Scott Adams

Re-framing employment

For untold generations work was simply a matter of maintaining the status quo.

Across the world, the debates on productivity, reduced work hours, 4 day work weeks, DND after work hours etc are intensifying. Add to this the narratives of “the end of employment” and the “gig economy”, (and therefore the case against full time employment) and the signs of an upheaval of our concept of work seems imminent. I can vouch for that from my own experience as well – expressed to a certain extent in earlier posts –  The Entrepreneur & the Professional, and Re-skill. My posts on AI and its impact on employment are also related to this in a “bigger picture” way.

It is personal in a different way too, because it’s increasingly an application of a broader life framework and worldview. In fact, I was accusing myself of over thinking this, until I read this fantastic piece – How Not to Let Work Explode Your Life. That’s where the quote at the start has been taken from. It traces the origin of the clashes we are facing in our work-life environments now to trends that have been forming for centuries. Long, fascinating read, and a confirmation of many of my complicated thoughts! More

Dignity Gritty

Amongst stories of soaring e-commerce valuations, this Mint story on Indiaplaza, and how it ran out of cash, was quite a sobering read. But it wasn’t the business angle that stuck with me long after I finished reading it. I somehow felt that all Mr.Vaitheeswaran was seeking, was a little dignity. I have no idea of what really happened, so I cannot comment on whether that is deserved or not.

A few weekends ago, we were visited by someone who is a consultant for some work we needed done at home. She charged us Rs.2000 for a couple of hours, and after business was concluded, she spoke about how, a few years ago,  she had been a VP at a well known consultancy firm. Her current business, born out of her passion, was not doing well. She wanted to get back to work but was finding it extremely difficult to land a job. After she left, I wondered aloud to D, how she must feel, having to go to strangers’ houses on Sundays, and working for a compensation far below what she might have been earning. What would this experience be doing to her sense of dignity? More

PhilosoRapture

In one of the slides in the presentation I shared last week, I had touched upon institutional realignment, and ‘health’ as one of the drivers. But the origins of this thought go back at least 4 years to The Man..the machine, and  Life…streamers, and the subject of immortality and the path to it – the augmented human – have since then made several appearances here – ‘The Immortal’s Reality‘, ‘Back to Eternity‘,  ‘Your Next Avatar‘, and Remember the Feeling to name a few. As I read these posts recently, I realised (again) that the possibility of the current version of the human being just another step in evolution is a humbling one.

On one hand, I remembered the story of Yudhishtira and the Yaksha, and the answer to a part of Question 9. The Yaksha asks, ‘What is the greatest wonder?‘ and Yudhishtira answers “Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to/think they will live forever. O Lord, what can be a greater wonder?” On the other hand, I also read that Google (which shares its first two letters with God) has invested in a company that will work on combating aging and disease. Google is not the first company to attempt this, and scientists are already figuring out how to reverse ageing, but it does have the Ray Kurzweil advantage. (also read) This is promising to be a fight to the death! :)

On the same day that the Google article was published, my favourite thinker on the subject – Scott Adams – posted an article on our ‘choice’ of immortality- one was the Google way of doing away with aging, the second was we would be able to transfer our mind to robots, and the last was transferring our minds into virtual worlds. I am inclined towards the augmented human route – body parts getting replaced one by one, until we become a ‘Ship of Theseus‘ and a perfect example of the paradox. But one way or the other, it seems as though we’re destined to be immortal. The funny thing is that despite that, the question would remain – ‘what is life and why do we exist?’ I wonder if an eternity would be enough to answer it. Or probably, our state of consciousness would be such that we wouldn’t feel this urge for an answer. After all, according to my 500th photo on Instagram,

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The end of death is probably the end of philosophical questions as well. Whether that is a good thing is an open question. Or not. After all, Carl Sagan did say “I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.” :)

until next time, cogito ergo hmm

P.S. Not a big fan of donuts, but a fantastic take on the subject of life and its context – http://imgur.com/K6EKeRW

Emotion as a Service

More than a year back, I had written about institutional realignment and had briefly mentioned the institutions of marriage and parenting. ‘The currency of relationships‘ made me think of this, and family – immediate and extended – as a societal construct/contract/ institution, and probably even as a tradition. Where we are born, and whom we are born to, are apparently out of control, but we do have an illusion of control courtesy the choices we make as we go along. Thanks to these choices, our lifestyle and our perspectives may follow a trajectory that is totally different from the circumstances and people we grew up with/in. This is not just about the people from our childhood/youth, but is a continuous process through life. Each of us find our own ways to deal with the constant flow of people through our lives. These are again choices, and like most choices involves some amount of sacrifice and bring with them their own set of consequences.

