Big Think

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Big Think is the leading source of expert-driven, actionable, educational content -- with thousands of videos, featuring experts ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Nye, we help you get smarter, faster. We aim to help you explore the big ideas and core skills that define knowledge in the 21st century, so you can apply them to the questions and challenges in your own life.

How machine intelligence is remaking the American economy

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Michael Li: We hear a lot about data science, AI, machine learning. These are all things that are in the milieu right now. I think they fundamentally point at the same idea, the same concept, around you might call it machine intelligence—where it’s about how do you use computers and the vast amount of data that’s out there, that kind of big data, and then leverage that to make more intelligent decisions as an organization, as a government, as a nonprofit. This really comes from a few major secular trends that are happening. One is the plummeting cost of computation and the plummeting cost of storage. So now we have the capacity to store that data relatively cheaply and be able to process that data relatively cheaply. And then the other major trend is that everyone’s walking around with smartphones. Everyone’s interacting with the internet for a large portion of the day. And so we’re able to capture huge parts of the human experience and digitize that information and store it in the cloud. So when we have all these connected devices that are measuring us, we can actually say a lot about human behavior. And that’s actually really, really fascinating. And from that we’re able to create products, services that are so much more rich and so much more personalized than we’ve been able to do before. And so if you think about maybe even the simplest example, it might be something like Netflix with a recommendation engine that’s able to serve up content in a very targeted way so that they give you, they show you out of their library (of probably millions of possible videos for you to watch) the five to ten that you’re most likely to want to watch. And they can do this from what’s called “look-alike analysis” where they would look at what other people, who have watched a similar set of videos as you have, how have they rated those videos. How much they’ve liked those videos. And then see what other videos those people have liked that you haven’t yet watched. And that’s probably a good candidate for a video that you should watch. So that kind of look-alike analysis—or if you’re a data scientist you probably call that a recommendation engine—That’s actually a very powerful technique and it’s sort of very fundamental to a business that has tens of millions of videos and they know you’re only going to watch one tonight. How do you pick out that one good video so that’s not such a huge search problem for a consumer but it’s actually a pleasurable experience for them? And that has implications beyond Netflix. If you think about a company like Amazon, that’s incredibly important for them. They have billions of items in their store. You need to be able to figure out what to buy and so they can tell you the right item that can maybe get you to buy something that you otherwise wouldn’t have purchased. And that has a direct impact on their bottom line. And it also makes consumers happier, right? It helps you reduce the amount of time you spend searching for products and services. So I think these kind of data-enabled services where companies can give you what you want when you want it, that’s becoming increasingly powerful within the kind of consumer market and it’s becoming increasingly the standard. So I think what we’ve seen is that for a lot of legacy enterprises that are not digital first, that haven’t been able to embrace data and data science, there’s an almost a kind of an adversarial relationship between the consumer and that product or service, where you’re saying as a consumer, “Hey, I have this great experience when I’m interacting with Google or Netflix. They seem to give me what I want. Why can’t you give me what I want?”

1 day ago

Inside bias: Why so many companies make big hiring mistakes

AI doesn’t have to be scary. It can augment our intelligence, says venture capitalist and best-selling author Scott Hartley. What AI can also do is help us fight our own biases, starting with the prejudices inherent in the hiring process "algorithms”. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Scott Hartley: In this world where we focus so much on what we’re building, how we’re building it, I think we need to take a step back and reconsider why we’re building, and really humanize our technology, really bring together diverse teams of methodologies and people and mindsets so that we can take our technology and actually apply it to the most fundamental human problems. Today the conversation is largely about artificial intelligence, and one of the concepts that I like to discuss in the book The Fuzzie and the Techie is this concept of intelligence augmentation—so: thinking about using AI but using it in a way that’s augmenting the ability of humans. So Paul English, who was the creator of, he is a techie through and through, but he also calls himself an AI realist; he’s somebody who believes in the promise of artificial intelligence, but also realizes that this is not something that tomorrow or next year or maybe perhaps in the next decade is going to completely take away from the characteristics and the qualities of what a human can provide. And so he’s now creating a company called Lola that’s based in Boston, and Lola is sort of Kayak 2.0, where rather than trying to take the travel industry and put it online he’s actually taking travel and putting it back into the hands of travel agents, real people that are working on the phones dealing with people that are calling in to book travel. And what he’s doing is he’s supplementing those travel agents with technology, with artificial intelligence, really “flipping the letters” and trying to use intelligence augmentation as an AI realist to sort of better the service that a travel agent can provide. Eric Colson, who is the Chief Algorithms Officer at Stitch Fix, he uses machine learning—he uses artificial intelligence, but to augment the human stylist. So they have 60 or 70 data scientists working on creating machine learning algorithms, but those are used to supplement the 3400, 3500 stylists who have their own propensities for delivering fashion, they have their own biases as to the geography or the age or the style preferences of somebody they might be serving clothing to. And so the machine learning actually learns the bias of the human over time and tries to mitigate that bias by offsetting the selection of clothing that they provide at that particular stylist. And I think that’s a really interesting example of artificial intelligence not necessarily taking away from that stylist but actually augmenting, improving, helping them perform better. And I think that flipping the letters from AI to IA is really something that we should be thinking more about today in the context of the AI debate. I think it starts with job requisition and writing sort of the job descriptions that we want to hire for. And I think we are bombarded by applicants, we’re bombarded by new resumes and “data driven processes”, and so the quick answer is to use natural language processing and screen for keywords, to run things through a filter and draw out the resumes that really hit the five key words that relate to your team. And I think what this does is it creates sort of an “inside bias,” where you’re creating and you’re bringing together people that all have sort of the same perspective, the same backgrounds, and it can really sort of create in the sense of what Daniel Kahneman, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner and behavioral economics talks about as “inside bias”. And I think to the extent that we can think about inside/outside bias and trying to bring say 20 percent of the team from a different perspective, from a different vector, from a different methodology or background, that can really bring diversity to a team where, if you have a data science team, 80 percent of the people may make perfect sense to have them have complete backgrounds in data science—but what’s to say that 20 percent of the team shouldn’t be philosophers or psychologists or anthropologists? And I think that sort of mentality of almost “Google 20 percent time,” thinking about it for 20 percent people time, 20 percent difference of methodology or difference of perspective.

