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Thursday Complexity Post
February 27, 2014

 

Intuition and Technology: Out of Sync

 

BMW 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.

 

David Pizarro, 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.

 

"Within 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'd go to the tractor every night and put a blanket over it.

 

We 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 ads.

 

"We 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.

 

Pizarro 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 make using them immoral? Is the problem the lack of human agency? How does one figure out acts of omission vs. acts of commission when technical tools are involved?

 

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.  

 

 

A new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation, by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz describes novel, practical and engaging ways to foster increased productivity, collaboration and creativity in any group of any size. These processes are surprisingly easy to learn. Discover today what Liberating Structures can do for you, without expensive investments, complicated training, or difficult restructuring. Liberate everyone's contributions -- all it takes is the determination to experiment. Get the book and save the date for a Plexus Institute Liberating Structures workshop with the authors on May 29-30, 2014 in Washington, DC.  

 

 

Remember PlexusCalls!

    

PlexusCalls

Friday, February 28, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Innovative Scientist Empowers Patients Battling Rare Diseases 
Guests: Jimmy Lin and Trish Silber

Register:  

http://myaccount.maestroconference.com/conference/register/AGML4UUDIRBGBO

 

Some 7,000 rare genetic diseases afflict about 30 million Americans and 250 million people world wide. Dr. Jimmy Lin, physician, computational geneticist, and oncology researcher, thought there had to be a way to help families struggling to find treatments for children with unusual and poorly understood conditions. Many families are finding a way through Dr. Lin's creative uses of high technology, crowd-funding, and help from friends and colleagues in science, medicine and academia.

 

Jimmy Lin, MD, PhD, MHS, is a 2012 TED Fellow and Founder & President of Rare Genomics Institute, the world's first platform to enable communities to leverage cutting-edge biotechnology to advance understanding of rare diseases. Partnering with top medical institutions, such as Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford, RGI helps custom design personalized research projects for diseases so rare that no organization exists to help. Previously, Dr. Lin was a medical school faculty member at the Washington University in St. Louis and, while at Johns Hopkins, led the computational analysis of the first ever exome sequencing studies for any human disease. He has numerous publications in Science, Nature Genetics, Nature Biotechnology, and Cell and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BBC, TIME, CNN, and the Huffington Post.

 

Trish Silber is president of Aliniad Consulting Partners, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm focused on strategy, leadership, and organizational change. Her expertise is in executive coaching and in leading system-wide strategy and change efforts from a complexity perspective. She has over 25 years of experience consulting to businesses, government and non-profits. Trish earned an MBA from Santa Clara University and a BA in behavioral psychology from Connecticut College. She served on the faculty of the George Washington University graduate program on leadership coaching from 2001 to 2006. Trish is a former board member for Plexus Institute and currently serves on the board of the National Environmental Education Foundation and on the Advisory Council of The Leadership Sanctuary. She is a TED Fellow coach and participated in the 2012 and 2013 SupporTED Collaboratoria.

 

 

PlexusCalls

Wednesday, March 19, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Listening to the Patient 
Guest: Sally Okun 

Register:  

http://myaccount.maestroconference.com/conference/register/AGML4UUDIRBGBO

 

The management of longterm chronic illness is a major challenge today, and much of the management is accomplished in the home, by patients and their families. PatientsLikeMe was founded in 2004 as a support and research-based social network, a place where patients can connect with other patients with the same illness, learn from others, and share what they themselves have learned.  

 

 

 
Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit plexusinstitute.org under Resources/Call Series. 

  

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