Home 2017-06-10T23:45:49+00:00

In the AI Age, “Being Smart” Will Mean Something Completely Different

So much will change in the next 20 years that not only will some jobs disappear (like many cashiers, truck drivers, accountants, and stockbrokers), but our schools will not prepare kids for the new ones. The have/have-not divide will only widen between schools with high-tech labs and free laptops on one hand, and schools with unprepared teachers that won't teach evolution or climate science and care more about what girls are wearing than learning. Right now, we are at best preparing kids for 2005, not 2050. The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating, and learning. Quantity is replaced by quality. And that shift will enable us to focus on the hard work of taking our cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.We will spend more time training to be open-minded and learning to update our beliefs in response to new data. We will practice adjusting after our mistakes, and we will invest more in the skills traditionally associated with emotional intelligence. The new smart will be about trying to overcome the two big inhibitors of critical thinking and team collaboration: our ego and our fears. Doing so will make it easier to perceive reality as it is, rather than as we wish it to be. In short, we will embrace humility. That is how we humans will add value in a world of smart technology. Source: In the AI Age, “Being Smart” Will Mean Something Completely Different

Qatar: not just the pronunciation that’s confusing

One day last week, Pres. Trump joined Saudi Arabia and a few other countries in condemning Qatar as a sponsor of terrorism. Qatar probably is, but the Saudis themselves have actions for which the president assured them he would not hold them accountable. In taking sides against Qatar, he put the US into a fight in which neither side stands for human rights, equality, or religious freedom. Then, the next day, he sold $12 billion of arms to Qatar. On top of that, he and Sec'y of State Rex Tillerson announced that they would end the traditional iftar dinners which the White House and State Dept. have hosted every Ramadan since 1995, including just a few months after 9/11. This is bound to have a chilling effect on US relations with everyone in the region. It adds to the narrative that Trump is anti-Islam. If his policy seems confusing, it's partly because the whole region's story is confusing. NPR's Planet Money podcast looked at Qatar in a marvelous story that involves falcons, kidnappings, and that freaky orb. Saudi Arabia and several nearby countries have blockaded tiny Qatar, cut off all trade, closed the border. It seemed like overnight, Qatar went from being on top of the world to being a regional pariah.So we wondered: What's going on? Source: Episode 778: What the Falcon's Up With Qatar? : Planet Money : NPR

Iranian women, bicycles, nonviolence & freedom

“It has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a bike. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood.” Susan B. Anthony, 1896 With the temperature dropping, I thought I’d see fewer bicycles parked at the Naperville train station this morning; but no, the racks were full. Many were lightly dressed, none lighter than the guy with the bushy gray mustache who air-fived me as he passed, wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the 40-degree F weather and smiling. I wore four layers, gloves and a hat, but even with the wind freezing my face muscles, I smiled, too. I can’t help smiling when I ride. Sometimes I sing. Steve Jobs described the computer as “a bicycle for our minds.” It extends human intelligence. It lets us take our minds further and faster. So do actual bicycles. Humans have done some happy thinking while pedaling. Most cyclists I pass smile, often before I smile at them. Even the intense, spandex-clad ones nod with a gritty joy behind their wedged sunglasses. Drivers who wave me through intersections even though it’s not my turn smile. Pedestrians on the sidewalk smile. Their dogs smile. I know why I’m smiling. I’m on a bicycle! Sometimes in a suit and tie. It's 7:30 AM and I'm having fun. Amplify what my legs can do by connecting them to a pair of wheels and I’m grinning like a kid with a newfound superpower. So why is everyone smiling back? My simple theory is, seeing people on bicycles makes other people happy. Most people, anyway. Unless someone ran into you or cut you off, when’s the last time you looked at a cyclist other than Lance Armstrong and got angry? Probably never. That is why you will never get a job in the Iranian government. That’s also why I am so proud of the Iranian women who are now engaged in the most moving (enjoy the pun) civil disobedience against a recent fatwa from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He received a question on Facebook about whether women should bicycle in public. Women have been cycling publicly in Iran for years. But when someone with more free time than sense posed the question, Ayatollah Khamenei gave the answer he wanted: “Riding a bicycle often attracts the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption, and thus contravenes women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned.” He added that it “exposes the society to sedition.” In other words, the fatwa is about two things: coddling some men’s inability to control their eyes and minds and trying to control women’s minds and bodies. That’s Iran’s government for you, but they're not unique. Like any number of governments, it is afraid of vocal minorities and insensitive to the majority, particularly the female half. It may sound like religion, but it’s politics. If it’s [...]

Accidents of grace

Several people have asked me, including my taxi driver, Moses just now, why Africa, why Kilimanjaro? Since they asked in a way that suggests they want a deeper answer, I tried to come up with one. I wasn’t sure myself at first, but now I can find a few reasons. Among them are another mountain half a lifetime ago, my great-grandmother’s passport, and a desire to be uncomfortable. I was a few weeks shy of 22 when I arrived in Japan for my first job after college. Plagued by depression and low self-confidence, I had barely managed to graduate and get a job. I had begun to see myself as always destined to screw up and fall short. I clung to the few bright spots.When a few teachers put kind comments on a few essays, it was enough to make me want to get better at writing and eventually, teaching, not necessarily because I felt called, but just that it was the one subject I didn’t screw up in. I changed my major from astrophysics to English, which led to auditioning for The Merchant of Venice and somehow landing the role of Shylock. It was a rare success and my first experience throwing myself that intensely into something. By the end, I was speaking in iambic pentameter half the time without knowing it. The applause, the good reviews, and an offer from a professional company were a balm for my fragile ego. Other bright spots had been not just unplanned but completely accidental. One took place 11 stories up. After a trip to the beach, about 19 of my college friends and I crammed in the elevator to return to our rooms. We were sweaty and tired and packed into an elevator car with a maximum capacity of 10. It ground to a halt between the 11th and 12th floors. The stronger guys pried open the inner door and because I was skinny I was able to squeeze through the gap and onto the roof. From there I climbed up the ladder on the shaft wall and somehow got the latch open. While I was up there, alone and looking down 100 feet, I remember feeling relaxed and free of anxiety for the first time in years. It was a lovely sensation, one I wasn’t expecting to feel while dangling from the side of an elevator shaft by one hand while reaching for the latch. I also remember that the instant I opened it and people saw me, I started acting scared, as though I was obliged to. I think many of the times we are afraid, we might be half-pretending. Why? To play a role that is convenient for ourselves and others. I just realized now that I never had stage fright while playing Shylock, either. As long as I was acting, I could give myself permission to act like a guy who doesn’t get stage fright. I got yet another accidental encounter with self-confidence at 2:30 AM [...]