2 days ago

What we know for certain about the universe—and what we don't | Michelle Thaller

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Michelle Thaller: Evie, you ask a wonderful question: how many galaxies are there? And this is something that we actually don’t know the answer to, but I can tell you a wonderful story about what we do know. So let me first talk about what a galaxy is. And a galaxy is a family of stars, but usually in the hundreds of billions of stars. We live in a galaxy called the Milky Way and there are about 500 billion stars, we think, in the Milky Way Galaxy. Galaxies are absolutely huge. The Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light-years across, and that’s not really a number I can get my mind around, seeing as one light-year is about six trillion miles, so our single galaxy is 100,000-times-six-trillion miles across. It’s absolutely huge. The best analogy I know is that if you think about the sun—the sun is a giant thing, the sun is so big you can fit a million Earths inside it. It’s really, really big. And if we made the sun the size of a dot of an “i”, so pretend that the sun is only the size of—like take a regular page of a book, look at the dot of an “i”, if the sun were that big, how big would our one Milky Way Galaxy be? It would be about the size of the earth. So that’s how big a single galaxy is. If the sun were the dot of an “i”, the Milky Way galaxy would be roughly the size of our planet. Now how many galaxies do we know of? And this is a wonderful result from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope decided to try to answer that question, and what it did is it looked at an area of the sky that, as far as we knew, was blank, it was just black; we couldn’t see many stars there, we didn’t see any galaxies there, and it decided to take a very, very deep distant look at the universe. Now, the way the Hubble Space Telescope (and any camera) works is it works kind of like a “light bucket.” You can actually open up the eyes of the telescope and tell it to just keep staring, and the longer it stares the fainter and more distant objects you can see. For those of you that like photography, it’s called doing a time exposure. You leave your camera open for a certain amount of time and you can see fainter and fainter things. Well, incredibly, the Hubble Space Telescope kept its eyes open on this one little part in the sky for more than a month, and it just let any light come and build up this beautiful image, and what we discovered is that in this empty part of the sky—empty we say!—we counted over 5000 galaxies. Five thousand galaxies we didn’t even know were there. They were just so faint we’d never seen them before. When we finally had a sensitive enough telescope up in space and we were able to keep it staring at a tiny little part of the sky for a month 5000 galaxies turned out to be hiding there that we’d never seen. So, how much of the sky was this tiny little part that the Hubble Space Telescope looked at? So let’s go back to the dot of an “i”. So think about the dot of an “i” in a book, and now hold of that book at arm’s length. It’s a tiny little point, you can almost barely see the dot of an “i” held at arm’s length. That’s how much of the sky the Hubble Space Telescope counted 5000 galaxies in. And if you do the statistics, if you take that little dot in the sky, and by the way we’ve done this, we’ve taken other deep images in different regions of the sky, and we get about the same count of galaxies anywhere we look. If you do the math, tiny little dot all over the sky, 5000 galaxies in each dot, there are actually several trillion galaxies that we can see with the Hubble Space Telescope if we had the time to observe the entire sky. So we know that there are several trillion galaxies that the Hubble Space Telescope can see, but is that really the number? Is that how many galaxies there really are? The universe we think is far larger than we’re able to see right now.

3 days ago

Did Trump abandon South Korea at the North Korea summit? | Eugene Gholz

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Eugene Gholz: So recently President Trump, as part of a diplomatic opening with North Korea, agreed to cancel or at least suspend for some time what he called “U.S. war games” with South Korea, so training exercises that the United States does with its allies in the Pacific to prepared to defend them potentially against attacks. And this shocked a lot of people, both because we’ve been doing these exercises for many, many years and people feel, in fact, President Trump had built up the potential threat from North Korea persistently that said “North Korea is very dangerous and we need to be ready to defend against North Korea”. Now we’re saying “we don’t have to practice anymore”?! And lots of our other allies with whom we engage in exercises in the region, not just with South Korea, are saying if the United States can so blithely write off its willingness and commitment to practice, to show that it’s ready to defend us, they’re wondering if they can trust the United States. U.S. military exercises are one of our main signals of commitment to defend other countries, to take care of these countries that we’ve made alliances with over the years, but these alliances are very asymmetric alliances. These alliances are really the United States promise to defend these other countries—not that the Philippines are going to come defend the United States if somebody ever attacks us—It’s a one-sided agreement. But to give the Philippines confidence that we would really defend them, for years we have a said, “Well, look, we always show up, we do these practice runs with you, we help train your militaries, we make it easier to operate together, such that if we did have to defend you we would be in a position to defend you.” And President Trump, without seeming to think through the military implications or the political signal that he was sending to our other allies, leapt way ahead on making an arrangement with North Korea that said, “Hey, if it looks like North Korea is not going to attack South Korea, it will make North Korea feel better and more willing to make that commitment if the United States doesn’t seem to practice something that the North Koreans think involve the United States preparing to attack North Korea.” And so while I think it’s actually perfectly reasonable for the other countries in Asia to believe, especially given the defensive oriented trajectory of military technology, that they can defend themselves without regular U.S. military exercises and a regular U.S. commitment in the region, that’s going to take some preparation. The other militaries in this region need to adapt their technology investments, adapt their training programs, prepare themselves for a time when they’re going to take care of more of their own defense. And President Trump seems to have just sort of skipped over that and made a very North-Korea-focused offer as opposed to a broad offer understanding its regional implications. So South Korea is much more powerful than North Korea. South Korea, the GDP is more than 30 times bigger. If you think about just the ability to use its wealth to buy equipment and prepare its military to defend itself it’s vastly greater than North Korea’s military capability. And South Korea’s population is more than twice as big; they can mobilize to be much bigger than North Korea. We‘re not leaving South Korea in the lurch. South Korea is a very technologically sophisticated country with a capable government that can take care of itself and, of course, there’s a long background capability of South Korea and the United States working together to practice and prepare their militaries to defend South Korea. At the same time, North Korea’s military—North Korea has not substantially invested in conventional military capability in a number of years. They’ve been spending all of their investments effectively on their nuclear program because they’ve understood that with conventional capability they were not going to be able to go on the offense. That’s just been off the table for them. They had a deterrent capability in the threat to use artillery to attack Seoul, but that was not as good a deterrent capability from their perspective as having nuclear weapons would be. And so they’ve been relying on that conventional artillery deterrent capability to kind of get them through, to bridge through while of their nuclear program was gearing up, but all of their money went into their nuclear program.

4 days ago

Don't sacrifice what you love just to achieve your dreams | Nick Offerman

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Nick Offerman: One of the great secrets to maintaining a discipline in one’s life is that it has an incredible meditative or Zen quality to it. My character in this film, Frank, is a little bit obsessed with playing music and creating music. It comes out in sort of an ugly way in the scene on the porch at Toni Collette’s house where he just simply says—but it’s kind of nicely underwritten—he says “I don’t want to sell music.” And what I take from that is, he’s saying “I don’t want to be the salesman of other people’s albums. I want to be making my album. Even if nobody buys it, that’s what I should be doing.” And I know that feeling firsthand. As somebody in the performing arts, when—it’s an ugly business, we’ve all kind of heard stories about, that are true about how much rejection and how superficial the business is. It’s very seldom merit based. So, for example, I’ve done very well. I’m very grateful for all the wonderful good fortune I’ve had. But me and my wife and all of our friends who have done well, we all have friends that we think are more talented than we are and it didn’t work out the same way for them. And so one of them is teaching college; Their life took them on different paths. And so knowing that, people often ask me, how can I get my kid involved in show business? And the same might be asked of Frank, you know. How can we make it? How can our band make it as musicians? And I always say, I would advise that you take up woodworking, because it’s addictive. It’s an addictive craft that is so satisfying, that doesn’t require the input of any corporate entities. So quite frequently in Los Angeles when I would go to a big audition for like a TV pilot or something that like really would change my life, it’s incredibly stressful. You’re just doing your best for days to keep your cool. You go do the thing and it’s invariably for a room full of bankers. It’s a terrible room. Usually with me I’m trying to get a laugh and they’re all like—they all have their abacuses out and are like, “Well in Maxim magazine…. he has a mustache…. that’s 17 points….” And you leave, and it’s just inscrutable. You’re like, “I have no idea how I did,” which gives you a lot of stress and a lot of agita. So I would go straight to my shop and just start sanding a walnut table. And after just an hour of that (and put on some music) and I would see the tangible result of this work that I had done. That’s the thing is there’s no way to describe the sensation. There’s magic in it, whether you’re working with glass or metals or food or knitting or wood. You’re making something better than it was. It was a pile of stuff, and now it’s a lasagna. And you’ve done that with your magic powers. And so that sensibility, that Zen I find so incredibly healthy. Again, as a human being with foibles, when left to my own devices I will happily, especially when I was younger. I’d be like “Oh, I suddenly have the day off unexpectedly. Let’s go get drunk and go to the movies.” And that’s fun once in a while. I don’t disparage it, but it should be a special occasion. When you get to doing it with any regularity, that’s when it becomes unhealthy. And so anything in this realm I have found it to be lifesaving. And the thing is it’s antithetical to what we’re talking about business. And especially about show business. Show business, you’re supposed to hustle all the time. You’re supposed to beat people’s doors down and be flashy and selling yourself. And I was never able to do that stuff. If people weren’t going to give me jobs based on the merit of the work I was doing I wasn’t interested in selling myself beyond that.

