Category Archives: Community

Forbidden Planet, Movie & Metaphor

“Forbidden Planet”, the Movie: a Metaphor for our times

and a Cautionary Tale for “Cognitive Assistants”1, 2?

In the 1956 movie, the extinct Krell are described as having had highly moral conscious minds, and vastly advanced technology that they developed to provide huge benefits to their race. However, they failed to take into account their unconscious minds that could control the destructive uses of their powerful technology. The inadvertent empowering of their unconscious resulted in the destruction of their species.

The human race, although striving to develop science and technology in ways that can empower the individual and society, fails to take into account that they’re also empowering the primitive, lawless, darker sides of humanity (criminals, terrorists, and other predators) whose aim is to enslave or destroy any and all groups that stand in the way of their power or are identified as “the other”. Is the Global War on Terror an ultimately doomed attempt to roll back the indiscriminately empowering technological clock?

There are some very brilliant and thoughtful people warning us of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (AI)3. Is the harnessing, and possible enhancement, of the power of the conscious and unconscious minds from the development of Cognitive Assistants endangering our existence through empowering our dark sides as a result of these linkages? More specifically, should access to some types of Cognitive Assistants be tightly controlled to prevent exploitation by predatory governments, companies, criminals and terrorists?

1 A Very Brief History of Cognitive Assistants ( by Jim Spohrer

2 Help Wanted: Creating a New Era of Computing ( by Jim Spohrer at 2014 AAAI Fall Symposium

3 However, I’m here NOT referring to artificial intelligence “consciousness” (whatever that is)

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“Your body language shapes who you are”, TED Talk Comment: Power vs. Humility Postures

Harvard Business School Sociologist Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk has been viewed over 9 million times

She speaks about how “Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves.”  and how ” ‘power posing’ — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain”.   She specifically addresses how various forms of ‘power posing’ affect ourselves, not how they may affect others, as the latter may have both positive and negative consequences, depending on the circumstances.

“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing”.   — Wiliam James.

Pastor Randy Willis asks: “how this fits with religions/cultures that emphasize postures of humility such as bowing, kneeling, laying prostrate, etc.”   (Cuddy responds that she is VERY interested in this question)

My comment in the TED discussion, in response to Willis’s question:
In my 2006 AIAA presentation on a “Value Proposition for Space Programs” (discussing how to get people to commit to a multi-generational Space Program, a vision and a cause greater than their individual self-interests) I suggested considering “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in which the lower ‘deficiency needs’ are complemented by the higher ‘growth needs’. Maslow’s later Hierarchy included the need to know, understand, and transcend one’s individual needs through connecting to something beyond oneself.” Maslow believed that “Self-actualization preceded self-transcendence”, hence the very top of his later pyramid is “Transcendence”.

Perhaps the lower 7 ‘needs’ require more pride, confidence, and power (hence the corresponding body language), whereas the top level, the “need to connect to something beyond oneself”, to transcend oneself, requires humility and the wisdom to merge one’s identity into a “higher power”. The body language of humility helps to affirm, especially to oneself, that connection and release of the ego.

I like to say “there’s a yin and yang of everything”. Perhaps humility is part of the yin that is actually more powerful than the ‘yang’ power required for the lower 7 levels of the pyramid. Lao Tzu describes this eloquently in the Tao Teh Ching, e.g. “Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water, yet for attacking the hard and strong, nothing can be better”.

In a way, bodily expressions of humility may, in some circumstances, be much more “meaningful” (hence empowering?) than bodily expressions of power.

My tweet a few days ago:  Why it shapes you?  Maybe our Unconscious is being programmed, by ourselves, in two ways.

1) our Conscious Decision to assume a ‘power pose’ is both a result of an unconscious intention which then “feeds back” a message to our unconscious that we, also consciously, have chosen to be more powerful, and

2) our body language sends a (positive feedback) message to both our conscious mind and unconscious  that we are in fact more powerful.

This may imply that the programming of our unconscious by our conscious decision to be more powerful may be sufficient to make us feel, and be, more powerful, even whithout changing our body language.

Going one step further Dumi Pyo asks Cuddy: Can only ‘imagining’ powerful body language change ourselves, too?

Cuddy answers:  “we’re running that study right now. There is good reason to hypothesize that simply imagining oneself in a power pose may produce similar effects”

Here’s my “anecdotal evidence” in support of that hypothesis, just one data point for that study:    When I was first learning to teach, to make speeches, and give presentations at conferences, in order to overcome the fear of public speaking,  I taught myself to imagine I was “leaning into it”, to address the audience.  It feels like a rotation of a facet of my mind (as well as my body) to bring forward what I call my “public speaking persona”.   It subjectively feels very kinesthetic, including a feeling that my face as well as my body are involved in projecting power and mastery.  It definitely works.  It’s very effective in changing my state of consciousness, and reducing my nervousness.  A cousin of mine who’s a psychiatrist told me it sounds like I’m describing self-hypnosis.


