Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Damásios; "Robots never will have feelings" (or why intelligence is not the same as sentience, consciousness and self-awareness)

Last weekend, Expresso published a long, in-depth and extraordinary interview with Hanna and António Damásio, renowned researchers of the neurobiology of mind and behavior. This is a "must read" and a "piece of art testimony"  written by Clara Ferreira Alves. 

"emotions" and "feelings" are terms used in daily life in an interchangeably way, showing how closely connected emotions are with feelings. However neuroscience considers emotions as complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli. When a person is afraid of something, heart begins to race, mouth becomes dry, skin turns pale and muscles contract; that is the emotional reaction that occurs automatically and unconsciously. Feelings will occur after becoming aware in the brain of such physical changes; only then, we experience the feeling of fear.

Understanding the importance of feelings is one of the core concepts to understanding many of the discussions around the vision of a "strong AI" from were Silicon Valley seems not willing to give up on. 

But, while DeepMind has surpassed humans on the GO game a couple of years after IBM Watson won on Jeopardy contest,  this will sum up to be examples of not a "strong AI" but a "forced AI". If one asks Deepmind or Watson to play Monopoly they won't even know where to start, as they are both AI systems designed to play a specific game and not any type of game (neither to figure any kind of game by themselves). But yes, such AI systems will continuously be programmed to surpass humans and do good stuff as well as terrible stuff, also continuing to be feed the statement of an "artificial intelligence that is more artificial then intelligence".

The Damásios arguments are that intelligence is not the same as sentience (the ability to perceive or feel things), consciousness (awareness of one’s body and environment) and self-awareness (recognition of that consciousness). 

This means a machine or an algorithm can be as smart (of even smarter) than humans, but still lack such capacities and thus, intelligent agents (such as robots) will never have feelings.

"If you do not have a life, you can not experience the joy of being alive".  
From a life time dedicated to research, the Damásios say there are not evidences in favor of the idea that the engendering of feelings in humans would be confined to the cerebral cortex. On the contrary, "based on anatomical and physiological evidences, subcortical structures and even the peripheral and enteric nervous systems appear to make important contributions to the experience of feelings."  This is the same to say that however an ultra-intelligent agent can be, if such agent is not aware of itself, it is not incapable of feeling emotions and thus, it can not experience sensations of any kind - neither the color orange neither the taste of an orange.

This is why in their vision; "Silicon Valley is full of very dangerous people (...) that believe they own reason (...) and because they lack the human argument, they feed a sort of technological & scientific fanaticism (...)."  

Assertively, they refer to people like Ray Kurzweil (famed futurist and Google executive) and Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI); " (...) powerful fanatic people that want to buy immortality." 

Presenting his new book - The strange order of things -  at Lisbon's public school holding his name, António Damásio said " (...) without education, men will kill each other."

Click to watch the first lecture of Copernicus Festival 2017 entitled "The Strange Order of Things: Homeostasis, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures" delivered by Antonio Damásio.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Have a Positive Powerful Presence

Being powerful means that people experience something, positive or negative, when in the room with you and to ensure you have a positive powerful presence is a conscious choice.

Every aspect of your presence has social meaning, including your emotions and how you are assessing the people you are with. People are “feeling you out” before you speak. Therefore, you need to develop both your cognitive and sensory awareness to ensure people feel safe and uplifted by your presence.

How to do so?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) experience

Mindfulness, by definition, is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, a process developed through the practice of meditation and other similar training, incorporating significant elements of Buddhism namely the development of self-knowledge to gradually lead to what can be described as enlightenment or freedom from suffering.  The popularity of Mindfulness is generally considered to Jon Kabat-Zinn (Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) that as practitioner of yoga and studies with Buddhists led him to integrate such teachings with scientific findings, creating in 1979 the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program aimed at treating the chronically ill.

This program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in Medicine for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both healthy and unhealthy people. MBSR and similar programs are now widely applied in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and other environments.
Mindfulness practices are inspired mainly by teachings particularly from Buddhist traditions and one of MBSR's techniques - the "body scan" - derives from a meditation practice ("sweeping").