5 days ago

Why capitalism entails a moral obligation to share your wealth | Ken Lagone

"A rising tide lifts all boats," says Ken Langone, one of the co-founders of Home Depot as he makes his case for capitalism being the being the best economic model. He co-founded The Home Depot with his friends Arthur Blank, Bernard Marcus, Pat Farrah, and Ron Brill back in 1978, and today it's a multibillion-dollar company. And while he agrees that capitalism has its downsides, he says that he can point to 3,000 people who started out with an entry-level position at a Home Depot that rose through the ranks and are now millionaires. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Very simply, I could not have accomplished what I’ve accomplished, including my own net worth and including job creation, if I was raised in a country where free enterprise was not encouraged and free enterprise was not the order of the day. It wouldn’t happen. There are people who legitimately can say they’re self-made, they did it all themselves. I went out of my way in the book to point out the exact opposite, in my case and only my case, that I was anything but self-made. I can think back all the way to my childhood to the people that were there that helped me, that encouraged me, that stimulated me, that motivated me, that picked me up when I was down, and maybe sat on me when I got a little too full of myself. So I make reference to “self-made” as it relates to me and me alone. I am not self-made. That is not false humility, that’s just the truth. I think a good start is: define self-made. That’s a good start. And I don’t want to go there because we could spend five hours arguing what it means. In my case I know that, where I am today, without question, only happened because along the way I had any number of episodes in my life where if it weren’t for the intervention of somebody else, where it weren’t for the encouragement, whether it was my mom and dad, whether it was my wife, whether it was a professor, whether it was the guy that ran the liquor store in Roslyn, I can go on and on and on, I know each of those episodes was a building block for where I am today. And I go out of my way not to determine who is self-made and who is not; I think that’s for each person to decide themselves. I’m very comfortable saying that I have literally hundreds of thousands of people – you look at Home Depot, for example, I’m one of the cofounders. Why are we so successful? We’re so successful principally because when you go to a Home Depot store you feel wanted, you feel “I can get help”, you feel like these people care about you. There’s 400,000 of them! They all helped to make me successful. Without them Home Depot would not have been the successful it is, and probably I wouldn’t have been known, and probably I wouldn’t have written the book. Look, I’m not stretching, I’m saying I look at the thing objectively, but again I swear off saying who is “self-made” and who’s “not self-made”. That’s all. Well, I think capitalism will always do better than everything else for a variety of reasons. One, there is a downside, in other words nothing is certain and there’s a price to pay in failure in capitalism. You lose your business, your business doesn’t succeed, whatever. The other thing is capitalism I think is a dynamic effort that can result—Bernie, Arthur and I and Pat Farrah founded Home Depot. Our hard work, our creativity, our ability to raise the money to start the company, all those things has resulted in 400,000 people having great jobs today. But a better number for me: we have 3000 kids—and by the way, so nobody gets offended I’m 82, if you’re under 82 you’re a kid—So we have 3000 kids who started working for us fresh out of high school, didn’t go to college, pushing carts in, that’s the entry-level job, pushing carts in from the parking lot, we have 3000 kids today who are multimillionaires. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work. It’s a shared effort and the results should be shared. I happen to think we all live better—the old saying a rising tide lifts all boats, I happen to say all of us live better in this country because we have a capitalistic system, a capitalistic system underpinning the whole nation. I would say that most of us that have benefited mightily by capitalism I think there’s a moral obligation on our part to make sure we bring as many people to the party with us as we can. Now, this is not judgmental, I’m not suggesting for a minute that what I do is the “right thing” and what everybody else does is the “wrong thing”, what I’m saying is simply this: I feel a strong moral imperative to share my wealth.

6 days ago

Why working at NASA is amazing | Michelle Thaller

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Michelle Thaller: Hey Eleya, thank you for asking me about my day. What do I do at NASA. One of the things that I love about being a scientist is that I don’t really have a typical day; I do lots of different things. So for example, one of my duties at NASA is thinking about the communications, thinking about all of our websites and our Twitter accounts and our Instagram feeds all of the ways that we get our information out to the public. Right now at NASA we have over 100 active science missions, everything from rovers on Mars to the Hubble Space Telescope, to missions to Jupiter, to earth science missions that are tracking, for example, how the ice is melting in Greenland. And every single one of those 100 missions is putting out wonderful information and making discoveries. And I want people to know about them. I want people to meet the scientists that are doing this wonderful work. So I actually try to manage all of the different information that’s coming in from all these missions find a good way to get it out to the public. And then I track and see how many people are liking us on Facebook, and “Was that press release particularly successful?” So I’m a scientist that has specialized in communications. Sometimes I go on trips, I’ll be doing talks, for example, at a conference somewhere in Europe. I actually love coming to the United Kingdom. Sometimes rarely for me, but I still do some scientific research, so I’ve been to telescopes all over the world. When I was getting my doctorate I mainly used telescopes that were in Australia and South America and also in Arizona at Kitt Peak, and I used things like the Hubble Space Telescope. So sometimes you’re actually traveling somewhere to make your own discoveries and then going back to your office with your data and working on all of the different measurements you took and trying to make discoveries out of that. It’s also very important for scientist to share their discoveries. If you make a wonderful discovery at a telescope but nobody ever hears about it, then that was basically a waste of time and money for you to do that. So we write about our discoveries in scientific journals, other scientists read them, and then we can collaborate and science moves forward, because we always work together as a group. And nothing in science happens individually, you’re always working with people. So you’re going to meetings, you’re talking about strategy: “How are we going to fund a new spacecraft?” We’ve just been on a wonderful observing campaign where we observed a new kind of star, “What happens next? Who is going to make follow up discoveries?” One of the things I love about being a scientist is working with really passionate, wonderful, friendly people and planning how we’re going to continue the science that we started. So I love not having a typical day. My husband, for example, is an engineer and he actually builds and tests spacecraft. So normally in his day he’s wearing something called a clean suit and that is a white plastic suit that covers all of you, your hair, your face and everything, so that as you work on spacecraft the spacecraft keep entirely clean. And he always texts me on his iPhone a little bunny symbol when he’s putting on his bunny suit. We call that a bunny suit, your clean suit. So he’s always building and testing spacecraft. I do you have friends who are astronauts, and the astronauts will spend their day often training for a mission. And this is wonderful to watch. I’ve had a chance to watch some of this. One of the best ways you can train for working in zero gravity—actually floating around in space—is you train in water because water allows astronauts to float as if they were weightless. And so in Houston we have an entire full-sized mock up of the space station in a giant pool of water. And the astronauts go down in spacesuits to practice how they’re going to fix the space station or how they’re going to install a new instrument on the outside. And so you can actually watch them going underwater with a team of divers to help them and make sure that they’re safe and practicing what they’re going to do in space. So there's a wonderful range of things to do. I mean I joke and it really is true that I bet 80 percent of my job is the same as practically any other job. There are meetings, there are budgets, there are weekly reports to do, there's answering email, there's all kinds of stuff that isn’t very dramatic.