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I loved that Goethe paraphrase, because I think it sums up our relationships very well. At the risk of sounding cynical, (or receiving a ‘speak for yourself’ comment) I’d say that we’re increasingly becoming selfish as a species. I have always had the notion that most relationships are contextual, and it would be difficult to scale our emotions/feelings for others for an indefinite time frame. Yes, I do acknowledge there are exceptions, but that’s what they are – exceptions. Do a quick test and find out how many people across your life you’re still in touch with – bouts of nostalgia not included?

It is with all this as the backdrop that I read Scott Adams’ “The Future of Marriage“. It articulates very well a thought that had crossed my mind earlier. (Of course, he obviously explores it way better than I could have) He deconstructs the institution of marriage and argues that marriage made sense “when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met.” Now, he says, the internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships. In other words, a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. He tempers everything by saying that in the future, marriage may be one of the many options available. By sheer coincidence, and in a different context, I came across this quote attributed to Steve Macone “A tradition is a habit whose logic has faded“.

I thought about this in the context of the expectations I had mentioned in the ‘currency of relationships’ post. If the institution of marriage can have a barter economy, why not other relationships? After all, isn’t every relationship a barter at its core? It’s just that we are rarely comfortable with voicing our expectations in the case of an emotional ‘transaction’, quantitatively or qualitatively. (generalising) Parents expect their children to look after them when they are old, in return for bringing you up; relatives expect you to return the favours they once did for you, and so on.

So who knows, maybe our pace of life and our need to be (seen as) fair in all our relationships will conspire to form a barter ecosystem that offers emotion as a service. It is possible that an alternate path to prosperity might take us in a different direction, but in the era of the quantified self and the augmented human, when we slowly transition our selves into the cloud, maybe ‘Emotion as a Service’ (like)  is not an impossibility. What do you think?

until next time, a qualified self

..the question remains

It has been more than a couple of years since I wrote on the subject of planning – the acceptance of destiny vs free will in The Uncertainty Principles and the balance between change and stasis in its follow up. In my mind, the debate continues to rage, with flash points on a regular basis, thanks to various life scenarios and the things I read. I also realised that the recent narrative posts (1,2) are also a different way of framing this debate. Like I wrote in the posts, some narratives are already chosen for us, and some we choose, but these are all our attempts to fulfill our sense of belonging. In other words, our endeavour to find the reason for our existence – our purpose. Does one find it by working towards something or by dealing with life on a real time basis?

A few days back, I read an article in HBR titled “It takes purpose to be a billionaire“, in which the author classifies ‘purpose’ into three buckets. Not that everyone’s idea of ‘purpose’ is to become a billionaire, but this is very clearly a planned path to achieve something that contributes to the sense of purpose. While the article does not mention it, the category I have always wondered about consists of people who have followed their passion – sports people, artists etc who have worked on a skill and honed it to near perfection. A very interesting perspective I read on that premise is the Scott Adams’ “Practice and Genes“, which takes a look at the theories on the subject and finally states that the critical element is luck. The most important skill involved in success is knowing how and when to switch to a game with better odds for you.

Which brings me back to purpose and how we find it, and my introspection. “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes” ~ Carl Jung. (via) I thought about the ‘living in the moment’ perspective that finds a place in Buddhism texts and several other works of wisdom. At first, I thought it supported the destiny and real time approach, specially because it is difficult not to have baggage associated with the plans one makes. (literally and otherwise!) But then I realised that it was less to do with the planning aspect and more to do with how we deal with scenarios. Even if one works on a plan, how one deals with a setback to it is where the advice has value. In essence, that won’t help solve the debate.

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There are profound statements that support both ways of looking at it. I continue to rack my brains to find the path that will fit me, or make it. I think there is an element of subjectivity involved. That does not make the job easier, in fact, it probably makes it tougher. After all, “He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” Lao Tzu

until next time, the clock ticks away in real time

Humachines and the role reversal

In his post ‘Virtual People‘, Scott Adams writes that his generation would be the last of the ‘pure humans’  raised with no personal technology. Someday historians will mark the smartphone era as the beginning of the Cyborg Age. From this day on, most kids in developed countries will be part human and part machine. As technology improves, we will keep adding it to our bodies.

