Outsourcing our Brain and the impact of SatNav

On Tuesday this week the Guardian wrote an article with the title: “All mapped out? Using satnav ‘switches off’ parts of the brain, study suggests”

This article was reporting on a study that was investigating the processes that the brain uses when mapping our environment and planning routes. The headlines emphasises that when we are receiving instructions our brain turns off many of these processes:

The study found that characteristic brain activity linked to simulating the different possible routes for a journey appears to be entirely absent when a person is following directions rather than independently planning a route.

The brain is quite good at not doing things it doesn’t need to do, but that has consequences.

Having read through the article I thought to myself that this would make a really interesting extension to an article that I had previously written on outsourcing our brain functions.

The basic idea of the post was that we use tools to outsource our brain functions and in so doing we risk reducing our brain function. By not exercising the brain capabilities we find ourselves in the place where we are dependent upon the tools and struggle to function without them. A basic example of this is the ability to do mental maths which, on my own unscientific assessment, is completely missing from the younger generation that has always had a machine to do this arithmetic for them. Another example is the memory of phone numbers which people no longer need to do; if you’ve given me your phone number in the last 5 years I probably don’t know it, I still know numbers prior to that time. This time coincides with increased use of mobile phones and no longer needing to know the number to call someone.

So where is the link to the post that I wrote?

I searched this blog for the post.

I searched Google for the post.

I searched my Evernote for this post.

I couldn’t find the post.

Without one of these tools telling me where this post is I’m stuck. Having outsourced that part of my memory I’m completely dependent upon them.

The irony wasn’t lost on me.

Consumer technology in the business world – today’s example

Today I was at a relatives house who needed to get their heating boiler fixed, so we called them a service engineer from one of the large utility companies here in the UK.

Due to the particular circumstances they came out quickly and started to take the boiler apart.

Unfortunately the boiler needed a part which the service engineer didn’t have.

The corporate ordering system would get him one by the next day, but he wanted to get it fixed before that, so what could he do?

That’s where the consumer technology came in.

The service engineers who work in this particular area of the UK had a WhatApp group so they could help each other out: “Give me a few minutes and I’ll check the group to see if anyone else has one of these parts so we can get it fixed today.”

In just a few minutes it was clear that no-one else had the part and we’d have to wait for the morning, but at least he tried.

I have no idea whether this was a company sanctioned way of working or whether this was something the engineers had decided to do, but it showed how deeply consumer technology has ingrained itself into the way that we work and play.

We talk about Shadow IT which I recently heard someone describe as “an abomination”, I don’t see it that way. Consumer technology will always move ahead of what a corporate IT organisation can, and should, do. Corporate IT needs to move to be the broker that enables people to get access to the tools they need to best do their job, where that needs to be something regulated then fine, but when there’s no value to be added corporate IT organisations should get out of the way.

Working with the Double Negative – Is my microphone on, or not?

I’m in a Skype for Business call and I’m getting confused by the blue button in this screen:

Skype for Business Microphone

In maths and in the English language it’s quite clear that a double-negative is a positive:

“I can’t not smile when she does that”

Means:

“I smile when she does that”

Or in maths:

0-(-1) = 1

likewise

0+(-1)= -1

The icon on this screen is the mute icon – so that’s (-1) and the icon is highlighted so that’s + resulting in -1 which means that the sound isn’t flowing therefore I’m on mute?

That’s makes sense, and that it exactly what happens.

mute icon highlighted = on mute

But, I can’t help thinking that this is all more complicated that it needs to be. It would be far less confusing to use a microphone icon rather than a mute icon. Then icon selected would mean microphone on and icon not selected would mean microphone off. I wouldn’t have to run an logic equation in my head to be confident that I wasn’t that annoying person on the call who’s disrupting everyone else by the high levels of background noise.

For me it’s just not intuitive for it to be a mute button.

I suppose it’s back to Norman and his doors.

Walking with Free Ears – What happened when I left my headphones at home

When was the last time you walked with free ears?