1 week ago

Does your job match your personality? | Jordan Peterson

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: It’s not that easy to categorize jobs but here’s a categorization scheme that’s kind of general but that’s actually accurate. Okay, so the first dimension is complexity. Jobs range from simple to complex. A simple job is one that you can learn and then repeat. You don’t need high levels of cognitive function for a simple job. If you have high levels of cognitive function you’ll learn the job faster, but once you learn it you won’t necessarily do it better. Now, a complex job is one where the requirements change on an ongoing basis. So most managerial jobs are like that, and all executive jobs are like that. And that requires a high level of general cognitive ability. That’s the best predictor of success in complex jobs. Okay, so that’s axis number one. Axis number two is creative/entrepreneurial versus managerial/administrative. Okay, so for creative/entrepreneurial jobs you need people who are high in the personality trait “openness to experience,” Big Five personality trait that’s associated with lateral and divergent thinking. Those are creative types. And for managerial and administrative jobs, and those are jobs that are more algorithmic—So imagine the guardrails. You’re a train on a track and you want to go down the track fast. You don’t have to be creative to go down a track that’s (already laid down) fast. You have to be conscientious. And so the best personality predictor for managerial and administrative jobs is trait “conscientiousness”. Okay, so there’s a tension in organizations between lateral and divergent thinking and efficient movement forward. Now if you know what you’re doing, what you want is conscientious people. Because if you know what you’re doing you should just do it as efficiently as you can. But the problem is is the world changes around you unexpectedly. And so if you don’t have people who can think divergently when the marketplace shifts on you—which it most certainly will—then you don’t have anybody who can figure out where to lay new tracks. Now it’s really, really difficult for people, for corporations to get the balance between the entrepreneurial/creative types and the managerial/administrative types correct. And what I think happens—and I don’t know this for sure and the research on this isn’t clear yet—What seems to happen is that when a company originates the creative/entrepreneurial types predominate, and they have to be flexible and move laterally to get the company established to begin with and take risks and break rules and do all sorts of things that conscientious people are much less likely to be able to tolerate (let alone think up). But as the company establishes itself the managerial/administrative types pour in and take over. But if they take over too much then the company gets so rigid it can’t— it has no flexibility. Okay, so the first thing you need to do to manage a large enterprise is to understand that these are actually different people. So first of all everyone is NOT creative. That’s a lie. So we established this measurement instrument called the creative achievement questionnaire which is very widely used in creativity research now. And what you see – so what it does is it breaks down creativity into 13 dimensions – entrepreneurial, architectural, literary, dramatic, inventions, et cetera, business, you can imagine—Painting, et cetera. You imagine the 13 potential dimensions of creativity. And then it ranks order levels of creativity from “Zero, I have no training or talent in this area,” to “Ten, I have an international reputation in this area.” And then we plotted the scores. This is the distribution. It’s not a normal distribution. Sixty percent of the people who take the creative achievement questionnaire score zero. A tiny minority have high scores, and that’s a pareto distribution. It’s a classic distribution of human productivity. So you always get a pareto distribution, not a normal distribution when you’re talking about productivity. Creative people are a distinct minority. They’re a different kind of person, and they’re a pain. They’re a pain because you can’t evaluate them. It’s like, how the hell do you evaluate a creative person? Because they keep changing the rules of evaluation! So they’re a handful to manage, and they’re always trying to play a new game. Well that’s a real pain if you want to get somewhere fast.

1 week ago

Is everyone's voice being heard? How majorities can be allies to minorities | Bill Doherty

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Bill Doherty: We now have much more diverse workforces than we used to in the old days, when they were mostly men, for example—not many women and more white people than people of color—and so here’s a question that’s a little bit riskier, but I think could be an interesting one for people to think about: ask the question, “Are we using all of the people resources we have? Is everybody getting a chance?” And you could do this at a workshop, you could be asking people to think about whether the diversity we have around the table whether enough voices or all the voices are coming to play. For example, it’s not uncommon that the larger the group the more men are more apt to speak up than women. I don’t approach that by saying, “Men you should shut up more and women you should talk up more,” but are we accessing the voices, the knowledge and the energy, and the wisdom of everybody here? So I was in a work setting as a peer and people sort of looked at me as a process person and I began to realize at one point that the three women on the team were not getting a lot of airtime. And I just commented that we seem to have kind of an imbalance in who’s speaking, and I’m just inviting us to consider that as we go forward. I wasn’t putting anybody down. The men were all making useful comments and it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the women, but that’s an example of a process comment you try to make neutrally and descriptively. And then I didn’t end that by saying “Okay Donna, speak up.” And then what happened was there was a sort of a tilting that occurred, because what I began to notice was that when there was an instantaneous—when the gap opened up there was a man immediately filling it, and that some of the women weren’t like beating him to the punch. And so just that little process comment at the team (it was an all-day kind of retreat) served the purpose of just some rebalancing, with nobody being the bad guy.

1 week ago

On the show "Friends", why a harassment claim was dismissed from court | Nell Scovell

Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Nell Scovell: So in 2006 an assistant who worked on Friends, a writer’s assistant, sued the show for harassment. It wasn’t physical/sexual harassment. I think it was verbal harassment. And what that show was able to prove to the judge was that all that lewd talk in the room did sometimes lead to story ideas. I think there was a story where Ross is like masturbating when one of the women walks in, and he switches the channel so it looks like he’s masturbating to a shark video. And that starts a whole thing, and that came out of people in the room talking about jerking off. So in that sense the TV writers’ room isn’t like most workplaces, and that’s I think sometimes hard for people outside to understand; that it can get personal and it can get weird and sexual, and sometimes all three things at the same time. But the judge said that the assistant had not been in any danger and that they could justify this language. People have, I think, misread that in Hollywood to mean “you can say anything you want in the room,” which is not true. And I think if you want to have a non-hostile work environment you obviously have to be aware of other people’s feelings and levels of comfort and making sure that everybody, you know, feels that the show is mission-based and you’re all working hard to make the best, funniest episode you can. When you’re on a set you know the difference when a crew member brushes by you because you’re in some tight cranny and when a crew member presses up against you in a sexual way. And I feel the writers’ room it’s the same thing. I know when someone I work with is making a joke—is just commenting on a woman’s body in order to make a joke or a man’s body in order to make a joke—and when it gets threatening. So I’ve gotten more vocal as I’ve gotten older at going to people outside the writers’ room and saying, “Okay, that made me feel uncomfortable.” Now the problem with that is Hollywood is one of those places where if someone acts inappropriately and you call them on it, YOU’RE the asshole. So that’s one of the things that I would love to see change, where you could tell someone, “That made me feel uncomfortable,” and instead of them being defensive and saying, “I was joking,” they just went “Oh, well thank you for telling me. I’ll be more aware of that in the future.”

1 week ago

What duck sex teaches us about humans, incels, and feminists | Richard Prum

Did you know that male ducks often force sex on female ducks that aren't their mates, to the point where female ducks' genitalia has evolved to try and counteract what biologists have politely termed "forced copulation"? The lady ducks have found a way to shut out sexual predators. In other words: the power of the female's choice has literally advanced the species. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Richard Prum: According to aesthetic evolution, animals are agents in their own evolution; that is, through their choices they end up shaping their own species. One of the implications of this idea is a new perspective on what happens when mate choice is infringed or violated by sexual violence or by coercion in animal species. One prominent example of this, from our own research, is on duck sex. Ducks are unusual among birds in having both a typical mate choice situation—where male and females pair up on the basis of display and preferences—and simultaneously other individuals that force copulations on female ducks as they approach reproduction. So what that means is that as the eggs are being laid, females have to defend themselves from forced copulations by males. Now “forced copulation” is the word that biologists use now, but for over a century biologists used the word “rape” in biology. Now that was abandoned back in the 1970s in response to the feminist movement and Susan Brownmiller and her work Against Our Will, proposing and articulating a specifically social context for rape in humans. This led to the creation of a euphemism, “forced copulation,” in biology. Unfortunately, articulating sexual violence in the animal world with these euphemistic terms has led to scientists losing track of the fact that forced copulation is against the will of the ducks. And by taking the aesthetic perspective and trying to understand what it is that individual females—in this case ducks—want we have arrived at a new perspective on what it means when they don’t get what they want. So in some ways using socially sensitive euphemisms has led to imprecision or fuzziness in the science. In the case of duck sex what we find is that males can force themselves on females because they’re among the few birds that still have a penis. And what we find in ducks is, as a result of female resistance and male sexual violence, we find a co-evolutionary arms race between male capacity to force and female resistance. In this case it takes place in the form of a genital arms race: the males evolve more elaborate and more elaborately armed penises, and the females evolve convoluted vaginal morphologies that exclude the penis during forced population. So among the many weird things of duck penises is that they’re counter-clockwise coiled. Well, the female vagina (in ducks that have high rates of resistance) actually coils in the opposite direction, so they have literally evolved an “anti-screw” device in their vaginal tract that obstructs the intromission of the penis during forced population. What that means is that what that tea party Senate candidate Todd Akin from Missouri said about women “have a way of shutting that whole thing down” in reference to rape is actually true of ducks. But in a way that exposes something fundamentally new and interesting about evolutionary biology, which is that sexual autonomy matters to animals. Freedom of choice is not merely a political concept discovered by suffragettes and feminists in the 19th and 20th centuries, but is actually an evolved feature of the social and sexual lives of other species, especially in ducks. How does this work? Well if the female mates with the male she prefers, that is she gets the green head and the “quack, quack, quack,” that she likes, and then her male offspring will share those traits and be sexually preferred by other female ducks who have coevolved those same aesthetic preferences. But if she’s forcibly fertilized, then her male offspring will either inherit a random trait or one that she specifically rejected, which means that her offspring will be less attractive to other females. So anything the female duck can do to prevent forced fertilization, through physical resistance or behavior, will evolve because she will be rewarded with more grandkids. So what this means is that aesthetic norms, the shared ideas about what is beautiful among ducks, gives female ducks the evolutionary leverage to advance their freedom of choice in the environment of persistent sexual coercion and sexual violence. This is really stunning.

1 week ago

3 ways America is doing politics all wrong

When was the last time the U.S. saw meaningful innovation in its political system? Economist and author Dambisa Moyo thinks politics needs to keep up with every other industry and evolve. She outlines three proposals that would help American politicians be better at their jobs, drawing on examples from Singapore, the U.K., Mexico and Brazil. First up, Moyo suggests—brace yourself—that American politicians earn higher salaries and receive bonuses based on metrics like increased life expectancy and GDP growth. The U.S. president earns $400,000 a year. In comparison, the prime minister of Singapore earns $1.4 million. Moyo's second recommendation is to set minimum standards for entry into politics: experience in sectors beyond politics should be more heavily valued. And lastly, she recommends longer terms in office to avoid the perils of short-term thinking and counterproductive voter appeasement. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: So I am an eternal optimist about how and why we should continue to innovate every aspect of our lives. And that’s science and technology imbuing more efficiencies in how we run businesses, but also how we deliver healthcare and education. So as far as I’m concerned I’ve adopted this same lens as we think about the political process. So just to give you some flavor for some of the proposals, on the politician side I consider the argument that we should perhaps increase the pay of politicians and actually force them to justify their compensation. Singapore is a great example of this model. In Singapore the head of state, the prime minister earns over $1.4 million a year in compensation. But, to me, what’s even more interesting is that the ministers who are responsible for education and healthcare and infrastructure, et cetera, earn 30 to 40 percent bonuses based on certain metrics and outcomes—So how GDP performs, whether life expectancy increases, whether inflation declines. I think that that is a very interesting model for us to explore because I think it could impose discipline. By the way a discipline around reward for performance which we already see, and it applies to many of us as we work in the private sector. So certainly worth of a consideration. I think that could actually force politicians to think a little bit more long term. Another proposal on the politician side is to basically think about minimum standards for politicians. And this is an idea that really, for me, stuck out as I thought about how the British Parliament looked back in the 1950s and 60s. In that period the average age was higher, on average about 60 years old. But also the skill set was incredibly varied. They had teachers, lawyers, doctors, farmers. And so people had had other careers and had a better understanding of how the economy works because they came to become parliamentarians having experienced different sectors of the economy. Today, some of the citations that I reference in the book, the average age is closer to 40 years old and many politicians actually have no experience except having been professional politicians. And I think that can be quite a disservice in terms of not really understanding the complexity of how an economy works. A third – I’ll just very quickly give you one more example of what we might consider in terms of politicians is we might think about extending the terms of political office. This is essentially to get away from this idea of having elections every two years as we do in the United States. Mexico is an example of a country where the president is in office only once for six years. And so I think you get away from this desire of politicians to constantly court or tempt and try to seduce voters with policies that may be short term appealing but over the long term incredibly damaging for the economy (and ultimately for generations to come). Brazil, the senators have eight- to nine-year terms. Again it’s really picking on this theme of extending the thinking to better match the economic challenges and economic headwinds that the global economy faces.

2 weeks ago

Nick Offerman defines good luck—and how to make your own

Nick Offerman's new film is Hearts Beat Loud, in cinemas June 8. Watch the trailer here: and visit for all the details. To explain what good luck is and how to create your own, Nick Offerman leans on the wisdom of Tom Waits, Socrates, Tom Jefferson and Nick Offerman. Luck is one part preparation and one part opportunity. And contrary to popular notions of luck as fate, both preparation and opportunity are things you can actively create. To achieve either, however, it's important to trust yourself and your abilities, and to take risks that may take you out of your comfort zone. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: What are my feelings about serendipity versus gumption, luck versus elbow grease. When do you give up on your dream? When do you throw in the towel, et cetera? There’s an old quote that I attribute to Tom Waits but I believe it might go back to Socrates. “Luck is when opportunity meets with preparation.” And I’ve always found that deeply moving because Megan and I talk a lot, my wife and I talk a lot about how lucky we are. We’re both blessed with whatever it is: She’s beautiful and an incredible actor and smart as a whip and a really talented singer. I can carry a great deal of luggage and I can experience extreme temperatures for a long time without any sustenance. We have our gifts, and somehow our paths have taken us to places where people said “We were looking for someone who can carry luggage. We’re doing a play about a donkey. You’re the guy.” And so I mean, so much serendipity plays into it. I lived, I chose to live like an asshole for some years and it’s a tough choice. It borders on irresponsibility. I would be just this side of broke. So sometimes I’d run out of money and I’d have to borrow a month’s rent from my friend. But I would then find carpentry work and pay my friend back. So I was just this side of being a deadbeat. I was flirting with deadbeatism. And it’s a big question in Hollywood, and a lot of people make a lot of money off of people’s dreams. You can pay a great deal of money for headshots and for acting classes and coaching and life coaching and personal training and all that stuff. And they’ll all tell you – and there are really gross people who claim to have the secret. “Come to my acting workshop and I’ll have three casting directors there from, you know, one of them was an assistant on 50 Shades of Gray Matter.” And whatever the case may be, it’s a question people wrestle with all the time. Will I ever make it? Is it ever going to happen for me? When should I throw in the towel and move back to Cleveland and see my family and my children and my congregation, because I’m a priest with kids in Cleveland? And so all I can say is it’s a very personal thing; to each their own. You’ve got to keep working hard. We’ve talked about having a discipline. If acting is your bag, you know, I always tell people if they say “How can I get my kid to where you are?” I say take up woodworking but also find whatever stage, find the biggest stage you can that you can get onto and perform in front of an audience, whether you’re doing standup or theater or musicals or sketch comedy. Or start shooting stuff. Now we live in an age where you can literally start your own TV channel right now using your gadgets. And just let the world tell you. Shoot videos. Show them to people. And they’ll tell you if you should keep doing it. And if you’re good, if something’s meant to happen when people see you on stage or they see your videos they’ll say “Holy, you know what? I’m going to somehow help you. That was amazing. You can tap dance, you can play the tuba. That face you make.” Whatever it is. “I’ve never seen anyone drink that much beer in 90 seconds. I’m going to call my friend. He has a show called Jackass. We’re going to get you on your way.” And so I mean I started in the theater. I was terrible at acting. I wanted to be an actor. I thought I had something that I could entertain people, so I got into theater school in Illinois and I was terrible! I couldn’t get cast—with good reason.

