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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dream Jobs

In the movie ‘The Matrix’, super computers at the time had to run on batteries, and since human beings had more of a charge to them then your typical Ray o vac battery. So they farmed crops of humans who were kept alive by existing in a virtual world consisting of a nine to five grind in a cubicle and no stock options.  And so humans thrived in their real and virtual cocoons, and as the machines figured from hard experience, they would have it no other way. (except for those few who wanted a different reality, and live in a cave and eat pea soup for the rest of their lives. These folks were called neo-phytes).

Dream Jobs

What with green energy and fracking, humankind has got this energy thing down for the time being. Although the battery problem is solved, the reality one persists, and that’s when the Matrix reenters, and in a good way if you like cubicles that is.

According the most prognosticators on the subject, computing power is trending to infinity. This is particularly good for app creators, who with all that infinite power can model not just Duke Nukem, but the Duke of Buckingham, the Duke, and even lowly you. Called an ancestor simulation by the Oxford University professor Nick Bostrom, Bostrom has surmised that if one of your descendents, and I mean just one, decides to emulate you to see what life was like in the 21st century, or perhaps get even with you for the mega trillions of national debt he has to pay back for your medicare, then very likely he can emulate just about everybody, and in every variation. In other words, if anybody in the future decides to run an ancestor simulation, then almost certainly YOU are living in the mind of a computer, and are a simulation! Even I cannot make this up, but ultimately I don’t need to if I am made up.

Well, back to my dream job………………….

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Keys to your Facebook

If you want that dream job, dream date, or dream bank loan, it used to be that there was only a minimal amount of information you could cough up, and then you were sure it was carefully chosen to not reveal the embarrassing facts that if better known would send you packing or even packing off to jail. Presently, some employers are asking potential hires to hand over your password to your Facebook or other social media accounts so that your character, resume, personality, can be properly inspected. This controversy may be dampened by federal law, public outrage, or just saying no, but in the end it’s probably all moot, as your privacy has likely already escaped.  There is plenty of stuff out there to embarrass you, only you don’t know it yet.

But you will.

Right now, if I wanted the scoop on a competitor, a friend, or the next door neighbor, I would have to do a laborious internet search, and then laboriously make some sense out of it. Not anymore!  For the software tools we use from day to day, all that stuff can be brought to you automatically, whether you ask for it or not. Consider the common customer relationship management program.  The CRM we use at our own company, called Capsule, instantly goes out and grabs all the social networking connections of any individual whose email you type in.  So now you not only have their name but their ugly mug to look at, and instant access to their social networking connections that you never asked for in the first place. This is somewhat scary, for what this means that someone else who has that email can pull out all my social networking stuff and God knows whatever else is out there about my life. Of course, my life is as pristine as the driven winter snow (i.e. I am boring), but very likely yours is not. It used to be that only running for President would reveal your dirty laundry. Now your laundry is all over the place, so if I were you I’d watch your sox life among other things, or else create a fake facebook page!

See also:

Through a Google Glass Darkly

In a phrase, the internet revolution may be summed up as a global movement, inspired by IT overlords to move our intelligence to machines while decreasing our intelligence by encouraging us to do mindless things. In other words, the internet is dumbing us UP and dumbing us DOWN.

His and Hers Google Glasses

A case in point are a new software tool that will allow us to be omniscient in a robotic Terminator sort of way, and a new software app that will help terminate our intelligence.  The latest such boon to man or should I say peoplekind is called Google Glass, and brings Google two inches from your nose. The second, called Instagram, helps you make your pictures look old or otherwise crappy.  Jon Stewart on the Daily Show recently took note of this. His take on it is worth a billion virtual dollars!

Mr. Greenjeans and the Laptop Bunnies

For those of us who remember the past, or when we had teeth, to learn about the latest good stuff you had merely to turn on Captain Kangaroo in the morning.  Mr. Greenjeans was the family farmer who would daily bring warm and fuzzy creatures that we would want to adopt for some coin, an idea that was later replicated by the web app ‘Farmville’ and virtual  bunnies, which can be purchased for some coin.

              When bunnies were a ‘Best Buy’

Back then, you could feel and touch the bunnies close up before you made your buying decision, and the knowledgeable farmer was right there to answer any of your questions.  Of course, now we have smart phone apps that can read the bar code on the bunnies, and allow you to find an identical bunny at the factory farm for far less money and a better bunny warranty. Naturally, this puts the family farmer out of business, and leaves your progeny wondering what bunnies are actually like. However, at least we have bunny user reviews.     

Looking and feeling is a user experience that no amount of user reviews can replace.  When shopping moves to the web and our brick and mortar stores close, we are losing something priceless. Presently, pricing apps promote judgment by hearsay rather than experience. So, we will miss our experience with cuddly bunnies, laptops, wide screen displays, hard bound books, and much more of what used to be called a shopping experience. And our bunnies, like everything else, will live somewhere disembodied in the cloud. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Flow Experience: A Graphic Explanation

Flow Experience: Discovered by the psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, who defined it as flowing experience where the self reaches undreamed levels of consciousness and an evolved level of self-hood. It can also mean a high level of attentive arousal during touch and go situations (e.g. rock climbing, auto racing) where you'll likely lose your head along with your self and your consciousness if you don't pay attention.