  • TED talk by Amy Cuddy:  “Your body language shapes who you are”,
  • “Rediscovering the Later Version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Transcendence and Opportunities for Theory, Research, and Unification”
    by Mark E. Koltko-Rivera Review of General Psychology 2006, Vol. 10, No. 4, 302–317

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Why Can’t We Solve Big Problems?: My response to the TED Discussion

This post is my (first) comment in response to the discussion “Why Can’t We Solve Big Problems?  The Discussion was started by Jason Pontin, Editor in Chief & Publisher, MIT’s Technology Review. 
He says:  

“I think that  blithe optimism about technology’s powers has evaporated as big problems that people had imagined technology would solve, such as hunger, poverty, malaria, climate change, cancer, and the diseases of old age, have come to seem intractably hard.

I ask:

I.  Who says we can’t solve big problems?  If I measured my child’s height, and then measured it again a week later, my friends would laugh at me if I complained to them that my child wasn’t growing.   Who’s to say what the appropriate time-constants for change are, in such a huge dynamical system as our World?  About a hundred years ago (only a hundred years!) the son of a President of the United States died because his blister became infected, and there were no antibiotics.  That our progress isn’t shared by all is indeed a tragedy, but there’ve been many huge problems solved in the past 100 years.

II. Who’s to say that we can choose which problems are solved first, and legislate when they must be solved?  That level of control over nature and mankind is indeed a very Western conceit. The “illusion of control” makes us impatient with all the small incremental steps we take as we slog through the swamp of reality, one step back for each one+ step forward.  cf. The Tao Teh Ching

III. Perhaps there are seeds of an answer in Pontin’s MIT Technology Review article “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems“?  I suggest looking at the 3 orthogonal dimensions: 1) Leadership, 2) Technology, and 3) Stakeholders.   The Technology is probably almost there, no?  The Stakeholders are extremely diverse, many perceiving that they’re involved in zero-sum games, hence hindering cooperation.  Finally, could it be that the Leadership is sorely lacking.  A Leader (or Leaders) must have the charismatic power and legitimacy (of a JFK) to craft and impart a Vision that can mobilize the stakeholders’ buy-in, and the economic and political power to galvanize the Technological machines of government, education, and industry.

Without vision, the people perish”    — Proverbs

From the above ruminations, I suggest that the issues are more a matter of Will, Leadership, and Sustainable Commitment to a Vision, rather than technology, education, or short-sighted venture capitalists.  We’re now in a period of technological consolidation.  With hindsight, you wouldn’t want to fault the likes of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Warren Buffett when they were amassing their huge fortunes, that are now being directed to the betterment of mankind.

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Concentration of Power: Focus, Lanchester, & Network Effect

Consider 3 models of Systems of individual entities  (think: people, computers, companies, Social Network Analysis, Network Theory, Dark Networks, … )

1)  In the Analysis I offered regarding Large Organizations becoming out of touch with reality, there was the tacit assumption that individuals ‘inside’ the organization were somewhat blocked from seeing and interacting with the outside world, possibly because of more internal demands on their time, lack of visibility to the outside, lack of empowerment to deal with the outside, and an illusion of being protected from the external world.

2) In the realm of the “Network Effect”, the tacit assumption is that the individuals are not limited in their interactions with the outside by their connections.  The focus is on the increased channels of communication, possibilities for collaboration, a flat organizational structure…  The additional noise, spam, distractions are not usually considered (although I will address that regarding the importance of boundaries, solitude, privacy)

3) Small or large organizations where there is a strong culture of entrepreneurship, individual responsibility and ownership.   Here survival is important, but the sense of urgency for innovation and growth is paramount.   In an ideal situation, the organization is relatively more ‘flat’ in terms of lack of hierarchy, fewer ladders to climb, and greater exposure to the environment.  There is no sense of a “zero sum game”.  This is very much what I experienced at PayPal in 2000 – 2001.   The company was mostly ‘surface’ (as compared to my ‘sphere’ analogy in a previous blog)… with little indication of an insulated ‘inside’ cut-off from the market.

Next, I’ll review the network effect paper I wrote in 2001 at PayPal, its relation to eBay and leveraging eBay’s Network Effect, Lanchester Theory of Markets, and concentration of power.   I concluded that the best expansion strategy to leverage the network effect, and concentration of effort, was to go after one region or market at a time.   Then one would more rapidly reach the ‘tipping point’ and develop an advantage that would be hard to lose.

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