2 weeks ago

Rap battles: Why cognitive friction is the engine of innovation

Want to learn about innovation? Study hip hop. Tech journalist and co-founder of Contently Shane Snow explains that what helped hip hop take over the world is a foolproof innovation strategy called cognitive friction. "It’s the friction between different ideas or different ways of doing something that actually produce a path forward that helps any industry become innovative," he explains. In the 1970s, deejays in dancehalls competed to pull the dance party to their side of the room. Then, their MCs began to say more and more interesting things over the beat to help out. Then and there, rap battles and hip hop was born, and competition pushed innovation dramatically. Snow points out that cognitive friction is also how the Wu-Tang Clan arguably became the greatest hip hop group of all time. Nine alpha males collaborating in harmony? Unlikely. They nearly tore each other apart until founding member Robert Diggs (aka RZA) devised a way for them to compete with each other to get on certain tracks and channel their aggressive energy into competitive creativity. Hip hop’s collaborations may be greater than its famous feuds after all. Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Shane Snow: Fascinatingly, the story of how hip hop happened is actually the story of how innovation has happened in kind of every dimension, every industry you can think of. And it’s this thing called cognitive friction. It’s the friction between different ideas or different ways of doing something that actually produce a path forward that helps kind of any industry become innovative. I was especially fascinated by the story of the Wu-Tang Clan and how they did this, in particular when they got nine guys, nine alpha males with big egos together to form a rap group. Which, on the face of it, actually sounds like a terrible idea. Their different styles of rap (in the sort of early days of hip hop) were kind of all over the map. Now some were more emotional. Others were more lyrical. And they were all very different, and so you can just imagine the conflict that erupts out of this. And this was because they were ostensibly enemies, or at least didn’t have a whole lot of trust between them. The main guy who got them together, his name was Robert Diggs, he came up with this very clever plan. Basically he said, “I will make a beat. I’ll make a song, and then everyone has to show up and compete for the song. So you show up with your lyrics, with your rhymes, and you get on the microphone, and whoever does the best job you’re on the track or you’re on this part of the track.” And he did this and he basically channeled this aggressive energy and all of these sort of different ways of operating in hip hop and he got them all to instead of fighting with each other to fight for the record and to kind of elevate this music. And what came out of this sort of laboratory – it’s like atoms smashing together and creating this great heat and this great energy. And out of this was born the greatest hip hop group of all time – many consider it that. And this is actually exactly what happened with hip hop in general. Hip hop started with deejays throwing these parties where everyone who showed up to the party—you danced on one side of the dance hall or the other depending on which music you liked the best. So the deejays would bring different music every week to try and lure the party to their side or the other. And this is a sort of fun party game. And what happened is when the deejays announcers started competing over the best way to sort of drag people to their side of the party suddenly that turned into a battle where week after week the announcers, the MCs, would try and come up with more clever things to say, and it eventually turned into this kind of war of words and music and, in fact, also a war of dance. And what was awesome about it is everyone was in it for the party, for making this party better, making this event awesome and people started bringing tape recorders to record this music that was being invented essentially on the spot because it was so great.

2 weeks ago

Why truly successful people don’t wait their turn | Alex Banayan

What's the difference between making it and faking it? Getting it done. Author Alex Banayan walks us through what actually separates the pros from the rest of the world: it's less about networking and more about finding your way in. Knowing people helps, but it takes a certain mindset to walk into an industry uninvited. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: One of the best pieces of advice I got on this journey was the difference between a linear life and an exponential life. A linear life is: you get an internship; you get a job; you get a promotion; you save up for a vacation, and you just go step by step slowly and predictively your whole way through. And again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to be clear with yourself about what you want. An exponential life is about deciding that you’re not going to wait around, you’re not going to hope someone just hands you what you’re hoping for, it’s about grabbing onto it for what you want. So over the course of this seven year journey, whether it was tracking down Bill Gates, which took two years, or Lady Gaga, which took three years, in every industry possible—Maya Angelo for poetry, Jane Goodall for science, Pitbull, Quincy Jones, Tim Ferriss, Larry King—they all couldn’t have been more different on the outside. But as I heard their stories and started to dissect how they launched their careers, I realized there was this common melody to everyone’s story. And the analogy that came to me—because I was 21 at the time—was that it’s sort of like getting into a nightclub. So there’s always three ways in: there’s the first door, the main entrance where the line curves around the block, where 99 percent of people wait in line hoping to get in. And then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance where the billionaires or celebrities go through. And school has this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in: you’re either born into it or you wait your turn like everybody else. What I’ve learned is that there is always, always the third door, and it’s the door where you jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door 100 times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen, there’s always a way in. And it doesn’t matter if that’s how Gates sold his first piece of the software or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal, they all took the third door. So The Third Door isn’t a prescription or a recipe, it’s really a mindset. So if you look at Steven Spielberg, the way he did it was: he was rejected from film school, so instead of giving up on his dream he decided he would take his education into his own hands. So the way the story goes, according to Spielberg, is that one day when he was around 19 years old he jumped onto a tour bus at Universal Studios, rides around the lot on this tour, jumps off the bus, hides in the bathroom, waits for the bus to drive away and starts walking around the lot. And as he’s walking around he bumps into this man named Chuck Silvers who works at Universal Television. And Chuck Silvers sees this kid and says, “What are you doing here?” And Spielberg tells him his dream. And they end up talking for a while and Silver goes, “Do you want to come back on the lot?” And Spielberg goes, “That would be a dream.”

