“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” — Vladimir Lenin
A century ago a lion tamer named Clyde Beatty discovered a secret. This secret ensured Beatty lived into his sixties in an era when most lion tamers died in action in the circus ring. Recall for a moment the classic image of a lion tamer holding a chair to presumably protect themselves and a whip to scare off the animals. It turns out Beatty was one of the first lion tamers to bring a chair into the ring. Unbeknownst to us, the whip is mostly for show, Beatty discovered the secret lay with the chair.
When a lion tamer approaches a lion with the chair, the lion tries to focus on all four legs of the chair simultaneously. Faced with all four legs, the lion chooses the freeze response (from our response options: fight, flight or freeze). Too many options mentally paralyse the lion.
In our hyperconnected age, we create more information than was ever created in the world before. As our guest on this week’s innovation show Byron Reese says, technology is a multiplier. One thing it has undoubtedly multiplied is the amount of data available to the world, there has been more created in the last two years than in the history of humankind.
More information means more choice, more choice means more options, more options means more decisions. We, humans, are mammals just like the lion, we like to have options, but not too many options. When faced with too much choice, too much workload, too many options for a career, too many college courses, or whatever it may be, we can freeze.
I believe the deluge of information is a factor to consider in the high levels of anxiety that we are witnessing in our time. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
In this Thursday Thought, we briefly examine how too much information (TMI) can compound anxiety and how our reaction to too much choice is natural. However, if we reframe how we see information, we can change our futures. (Please note, I am not a medical professional, this is my personal theory through anecdotal evidence, research and personal scar tissue.)
Leonard DaVinci: The Last Human to Know Everything
“Nothing is more beautiful than to know all.” — Athanasius Kircher (1670)
Claimants to the title of the last person to know everything include Leonardo DaVinci (1452–1519), English scientist, Thomas Young (1773–1829) and Francis Bacon (1561–1626) amongst others. I specifically included the era in which they lived to illustrate that they knew everything in an era when the quantity of information was quite limited. I do not mean to detract from their great genius, but to know everything in those 15th, 16th and 18th centuries is very different than to know everything in this day and age. The amount of information available was quite limited compared to today.
The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.
In 1956, the renowned cognitive psychologist George Miller published the widely cited paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.” In this seminal paper, Miller outlined our limited capacity for processing information. He argued that although the brain can store a lifetime of knowledge in its trillions of connections, the number of items that humans can actively hold in our conscious awareness at once is limited, on average, to seven (hence the rationale of 7 digits in a phone number, give or take).
We can compare our capacity for memory to that of a computer. There are some characteristics of your short-term memory that resemble those of a computer’s random access memory (RAM). Just as computers often lack enough memory to run certain programs, so does your brain. When you are presented with too many pieces of information, too many options or too many “legs of the chair” you freeze or your brain simply chooses not to consciously register certain information if it is deemed unnecessary. This becomes even truer when you enter a state of stress.
When your body perceives a threat, it releases adrenalin. Adrenalin thickens the blood so you bleed less quickly in case you get cut or injured. Your body dumps sugar and fat into your system, shuts down digestion, constricts blood vessels, takes blood away from muscles and internal organs. It increases your heart rate and blood pressure to prepare you for a physical fight or to run away should you need to.
Concurrently, your brain restricts all non-essential thoughts so you can focus on fight or flight decisions.
To conserve energy, so that you survive the threat, perceived or otherwise.
When we are faced with an overload of information, it can be perceived as a threat. This is particularly the case if you are a business leader. Imagine you run a bank, for example, you have to hold countless concurrent pieces of information in your head. You have to manage regulation trust issues and net promoter scores after the financial crisis, mortgage crises, GDPR, digitisation, blockchain, PSD2, leadership and organisational transformation initiatives to name but a few.
With so many items vying for your brain’s attention, you may react act like a computer that overheats, you can cognitively freeze. As humans, when we are under extreme pressure we do this. From an information perspective, we either stick our head in the sand or we stick to the knitting and do what we have always done before. The world has changed and as Albert Einstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Our thinking must evolve beyond the problem. To do this we need new information. In an age of abundance, the right information is essential.
For problems to be solved, thinking must be evolved!
Dysphoria and TMI — Too Much Information
The psychological term “dysphoria” refers to a general state of unease, anxiety, or dissatisfaction with life. With more than 260 million of us living with anxiety disorders there is ample evidence of dysphoria.
The word anxiety itself comes from the Latin anxietas, which comes from the Greek angh, which describes unpleasant physical sensations like discomfort and tightness. Anxiety is defined as the anticipation of future threat. One of the impacts of this age of abundant information is the anxiety of too much choice.
In “fight, flight or freeze” mode, you jettison any information is deemed non-essential. Your brain restricts your thinking so you can focus on fight or flight decisions. The seven pieces of information (give or take) that you are capable of “holding” reduce dramatically and you resort to black and white thinking, to survival thinking. We cannot innovate in this state, we cannot evolve our thinking.
However, when we embrace new ways of thinking, when we welcome new information, we can make significant changes. Being overwhelmed with too much information is perfectly understandable. We can choose to embrace new information or we can choose to reject it, we need to be very careful what information we choose to consume. We make a decision to what information we feed our conscious mind every day. New information feeds new thoughts, new thoughts feed new habits and new habits create new realities.
Whatever our choice, we must remember, in our age of abundant information, ignorance is a choice.
“When asked about what they regret most in the last six months, people tend to identify actions that didn’t meet expectations. But when asked about what they regret most when they look back on their lives as a whole, people tend to identify failures to act.” — Barry Schwartz (in “The Paradox of Choice”)
EP 159: The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity with Byron Reese
The questions we will grapple with in today’s show are not about transistors and neurons and algorithms and such. They are about the nature of reality, humanity, and mind. The confusion happens when we begin with “What jobs will robots take from humans?” instead of “What are humans?” Until we answer that second question, we can’t meaningfully address the first.
We welcome serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO, of GigaOM and author of “The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity” Byron Reese.
- The evolution of our brains
- Fire as the first technology
- Language development
- Digital Dementia
- Distribution of Labour
- The Beginning of Wealth
- The Beginning of ownership
- The shift to agriculture
- The age of computation
- Moore’s law
- Exponential change
- Artificial Intelligence
- Artificial General Intelligence
- The limitation of Robotics
- Computer Consciousness
- Our human potential
We mention digital dementia during the show, here is a piece I wrote on it: https://medium.com/thethursdaythought/planet-of-the-ai-pes-digital-dementia-and-digital-zombies-f4f3454ca664
Have a Listen:
- Web http://bit.ly/2FwsOJw
- Soundcloud https://lnkd.in/gBbTTuF
- Spotify http://spoti.fi/2rXnAF4
- iTunes https://apple.co/2gFvFbO
- Tunein http://bit.ly/2rRwDad
- iHeart http://bit.ly/2E4fhfl
More about Byron here: