well as
commerce through a well organized religious hierarchy. See Jha's paper on trade organizations and religious tolerance.
The influence of such organizations is likely to have aided the
historical and present day relatively peaceful coexistence of Muslim and
Hindu in port cities in the Indian Ocean region. See a Stanford news
release here.image credit: ancient city of Surat from freelibrary.com
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, March 06, 2014
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bears hibernate through bitter cold winters, they don't eat, drink, or
excrete, their kidneys shut down, their heart rate falls to a few beats a
minute, their oxygen intake and blood flow plunge, and because they're
living off their own mighty stores of fat, their cholesterol skyrockets.
And when they wake up they're fine. They're not suffering from
diabetes, hardening of the arteries or gall stones, and they haven't
lost muscle or bone density.
think the mysteries of bear hibernation may have much to teach us about
human health issues ranging from obesity to kidney disease to organ
preservation and long distance space travel.
a senior scientist at the biotechnology company Amgen calls hibernation
by black bears and grizzly bears an "astonishing feat of evolution." In
a New York Times story
he explains that when bears halt their renal functions during
hibernation, the result is badly scarred kidneys and levels of blood
toxin that would kill a human. Yet full function is restored when the
bear wakes, and scientists find no lasting damage. Before hibernation,
bears eat and drink prodigiously, and quickly gain the weight and fat
they'll need for their long sleep, which can last up to seven months.
During hibernation, Corbit writes, bears become insulin resistant,
making them in effect diabetic. Unlike diabetic humans, however, they
maintain normal blood sugar levels. And again, when they wake up, their
insulin responsiveness is restored.
the top seasonal weight, male black bears can weigh up to 900 pounds
and females can weigh up to 500 pounds.They may lose up to 30 percent of
their body weight during hibernation. See a Nova report and a National Park Service piece on bear hibernation.
naturally and reversibly succumb to diabetes," Corbit writes. "Since we
know when they make this switch, we hope to pinpoint how they do this."
bears scientists have studied don't handle fat the same way humans do.
It doesn't cause tissue inflammation in bears, and Corbit writes that
bears store their excess winter weight harmlessly in fat tissue, rather
in the liver and muscles as humans do. Corbit's research on bears,
supported by his company, is focused on finding innovations in treating
obesity. Hibernation itself is an adaptation to seasonal food shortages,
extreme cold and snow. Millions of years of evolution has produced
genetic adaptations that make fluctuating weight and obesity benign for
bears. Corbit figures maybe scientists can figure out how to do that for
A Science article by Sara Reardon
says the mysteries of bear metabolism during hibernation could give
doctors the ability to slow down the metabolism of accident victims,
thereby extending the time when treatment is most effective. Findings
could also help extend the preservation of organs for donation.
Understanding how bear brains continue to function with low oxygen, and
the mechanisms by which sleeping bears conserve their muscle and bone
mass during months of inactivity could be useful in managing long term
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
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engineers were so successful in creating a silent automotive interior
that customers complained. They missed engine roar and road noise. So
BMW spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop an audio algorithm
to generate engine noises to be played through the car's stereo system.
BMW claimed its system accurately replicated engine sounds over the full range of RPMs, operating conditions and speed.
an associate professor of psychology at Cornell, cites BMW's expensive
reversal of its initial engineering achievement as an example of what
happens when our intuition and our technology are out of sync. In fact,
Pizarro argues that our social and moral intuitions increasingly fail us
as we are confronted with fast-paced changes in science and
technological innovation. In a lecture at Edge.org,
Pizarro describes how subjects in an experiment on trustworthiness
quickly engaged with a robot called Nexi that had very limited facial
features and movements and visible wires. The robot, with its
unmistakable mechanical appearance, had been programmed with nonverbal
cues experimentally associated with trustworthiness.
30 seconds people were actually talking to Nexi as though she were a
human being, in fact saying things that were quite private," Pizarro
said. He added that some participants even thought Nexi was a
technologically advanced talking robot, "when in reality there was a
graduate student behind the curtain, so to speak." Pizarro quoted early
psychological research indicating our social intuitions build in
intentionality and agency, even when they're not there. During a discussion after the lecture, economist Sendhil Mullainathan, recalled stories in Everett Rogers' book Diffusion of Innovation,
describing how people adopt new technologies in ways that are congruent
with older intuitions. When Indian farmers started using tractors, for
example, they went to the tractor every night and put a blanket over it.
want to kick the vending machine that doesn't deliver the candy bar and
bellow at the computer when Windows delivers the blue screen of death.