2 weeks ago

Why diversity and inclusion aren’t about race but everyone thinks they are | Michael Bush

What makes a job a great place to work? A sense of equity and ownership, says Michael Bush, the CEO of the conveniently named Great Place to Work. They're a global consulting and analytics firm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, the 100 Best Workplaces for Women list, the Best Workplaces for Diversity list, and dozens of other distinguished workplace rankings around the world. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: We choose not to talk a lot about diversity and inclusion. We’re not running from the topic. We actually feel like we’re addressing it head on using analytics and revenue and profit to drive the conversation versus some moral imperative. And what that means is that it’s not about fairness and equality alone, it’s about equity, which is about people getting – if you treat someone as a person they need a little more of something than perhaps someone else. And actually if you treat everyone the same you are not going to get the best out of everyone. So equality can be used, in fact, to exclude people and to make the environment a place that certain groups of people don’t want to be in because you’re treating everyone the same. That’s just not the way humans work. You know, I have two kids. One of them might need (when they were young) violin lessons. Another one might need dental care. Well the dental care costs a lot more than the violin lessons, but they both got something that they needed but it wasn’t necessarily ever equal. But it’s addressing people where they are. We also find that diversity and inclusion, once you bring up those words tension goes up in the room, because what happens is when you say that what people think is race but they don’t want to talk about it because they don’t know how to talk about that. So they awkwardly talk about diversity and inclusion and the problem that needs to be addressed gets diluted. We begin to talk about – we can’t talk about race so then we just say “people of color” and “people majority” because we can’t say “race”. And then we talk about men and women because that’s easier than race. And then what about the disabled? “Oh well we can’t really bring that up.” And all these buttons go off that stops the conversation. What we pursue is called a Great Place to Work For All. That’s the way we do it. So we think every employee regardless of who they are, what they are, or what they do for the organization should have a great experience at work. So that includes everyone. It does not separate anyone to say, “One group should have a really great experience and one can have a less great experience.” It means all. It turns into something positive, and people then get engaged and they go, “Yeah, it should be a great place to work for me too. Absolutely. For everybody here, so let’s talk about how to do that.” And you find the whole room starts to lean forward. Rather than “the other topic”, people can’t wait to get out of the room. And talking about the other topic for, you know, I heard that conversation for about 40 years. It hasn’t gotten us very far at all. What we should want is for everybody to be like it is at the top of an organization. Excited about coming to work and doing something that you really, really care about. You’re paying for it. It doesn’t cost you any more money, so you’re just getting more for what you’re paying for. Most businesspeople get that. They get it and they go okay, what’s getting in the way? And we have the analytics to help them know what’s getting in the way. It’s the way they’re being spoken to gets in the way. It’s if you’re listening to them or not, you know. Are you sincerely caring about what they’re saying and using it to innovate and to make business decisions? We asked, “Does management involve you in their decision making? Do you feel informed about how management makes decisions?” The reason we ask these is so we can understand what a person is experiencing, and we know a certain type of experience that makes people say, “I love it here,” because we asked “Do you plan to work here for a long long time?” and people will say yes. And you can predict it based on whether people are listening to them, whether people are welcoming them, whether people are rewarding them, whether people are recognizing them, whether people address them personally rather than an employee in mass communications. You can actually predict these two things, and then you see it in the result of the company in terms of the employee experience the number is very high, and we’ve proven that the revenue growth of the company, we have a hunch it’s going to be higher than others, and we look at the data and, in fact, that is true.

2 weeks ago

Bitcoin: A buyer's and seller's guide | Bill Barhydt

When it comes to Bitcoin it's all about the long game, says Abra founder and CEO Bill Barhydt. By and large, people who have Bitcoin are holding on to it, just like precious metals like gold and silver. Once more of it is mined, we'll start to see the market become less volatile. It might take a decade, but that pay-off could be enormous. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: I think there’s a few things that need to happen for cryptocurrencies to become kind of a global replacement for either reserve currencies, global money transfer vis-à-vis like swift wires via your bank. First of all the system needs to be massively liquid. If you think about dollar as a reserve currency, there’s trillions of dollars in circulation. It’s globally liquid across tens of thousands of banks, across 185 countries, et cetera, et cetera. That’s not totally true of cryptocurrencies yet. If you take Bitcoin, which is the most successful cryptocurrency, its market cap is around $200 billion as of today. It’s tradable in 100 plus countries, but the liquidity of bitcoin versus even the U.S. dollar is relatively low, which means it needs to be worth a lot more if it would become let’s say a “digital gold”. Gold is worth trillions of dollars in the aggregate. Bitcoin is not yet worth that much. And that’s important because if it’s not worth trillions of dollars and billions of people want to use it there’s not enough to go around. So you need to be able to break it up into tiny pieces so everyone can use it, just like gold. And that’s not true until it’s worth a lot more money than it is today. But it becomes a circular discussion because the usage will also drive the price higher, just like speculation sometimes can drive the price higher. So over time it should get there by its ability to be fungible with fiat via these exchanges as kind of an onramp into digital currency, but also it should meet the liquidity requirements that we need, meaning the price should be high enough, the ability to get in and out via traditional money should be reasonable globally over the next few years, and then I believe you can really have a viable discussion about using a cryptocurrency like bitcoin as a viable reserve currency. So cryptocurrencies eventually will look like traditional commodities in my opinion, whether it’s gold or platinum or other metals is probably the best. But it could look like oil and gas and things like that. And so they are starting to trade in a fashion that’s more and more similar to traditional commodities. But the difference right now is they’re not as liquid yet. So that means that the price is very inefficient, or the markets for cryptocurrencies are very inefficient. So most people who are holding cryptocurrencies are long term holders, they’re not selling. So that actually means that the price of Bitcoin and Ether, for example, is largely driven by the volume of buyers. So if there’s large volumes of buyers coming into the market it drives the price higher, because there’s not a lot of sellers. But if the buyers dry up then the price goes down regardless, because there’s still not a lot of sellers. So that will change over time because if the price skyrockets – so, for example, if institutional money starts to come into the cryptocurrency market in large numbers—which I think it will—that will force the price higher because there’s not enough cryptocurrency to go around. And that will also cause some of the holders to loosen up their purse strings because they’re going to want to reap the profits that they’ve been waiting for for 10-15 years by the time that happens. And that will also create more liquidity in the system which will create a really positive feedback loop which should drive the price even higher. The other thing that I think is very relevant is you’re starting to see more traditional types of financial products being applied to cryptocurrencies – derivatives, options, nondeliverable forward contracts, things like that that actually will help make the cryptocurrency market more efficient over time, close a lot of what we call arbitrage loopholes which is kind of like free money in the system for traders. And as those loopholes get closed the market becomes more efficient, more liquid, and it becomes better for everyone. This, I think, is a common misunderstanding with how bitcoin works: Bitcoin itself is what we call deflationary, which means that over time the amount of Bitcoin in circulation if you look at a chart would actually approach a fixed value of 21 million – never quite approach it but it will asymptotically in math terms approach that line of 21 million over time. And it does that by the amount of Bitcoin being mined or created being cut in half every so often.