Flow was coined by the psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi[i] to describe the unique emotional state that parallels one’s complete ‘immersion’ in a task. As described by the psychologist Daniel Goleman, “Flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.  In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”[ii] These descriptions are of course metaphorical representations of the experience of flow, and describe what flow is like rather than what it is.  Because these ‘dependent’ measures of flow have no empirical referent (What is the neurological equivalent of spontaneous joy for instance?), one is left with the independent or antecedent variables of demand and skill that elicit flow, which thankfully can be empirically defined. What is unique about these variables is that they not only map to flow experiences, but also other emotional experiences such as anxiety and boredom. Thus Csikszentmihalyi's model does not just represent flow, but a wide range of emotional experiences. The question is, although emotion maps to demand and skill, can demand or skill be manipulated in the moment to elicit flow, or for that matter, any other emotion?

The Flow Channel

On the surface, the graphical representation of the flow channel is simple to understand. Just plot your moment to moment challenge against your moment to moment skill, and voila, you can predict what your emotions are going to be. For any particular task, the problem is that although demand moves up or down dependent upon the exigencies of the moment, skill should be relatively stable during or within the performance, and only change, and for the most part gradually between performances. Thus, one may accomplish a task that from moment to moment varies in demand, but the skills brought to that task are the same regardless of demand. What this means is that for any one performance set, skill is not a variable, but a constant. That is, one cannot adjust skill against demand during performance because skill can only change negligibly during performance, or in other words does not move. Thus for performance that requires any skill set, the only variable that can be manipulated is demand. For moment to moment behavior the adjustable variable that elicits flow is demand and demand alone. But that leaves us with figuring out what demand exactly is.

A demand may be defined as simple response-outcome contingency. Thus, if you do X, Y will occur or not occur. It is thus inferred that demand entails a fully predictable means-end relationship or expectancy. But the inference that the act-outcome expectancy is always fully predictable is not true. Although a response-outcome is fully predictable when skill overmatches demand, as demand rises to match and surpass skill, uncertainty in the prediction of a performance outcome also rises. At first, the uncertainty is positive, and reaches its highest level when a skill matches the level of demand. This represents a ‘touch and go’ experience wherein every move most likely will result in a positive outcome. It is here that many individuals report euphoric flow like states. Passing that, the moment to moment uncertainty of a bad outcome increases, along with a corresponding rise in tension and anxiety.

The Flow Channel

Momentary positive uncertainty as a logical function of the moment to moment variance occurring when demand matches skill has never been used as a predictor for flow, and is ignored in Csikszentmihalyi’s model because uncertainty by implication does not elicit affect. Rather, affect is imputed to metaphorical concepts of immersion, involvement, and focused attention that are not grounded to any specific neurological processes. However, the fact that act-outcome discrepancy alone has been correlated with specific neuro-chemical changes in the brain that map to euphoric, involved, timeless[iii], or immersive states, namely the activation of mid-brain dopamine systems, narrows the cause of flow to abstract elements of perception rather than metaphorical aspects of performance. These abstract perceptual elements denote information, and can easily be defined and reliably be mapped to behavior, and most importantly, corresponding affect.

A final perceptual aspect of demand that correlates with the elicitation of dopamine is the importance of the end result or goal of behavior. Specifically, dopaminergic systems are activated by the in tandem perception of discrepancy and the predicted utility or value of end result of a response contingency. The flow model maps behavior to demand and skill, but not only is skill fixed, so is the importance of the goal state that predicates demand. However, the relative importance of the goal state correlates with the intensity of affect. For example, representing an endeavor that matches his skills, a rock climber ascending a difficult cliff would be euphoric if the moment to moment end result was high, namely avoiding a fatal fall, but would be far less so if he was attached to a tether, and would suffer only an injury to his pride is he were to slip. Finally, the flow experience correlates also with a state of relaxation, which would also be predicted as choices in flow are singular and clear and involve no conflicting or stressful choices.  

The graphical model of the flow experience, like the Yerkes-Dodson model that predates it, is not an explanatory model because it does not derive from a neurologically grounded explanation of flow. Secondly, it is not even a very good descriptive model because it imputes a moment to moment variability in skill within a performance set that is not characteristic of any single performance, and because it ignores other correlations between moment to moment act-outcome discrepancy (or risk) and affect that are well demonstrated in neurological explanations of incentive motivation. Ultimately, the flow experience purports to explain a key facet of incentive motivation through an inductive approach that misrepresents the dependent (skill) and ignores the independent variables (discrepancy) that truly map to the affective and motivational experience that is flow, while ignoring the expansive neurological literature on incentive motivation.  In other words, as a creature of metaphor flow is good literature, but is not good science because it eschews the explanatory essence of science.

Journal Article On Bio-Behavioristic Theory of Flow

[i] Barrett L. F., Russell J. (1998) Independence and bipolarity in the structure of current affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 967–984
[ii] Goleman, D. (2006) Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam
[iii] Meck, W. H. (1996) Neuropharmacology of timing and time perception, Cognitive Brain Research, (3)3-4, 227-242