I nearly always walk with my headphones in. The introvert in me quite enjoys the feeling of escape that it gives me. Most of the time I’m listening to podcasts so it’s also a great way of keeping up-to-date.

On Saturday I went walking and I forgot my headphones.

I was immediately frustrated that I couldn’t enjoy my normal experience and a long day of walking ahead. There were a couple of podcasts that I was really looking forward to listening to and now a change of plan had been thrust open me by my own foolishness.

As the frustration subsided I started to realise something – the experience of walking with free ears was invigorating.

As I walked up the hill I marvelled at the peace and quiet of that particular day.

Higher up the clouds were down and the visibility was reduced to a few metres, the wind was blowing and my hood was up. The forcefulness of the wind was awesome and I was back in my introverted cocoon.

As a descended later I relished the opportunity to fling off my hood and open my ears to the outside world again.

I think I need to leave my ears free a bit more often.

When Algorithms Trump

The other day I was sent this as an Amazon recommendation:

ed-miliband

For those outside the UK I think it’s worth explaining two things:

  1. Ed Miliband is a former leader of a political party, he’s a former leader because he wasn’t very successful and lost to David Cameron (who you may have heard of).
  2. To “trump” has a number of meanings over here, one of which is to break wind usually audibly, I’ve not suddenly taken to politics on this site.

I am pretty sure that Amazon recommendations are created by algorithms without any intervention from a person. They must send millions of these emails every day, so there is no way that people get involved. A set of machines operate a recommendation engine and squirt out the emails.

The aim of recommendation engines is to suggest something that you are likely to buy, they do this via correlation of buying habits, demographics, connections, etc. Thus, somewhere in the middle of that algorithm is a correlation between my buying habits, demographics, etc. and someone who purchased a signed autographed photo of a former leader of the Labour Party. In this case the recommendation engine has produced a trump, is slightly humorous noise. I don’t have anything against Ed, but I don’t want a signed autograph picture of him on my wall, this recommendation is a passing of wind.

We recently purchased some new cooking utensils and the other recommendations in this email are all to do with that purchase, so perhaps Ed Miliband supporters are people who like good quality stainless steel also. I’m not sure that’s enough of a correlation to be of value.

This is a frivolous example of an algorithm trump but as algorithms come to run more of our lives the consequences become more significant.

Facebook and Google dominate the 2016 Top 10 US Smartphone Apps List

According to data from nielsen the most popular smartphone application in the US in 2016 was Facebook, but that’s not the only Facebook asset in the top 10 – Messenger is #2 and Instagram is #8.

The Facebook number is impressive at over 146 million average unique users per month. The US population now stands at around 324 million which means that over 45% of the US population uses Facebook on a smartphone every month.

The other dominant force on the list is Google who take places #3 to #7 with YouTube at the top of the list at over 113 million average unique users.

The two remaining spots on the list go to Apple and Amazon.

The Amazon app is also the fastest growing application in percentage terms with Google Search and Google Play in the slower growth lane:

Personal "temperature bubbles" – Yes please

Like many people who sit in open plan offices one of the most contentious issues is temperature. I’m always hot; that’s who I am. Others are always cold; that’s who they are. It’s difficult to do anything about that in a place where we all share the same air.

Comfort in a working space is greatly influenced by temperature and comfort greatly influences people’s productivity.

I’ve always wondered whether there was a better, more personal, way of dealing with different people’s temperature preferences.

Design firm Carlo Ratti Associati are try a better way at the Agnelli Foundation headquarters in Torino, Italy. By combining sensors and IoT technology with the air-conditioning system they are aiming to create personal “temperature bubbles”:

It will also add an important layer of personalisation through so-called “temperature bubbles” that workers will be able to set with a smartphone app that speaks to fan units in the ceiling. “Your own personal [temperature] setting will follow you through the building,” he said.

Mashable: This high tech office will give everyone their own thermal bubble

Yes, please! That’s all I’d like to say.