Creatures of habits

I got passed by an ambulance while riding my electric bike to Edward Hospital yesterday. I knew they were headed there, too, and I knew the person inside was probably about to meet my sister, whose 5am shift as ER physician was not quite up. It was one of those moments we all get daily: a chance to be grateful for the health we have, to reflect that “time and chance happeneth” to us all but today, anyway, we get to be the one cycling on a sunny afternoon (with an electric motor doing the work) instead of the one in the ambulance. I was going for my first ever routine physical, to get a final go-ahead to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in six weeks. As the son of a doctor, I got free healthcare at home and as an adult, I never saw the need. Fortunately I was healthy until depression and a series of stupid excuses led me to make destroying my health a habit. It took just a few years to find myself in that same ER, too weak to climb a flight of stairs, never mind a mountain in Africa. It was a lesson for me in the power of habits to destroy and to save, to break us and, if we’re grateful and patient, to remake us. One of the most common reasons Americans find themselves in ambulances is chest pain and other symptoms of a heart attack. Heart attacks usually result in part from years of habits. Undoing heart disease means adopting new habits, but by some miracle, undoing the damage often takes less time. That’s because we’re helping, rather than opposing the body’s will to heal. Other reasons people end up in ambulances come from poverty: tooth abscesses in people who can’t afford a dentist, minor infections that got worse because the person couldn’t take off work to see a doctor or doesn’t have health insurance, or both. Obamacare has reduced the number of people with the last problem by over 10 million. The other problem is harder to change. The fact that most of us, not just Walmart workers, can’t take family and sick leave freely, is the result of a bad habit we’ve adopted as a society: a screwed-up version of capitalism that forces companies to value short-term shareholder profits and productivity above the long-term health of the company and its employees. The places where we work are rarely designed to make us healthy, even those like mine which give you a free gym membership. Yet somehow, we vote for people who tell us it's right and patriotic to overwork so shareholders can profit; and only lazy people—millenials, liberals, mothers—want to undermine productivity. We vote to have our tax dollars selectively benefit those already wealthier than us. We make a lifestyle of waiting in drive-thrus for coffee we’ll barely taste as we commute, of sending our kids to school in the dark instead of letting them learn to love mornings, and of [...]

Hello, World! (Again.) Why I’m climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

I was dismayed last year to realize my passport, which I hadn’t used in 9 years, was about to expire. I hadn’t left the country since the Bush administration. I speak six or seven languages well enough to make small talk and find my way around; I hadn’t used but one in almost a decade. Recently my mother showed me my great-grandmother’s passport. She circled the world in the late fifties—unheard of for an Indian woman in her sixties. Her passport has stamps from Kabul, Moscow, Bangkok...it’s almost full. I held my own expired passport, saw the old photo of myself, and flipped through the unfilled visa pages, blank after blank. Insert metaphor here. What was my excuse? Sure, those nine years were financially difficult (speaking of the Bush administration…) and I had had a major health scare and almost died. In 2016 I found myself back in good health, with a nice middle-class job in a Chicago skyscraper, and no valid passport. I was told I should get one because our parent company is in London and I might have to visit. That doesn’t look likely to happen soon (what do communication directors have to meet about?). Even if it did, who wants to travel to London to sit in an office and talk about derivatives trading? Some live Shakespeare, some curry, a trip to the countryside, looking up distant cousins—those things would be fun. A punk rock concert, Harrod’s, a random local pub, and how far is Stonehenge? But a few days of “And this is our head of blah-blah.” “Oh yes, we’ve met on email! Nice to finally meet you in person.” That’s not travel. No offense to the Head of Blah-blah. She’s a lovely person. I took one short business trip to a conference in Denver. Beautiful downtown and perfect weather in September. The hotel and conference couldn’t have been nicer. As those things go. They go like conferences, don’t they? I got a great Eddie Bauer jacket in my swag bag, though. The best part of the trip was the extra day I stayed to hike and rock climb in Red Rocks and drive into the Rockies. At last I was somewhere, watching the sunrise from atop a huge boulder, dangling off a cliff to get a selfie. Eating second breakfast at a small-town cafe that I suspect put weed in the coffee. Since when does coffee have a grassy smell? On the Amtrak ride home—yes, Amtrak. I’d never tried it. Everyone should do it once. The seat is better than a first-class plane seat for sleeping and Denver’s Union Station is in the middle of its picture-perfect downtown. You have to not be in a hurry. Bring something to read or write or binge-watch. The shinkansen in Japan is over 50 years old, fast, and a pleasure to ride and it makes you wonder why Americans are forced by their government to endure slow trains. It’s not really more expensive, in the big [...]