We feel bad if a computer game stops playing with us. When we get those
pop-up ads based on an earlier purchase or search, we get a creepy
feeling that someone has been watching us and reading our email. And
that's even when we know about algorithms that generate personalized
don't have intuitions for algorithms," Pizarro said. "As technology
advances, there is no way in which we can rapidly generate new
intuitions. So...when we hear about self-driving cars, we get nervous,
even though we're certain that percentage-wise this would reduce the
number of traffic accidents. It just doesn't feel right." Pizarro fears
some new technologies may be stifled by old intuitions that have
evolved from earlier eras. We could end up making erroneous moral
judgments about technological advances with the potential to cure
diseases and improve lives. By the way, a Car and Driver story by K.W. Colwell explains BMW is not the only auto manufacturer to pipe fake sounds to the drivers.
believes we have yet to define what constitutes an error in judgment in
many areas of emerging technology. For instance, he asks, does the
impersonal nature of drones and robots in war constitute an immoral
action? Is the problem the lack of human agency? How does one figure out
acts of omission vs. acts of commission when technical tools are
What about genetically modified humans? The New York Times
reports that with mitrochondrial manipulation technology, the nuclear
material can be removed from an egg or an embryo of a woman who has an
inheritable mitrochondrial disease and inserted into the healthy egg or
embryo of a donor whose own nuclear material has been discarded. The
resulting child would have the genetic material of three people. The federal Food and Drug Administration is considering the issue.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, February 20, 2014
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Invading armies, the slave trade, merchant travel on the Silk Road, the
flight of refugees and the rise and fall of ancient empires have left
indelible traces in the lives of people today. Geneticists using new
statistical techniques to unravel the surprising results of the
world-wide mixing of human populations over the last 4,000 years have
created a human genetic atlas published in the journal Science.
Genes tell stories of humanity's past. The Kalash people
of Pakistan today have bits of DNA from an ancient European population.
The Kalash and several other groups in the region are the likely
descendants of soldiers of Alexander the Great, who invaded India in 326 BCE. The Arab slave trade
is the likely source of segments of African origin in the genomes of
people who live today in the southern Mediterranean and parts of the
Middle East. That trade began in the seventh century, and many slaves
were absorbed into host populations. European ancestral genes were
probably brought to the Tu people of central China between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries by traders traveling the Silk Road. Scientists say the rise of the Mongol Empire
and the invasion of Mongol hoards conquering new territories is one of
history's most wide-spread population mixing events. Alterations in the
human genome have emerged through centuries of the chaotic events we
A team of scientists led by Simon Myers of Oxford University, Garrett Hellenthal of University College of London, and Daniel Falush
of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany
sampled genomes round the world and discovered they could identify 95
While all humans have the same set of genes, a New York Times story by Nicholas Wade
explains, our genomes are "studded with mutations, which are
differences in the sequence of DNA units in the genome." Whole sets of
mutations are passed from parent to child, so certain patterns become
common in certain populations. When people from different populations
marry, their children's genomes have big chunks of DNA from each
parent's ancestry. The size of the chunks decreases with each successive
generation, as the DNA of the parents' genome is swapped during the
chemistry of reproduction. Geneticists looking at the size of the
different chunks can calculate how many generations have passed since
the introduction a new mutation. That allows them to identify an
approximate date when the populations mixed.
The European colonization of America is recorded in the genomes of the Maya and Pima Indians, the story says, and the genomes of Cambodian populations record the invasion Tai people and the fall of the Khmer Empire
in the fifteenth century. The English are known to have a rich history
of ancestral invaders, but because they were genetically similar to the
English, scientists have not yet been able to identify specific mixing
events. While scientists who created the genetic atlas did not work with
historians, they hope their discoveries will be useful in historical
research and discovery. Read the Times story here. Read a Christian Science Monitor story here, an abstract of the Science story here and see an interactive map here.
man is whole encyclopedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests
is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie
folded already in the first man. -Ralph Waldo Emerson