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to enroll at my first Mindfulness course at Budadharma and this summer, I finally  had the change of completing the the MBSR course with João Palma in a 
group program focused in the progressive acquisition of mindful awareness, with a calendar of eight sessions workshops, a one-day retreat  and homework. Learning formal techniques such as mindfulness meditation, body scanning and yoga postures are at the center of the MBSR program that is based on basic principles such as non-judging, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, trust, and non-centering. 

One of the biggest causes of stress is ruminating or repeating a certain stressor that causes the brain to start and repeat a thinking pattern and stay there. Mindfulness practices teach (train) our brain to pop up out of that pattern and recognize it for what it is: a default state from where we have a choice to step out of. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

TED Prize 2007 - "No one should die because they live too far from a doctor"

The TED Prize amplifies big ideas from visionary leaders, to spark global change. Each TED Prize winner receives $1 million — and the TED community’s wide range of expertise and resources — to make a bold wish become a reality, that inspires thinkers and doers across the world to get involved. 

Last Mile Health is the 2017 TED Prize and winner Raj Panjabi's wish is to extend health services to all by training members of the community.  Back in 2007, with a small team of Liberian civil war survivors, American health workers and $6,000 Taj had received as a wedding gift, he co-founded Last Mile Health. Initially focused on care for HIV patients, the initiative has grown into a robust organization that recruits, trains, equips and employs community health workers who provide a wide range of services to their neighbors in most remote regions. 
In 2016, Last Mile Health workers treated 50,000 patients, including nearly 22,000 cases of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea in children. 

Raj Panjabi was ranked as one of "The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders"  by Fortune in 2015 and named to TIME's list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2016. As the winner of the 2017 TED Prize, Raj is creating the Community Health Academy, a global platform to train, connect and empower community health workers. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

#lifeinterrupted #fernandopolonio

11 months we watched him come alive even as if the body continued to fail.
Ours is a heart breaking loss; we all love(d) greatly you and your spirit.
Today as fallen the brave. Fair well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Entrepreneuship & Innovation: the language used to describe male and female is different

Professors of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Luleå University of Technology and Hanken School of Economics in Sweden recorded venture capitalists (VC's) conversations and analyzed how differently they talk about female entrepreneurs when evaluating investment proposals.

The language they use to describe the entrepreneurs plays an important but often hidden role in shaping who is awarded funding and why. 

From the experiment, one major thing stuck out: the language used to describe male and female entrepreneurs was radically different. And these differences have very real consequences for those seeking funding — and for society in general.

More broadly, this research (find more on HBR May 2017 issue)suggests that stereotyping through language underpins the image of a man as a true entrepreneur while undermining the image of a woman as the same. Such stereotyping will inevitably influence the distribution of financing, but could also have other major consequences.

Because the purpose of government VC's is to use tax money to stimulate growth and value creation for society as a whole, gender bias presents the risk that the money isn’t being invested in businesses that have the highest potential. This isn’t only damaging for women entrepreneurs; it’s potentially damaging for society as a whole.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Alpha Leader or Bonobo? When drive, competitiveness and commitment are too much..

Given the high organisational costs to companies, has the aggressive, "alpha male style of leadership" had its day? Should companies be looking for alternative models of leadership?
As pressures increases, the "alpha’s leadership style" can move from constructive and challenging to one of intimidation and even abuse. In many instances, people working for alpha male leaders suffer from low morale, high absenteeism, high levels of stress and burnout and, not surprisingly, given their dysfunctional behaviour, companies run by destructive alphas can easily go down the drain.

Manfred de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor interestingly writes about this and how the closest relative of Homo Sapiens is not the gorilla (known for its alpha male behaviour) but the bonobo, alias the pygmy chimpanzee, which is part of a matriarchal society. 

Humans share 98.7 percent of DNA with the bonobos which create, maintain, and use social networks to manage stressful conditions, in contrast to the alpha “fight-or-flight” behavior. There is a place for alpha-behavior in organisations which need the drive, competitiveness and commitment of leadership - however this must be balanced with models of leadership that connect, build and nurture. Once this balance is achieved, organisations like Amazon (named as one of the most stressful companies to work for) will discover that employees who work without fear can be driven to new heights.