Singularity has appeared on this blog in various forms, and in at least a couple of posts, I have written about the augmented human, and like the proverbial frog in the slowly-boiling water, we wouldn’t know when it happened. (check this post for a fantastic short film on the subject) In fact, medical applications of 3D Printing are already accepted and on the rise. Not just ‘accessories like hearing aids or dental braces, we have moved on to a lower jaw, (previous link) 75% of the skullan ear, and yes, ‘cyborg flesh‘! It’s obvious that the applications are improving the lives of many. My question though remains – as we replace more and more of ourselves, possibly the brain itself within my lifetime, what happens to the essence of us that makes us human – the feelings, the emotions, the zillion unique reactions to various physical and mental stimuli?

In this wonderful post titled “How not to be alone“, in which the author writes about how we have begun to prefer (diminished) technological substitutes to face-to-face communication, (I couldn’t help but remember this)  he quotes Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” And from that statement I realised how the the narrative might come full circle – I remembered this post I had read a few months back. It mentions bots that have passed the Turing test (“test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of an actual human”) and has a compelling argument that while we’re singular entities with a complex design, we’re still just blueprints –  with many similarities. This also  entails that we’re building machines that can mimic, and evoke, our emotions. Thus, he writes, the era of artificial emotional intelligence is not far.

Perhaps, in the future we will outsource our humanity and reverse roles – half-machine former humans who deal with each other in mechanical ways and go back home to a humanoid bot that will give it all the empathy and emotional anchoring needed. Or would it need it at all? :)

until next time, be human, comment 😀

Moral Signs

A little more than a year back, I remember writing a post on identity – what exactly constitutes the individual – work, relationships, consumption, combinations of these…….

More recently, I read a Scott Adams post which actually asks the same question ‘Who are you?’ He also provides his best answer to it ‘You are what you learn’. It’s an interesting point and I do agree that what you learn is what gives you additional perspective. It changes the way you view older experiences and how you react to new experiences. And so, despite believing in being prisoners of birth to some extent, and knowing that the apple never falls far from the tree, and at the risk of generalisation, I would tend to agree.

Which brings me to learning. In an earlier era, our ‘channels’ of learning were limited – parents, relatives, friends, teachers, literature, some amounts of media, and so on. Limited when compared to the abundance that a media explosion and the internet have brought into our lives. Sometime back, I read a post in the NYT titled ‘If it feels right‘, which discussed a study on the role of morality (rather, the lack of it) in the lives of America’s youth. The author clarifies that it isn’t as though they are living a life of debauchery, it’s just that they don’t even think of moral dilemmas, the meaning of life and such. The study ‘found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism’, mostly because they have not been given the resources to develop their thinking on such matters.

It led me to think about the moral frameworks that were instilled in us by our sources when were young. At the very least, value systems existed, though obviously their ‘quality’ would be a subjective affair. I wonder, if in this era of abundant sources, we are missing out on inculcating the basic moral guidelines that are necessary for a society’s sustenance and  evolution. If people are what they learn, then the least we could do is take a closer look at our own moral framework. The next generation, despite the abundance of sources, could be learning from it. Or perhaps this is the way it has always been, between generations. :)

until next time, moral poultice

PS: a beauuuutiful related video

The Future Belongs to the Curious from Skillshare on Vimeo.

Reference Groups for Heroes

Scott Adams had a very interesting post ‘The Comparison Advantage‘, in which he writes about status related stress when “media is changing our reference group. We’re continuously bombarded with stories about people who are fabulously successful.” I’d add that social media is also a big culprit. According to him, the cure is  “to make sure you’re near the top of at least one reference group in your life.”

With some difference, this is a thought that had crossed my mind long before I read this. But before we get to that, an interesting thing happened. A couple of posts (in Google Reader) after the above, I came across a post by Nilofer Merchant on HBR Blogs titled “Be Your Own Hero“. Completely contradictory? No. But related and yet different perspectives? Yes. This author asks us to junk the ‘Hero Narrative’ and pushes us to be our own hero by following our own passions and not trying to emulate anyone – a “clarity of purpose” for oneself. One of the proposed mantras is also “I shall not obsess over others’ success”, in addition to doing our bit to co-create the future.

And now we can come back to my thought. I can relate to Nilofer’s views because that was what led me to leave a cubicle and explore the path of being employed by myself. One and a half years gave me an immense amount of learning, one of which was that even with a well thought out ‘personal purpose’ in hand, it was difficult for me to stop comparing. It really didn’t help that the gestation time for it was quite high, and a ‘need it now’ attitude, probably heightened by social media, also played its part.