2 weeks ago

Is human nature evil? Or is the violence of nature to blame? | Steven Pinker

When we see problems in the world, we're quick to blame someone—anyone—who should be providing peace, love, and harmony: politicians, celebrities, parents, etc. But the universe actually bends toward chaos and decay. That's the second law of thermal dynamics. And the most we humans can do is stave off the inevitability of decline through the organization of resources and information. So next time you're feeling particularly outraged, just remember that it's an uphill battle that civilization is fighting. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: As Bertolt Brecht said, “Grub first, then ethics.” A lot of people have an expectation that society ought to work in uniform harmony and affluence, and any deviation from that is an outrage that requires identifying which bad people made it possible. And when I began Enlightenment Now I wanted to really orient the reader in a very different mindset about the human condition. Namely, as we find ourselves in the universe nothing is expected to work in our favor, beginning with what many scientists consider one of the most fundamental of scientific discoveries, namely the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or the law of entropy. Namely, that in a closed system—one that isn’t receiving inputs of energy or information—disorder naturally increases. The ability to do useful work/life-enabling structure. Just because there are astronomically so many more ways for things to go wrong than things to go right by any definition of things going right. So right from the start we don’t have any right to expect that the universe is going to be particularly kind to us. Indeed, the universe is not out to get us, but it just doesn’t care about us, and there’s a lot of ways for things to go wrong unless we deploy energy and information to carve out local zones of beneficial order that keep us alive and healthy and happy. That’s a different way of just thinking about the human predicament, namely we constantly have to expend effort, intelligence, knowledge in order to make things work, and our background expectation should be that things fall apart. It’s advances in energy capture that lead to the beneficial complexity of life. Perhaps back to the axial age, the period of about 800 years in the first millennium B.C. which saw the emergence of a number of moralistic philosophies arising in different parts of the world around the same time. The age of classical Greek philosophy, the age of the Hebrew prophets, of Confucius, of Buddha, a kind of uncanny coincidence seemingly of movements that went from merely propitiating gods and making sacrifices and begging him for victory and better weather and relief from misfortunes to a more universal system of human betterment, human flourishing. So what led to this development seemingly in different parts of the world at the same time? According to one hypothesis by a team of scholars including Ian Morris and Pascal Boyer and Nicolette Molnar, there were gains in energy capture in the ability to use the products of agriculture – oil and fiber and calories from food to allow for a priestly cast separate from the people who actually have to scratch out a living from the ground. And also, once people’s minds are elevated from just putting a roof over their head—or to keeping the wolf at the door, where their next meal is coming from—they have the cognitive luxury to think about, “What’s it all about? Why are we here? What do we strive for?” And according to this theory it was something as mundane—but really not mundane—as energy capture: Not mundane given that the second law of thermodynamics determines our fate unless we can push it back. And so perhaps it’s not such a homely pedestrian explanation for how so many civilizations made this leap to further moral horizons.

3 weeks ago

What Stephen Hawking would have discovered if he lived longer | NASA's Michelle Thaller

Stephen Hawking was one of the greatest scientific and analytical minds of our time, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. She posits that Hawking might be one of the parents of an entirely new school of physics because he was working on some incredible stuff—concerning quantum entaglement— right before he died. He was even humble enough to go back to his old work about black holes and rethink his hypotheses based on new information. Not many great minds would do that, she says, relaying just one of the reasons Stephen Hawking will be so deeply missed. You can follow Michelle Thaller on Twitter at @mlthaller. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Michelle Thaller: Yes Jeremy, a lot of us were really sad with the passing of Stephen Hawking. He was definitely an inspiration. He was one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in the world, and of course he overcame this incredible disability, his life was very difficult and very dramatic and I for one am really going to miss having him around. And I certainly miss him as a scientist too. He made some incredible contributions. Now, Stephen Hawking was something that we call a theoretical physicist, and what that means is that people use the mathematics of physics to explore areas of the universe that we can’t get to very easily. For example, conditions right after the Big Bang the beginning of the universe, what were things like when the universe was a fraction of a second old? That’s not something we can create very easily in a laboratory or any place we can go to, but we can use our mathematics to predict what that would have been like and then test our assumptions based on how the universe changed over time. And one of the places that is also very difficult to go to is, could we explore a black hole? And this is what Stephen Hawking was best known for. Now, black holes are massive objects they’re made from collapsed dead stars, and the nearest black hole to us is about 3000 light years away. That one is not particularly large, it’s only a couple times the mass of the sun. The biggest black hole that’s in our galaxy is about four million times the mass of the sun and that actually sits right in the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. And right now you and I are actually orbiting that giant black hole at half a million miles an hour. These are incredibly exotic objects. The reason we call them black holes is that the gravity is so intense it can suck in everything, including light. Not even light, going through space freely at the speed of light, can escape a black hole, so talk about dramatic exotic objects that are difficult to do experiments on. Stephen Hawking laid down some of our basic understanding of how a black hole works. And one of the things he actually did was he even predicted that black holes can die. You would think that a collapsed star that forms a bottomless pit of gravity would exist forever, but Stephen Hawking used the laws of quantum mechanics and something called thermodynamics, how heat behaves in the universe, to prove that maybe black holes can evaporate over time. And of course, that’s a hugely significant thing. One of the reasons I think it’s very unfortunate he died is we’re actually right on the cusp of being able to do actual experiments with black holes. And I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but there are some particle accelerators, I mean specifically the Large Hadron Collider, which is in Europe, that are about to get to high enough energies they’re going to smash particles together so hard that so much energy is generated they might be able to make tiny little black holes. And by the way, this is entirely safe. Don’t worry about it at all. Stephen Hawking showed us that black holes evaporate, they actually die away and the smaller a black hole is the faster this happens. So these little black holes—we’ll probably be lucky if we can detect them, they’re going to die in millionths of a second. And the Large Hadron Collider gets nowhere up to the energy of natural events all around us. Right now there are high energy particles slamming into our atmosphere a couple miles above our heads, and they are many, many hundreds of times the energy that the Large Hadron Collider will ever be able to get up to. So I am saying actually that there are probably tiny little black holes forming all around us, they evaporate away so quickly they’re very hard to detect. Stephen Hawking predicted the exact energy that black holes give off when they evaporate, and it may be that in just a few years time we’re going to observe that in a particle accelerator and realize he was right.

3 weeks ago

Why creating AI that has free will would be a huge mistake | Joanna Bryson

AI expert Joanna Bryson posits that giving artificial intelligence the same rights a human has could result in pretty dire consequences... because AI has already proven that it can pick up negative human characteristics if those characteristics are in the data. Therefore, it's not crazy at all to think that AI could scan every YouTube comment in one afternoon and pick up all the negativity we've unloaded there. If it's already proven it's not only capable of making the wrong decision but eventually will make the wrong decision when it comes to data mining and implementation, why even give it the same powers as us in the first place? Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Joanna Bryson: First of all there’s the whole question about why is it that we in the first place assume that we have obligations towards robots? So we think that if something is intelligent, then that’s their special source, that’s why we have moral obligations. And why do we think that? Because most of our moral obligations, the most important thing to us is each other. So basically morality and ethics are the way that we maintain human society, including by doing things like keeping the environment okay, you know, making it so we can live. So, one of the way we characterize ourselves is as intelligent, and so when we then see something else and say, “Oh it’s more intelligent, well then maybe it needs even more protection.” In AI we call that kind of reasoning heuristic reasoning: it’s a good guess that will probably get you pretty far, but it isn’t necessarily true. I mean, again, how you define the term “intelligent” will vary. If you mean by “intelligent” a moral agent, you know, something that’s responsible for its actions, well then, of course, intelligence implies moral agency. When will we know for sure that we need to worry about robots? Well, there’s a lot of questions there, but consciousness is another one of those words. The word I like to use is “moral patient”. It’s a technical term that the philosophers came up with, and it means, exactly, something that we are obliged to take care of. So now we can have this conversation. If you just mean “conscious means moral patient”, then it’s no great assumption to say “well then, if it’s conscious then we need to take care of it”. But it’s way more cool if you can say, “Does consciousness necessitate moral patiency?” And then we can sit down and say, “well, it depends what you mean by consciousness.” People use consciousness to mean a lot of different things. So one of the things that we did last year, which was pretty cool, the headlines, because we were replicating some psychology stuff about implicit bias—actually the best one is something like “Scientists Show That A.I. Is Sexist and Racist, and It’s Our Fault,” which that’s pretty accurate, because it really is about picking things up from our society. Anyway, the point was, so here is an AI system that is so human-like that it’s picked up our prejudices and whatever… and it’s just vectors! It’s not an ape. It’s not going to take over the world. It’s not going to do anything, it’s just a representation; it’s like a photograph. We can’t trust our intuitions about these things. We give things rights because that’s the best way we can find to handle very complicated situations. And the things that we give rights are basically people. I mean some people argue about animals, but technically, and again this depends on whose technical definition you use, but technically rights are usually things that come with responsibilities and that you can defend in a court of law.

3 weeks ago