After much thought, I jumped back into a cubicle, before which I rewrote the ‘personal purpose’, in which I attempted to factor in the statustics. Putting a full stop to comparison is a long journey, and I’m already on it. An insight (humour me 😉 ) I had while thinking about the ‘compare feature’ was that so far I had been dependent on one of my identities heavily. Mostly it was my work visiting card. So, when comparing, I wasn’t really acknowledging the other things that I was doing, and doing reasonably well. And that is where I mash Nilofer’s ‘personal purpose’ with Scott Adams’ ‘reference group’. I don’t need to top any of my reference groups, but I need them so that my ‘personal purpose’ is balanced between various activities and relationships. That way, I don’t have to kill myself for not blazing a new trail independently. The cubicle job allows me to work on the things I like to work on; the blogs, social platforms and columns allow me to explore other avenues of interest and gives me a sense of worth, and when I need a hug, there’s D and friends and family. I try to make conscious decisions on each of these, keeping the others in mind. Multiple identities, multiple reference groups, all part of the personal purpose. Early days, but the signs are good.

until next time, try id out :)

Your next avatar

There was a good debate at Slate on how far (if at all) we should go in augmenting what we have been biologically endowed with. I’d noted earlier the three tracks of speciation, and how we are already on two of the tracks. (prosthesis and cell/tissue engineering) The debate introduced me to the word ‘transhumanism’, and its proponents believe that nature has done all it can do in terms of human evolution, and we should now take the ownership of driving our evolution forward. The opposing view (that’s not religion based) is that by manipulating all this, we might lose track of ‘being human’. There is a middle path that advocates augmentation to the “species’ typical best”, so that everyone would be ‘maximum humans’.

One of the conclusions of this debate is that it will happen to us slowly. This is one of the fears I’d expressed in that earlier post – that we won’t realise when it happens to us. One of my other fears on account of increasing lifespans is the economics of it all, again something I’d written earlier. In yet another post, I’d wondered if we would speciate on the basis of whether we want to keep up with the information deluge or not. Those who choose to, would most likely need augmentation of the mind.

‘Evolution on Steroids’ is the theme of this article in BBC News (via Vedant), in which Prof. Church would now like to write/edit DNA, now that we have started reading it, with devices that will monitor internal and external environments, warn us, and then change our body accordingly. It’s probably an inevitable reality, with the only real question being ‘when’ and not ‘if’.

The Cyborg in us all‘ is another excellent read, this time from the NYT, in which I learned of scientists who are working on controlling computers via thoughts. In one of computer engineer Schalk’s experiments, on the effect of Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall – Part 1” on human brains, a particular brain created a model of what it expected to hear, after the music had been switched off in between. What the guys are really working towards though, are neurons and language – eg. thinking ‘cat’ and the image popping up on screen. Towards the end of the article, there is the NeuralPhone – which lets you pick a name from the phone contact list, telepathically.

That brings me back to the Slate article which mentions this argument against trashumanism -increased lifespans would cause us to be more fearful, because we have more to lose. That would cause us to opt for “safe but shallow digital experiences, leading to long, ultimately empty lives”. This debate on enhanced and extended humanity reminded me of a post by Scott Adams, in which he writes about programmable avatars, which over time, would pick up our preferences and memories so well that they could live on as us even after we die, thereby extending our mortal lives into the infinite. And in ‘Hitchhiker’ style, he wonders if this has already happened. We are avatars of those who came before us – a premise not dissimilar to one I had reached via a different path. So much for humanity, and the debate about it. :)

until next time, Google Human+

A People Person?

Scott Adams’ post titled “People who don’t need people” (via Surekha) reminded me of Asimov’s Spacers, the first humans to emigrate to space, and their life on Aurora, the first of the worlds they settled. Scott Adams predicts that “we will transfer our emotional connections from humans to technology, with or without actual robots. It might take a generation or two, but it’s coming. And it probably isn’t as bad as it sounds.

In the huge canvas that Asimov had created, the Spacers chose low population sizes and longer lifespans (upto 400 years) as a means to a higher quality of living, and were served by a large number of robots. As per wiki, “Aurora at its height had a population of 200 million humans and 10 billion robots.

These days, as I experience the vagaries of the cliques and weak ties – not just Malcolm Gladwell’s much flogged social media version, but even real life ones, I can’t help but agree with Scott Adams that it won’t be as bad as it sounds. I probably wouldn’t mind it at all.

When I feel like a freak
When I’m on the other end of someone’s mean streak
People make fun I’ve got to lose myself
Take my thin skin and move it somewhere else

I’m setting myself up for the future
Looking for the chance that something good might lie ahead
I’m just looking for the possibilities
In my mind I’ve got this skin I can shed

Scott Adams began his post noting that humans are overrated. Sometimes, I wonder whether humanity is, and whether losing our current perceptions of it would actually make a difference. (earlier post on the subject)

Lyrics: Invisible, Bruce Hornsby

until next, bot.any