Friday, November 11, 2011

What If We Lived on the World Stage? GHC12 Keynote

This morning's keynote was presented by the Honourable Shirley Ann Jackson, PhD.  This was especially cool for me because Dr. Jackson is a physicist by training, which is what I started out in during my undergraduate studies. I found Dr. Jackson's talk extremely compelling, both in style and content.  Her style is calm and confident, and I loved her slides - just pictures that complimented the points she made, without distracting text or animations.

Dr. Jackson's theme was "What if I lived on the world stage?".  She touched on two big themes related to it:
  • the importance of cultural and social understanding in a hyper-connected world
  • the increasing complexity of data, and the technical challenges related to social-cognitive networks
In general, Dr. Jackson wanted us to realize that we are part of the technology culture, and it is international in scope.  Our disciplines are global disciplines that reach past language, nationality, cultural boundaries.  We have an opportunity to have impact on a global scale.  For example, engineers speak the same language!  Dr. Jackson said that it's often easier to get engineers to work with other engineers in other countries than it is to get engineers to work with sales people from their own country/culture!  So our work can span these cultural/linguistic boundaries.

In addition, the work we do has broad appeal.  We solve problems, which gives everyone a foot in the door of international relations.  So, we need to think and create with a view towards what it means to all people on this planet.  What could we do together to solve our shared challenges in energy, security, sustainability, food production?  Dr. Jackson has high hopes for what we can accomplish.

Dr. Jackson provided guidance for how to do just that with five areas we should consider.  I've tried to summarize them here for you:
  • cultural listening: What we say is more nuanced/poetic in our own culture than when translated.  For example, yes does not mean the same thing in all cultures. The absence of cultural nuance/understanding is why Watson can seem painfully culturally incorrect.  An AR tool providing real-time context while whispering 'advice' might save us from embarrassing misunderstandings.  However, the best advice she gave us is to learn and try to understand.  She said we need to share stories, interests, and perspectives from our cultures.  Relationships at all levels require the willingness to negotiate, give and take.  GHC is an experience that can help us build this.
  • identifying genuine conflicts: Dr. Jackson said that we need to find real conflicts, not just the apparent conflicts, and we need to sort them out in order to understand them.  New tools to arrive at facts and enhance communications may come from cognitive and artificial intelligence, but we are prone to intentional bias and illusions of control which can have critical impacts on how we deal with conflict.  Identifying these are critical for everyday operation and collaboration, and the more we are aware of these cognitive biases, the more we can overcome with them.  However, bias continues even when we are aware of it.  Until we get an 'automated arbiter of truth' we will have to rely on our own intelligence.  
  • building trust: Dr. Jackson said that the more we trust, the more we can accomplish.  The less we trust, the more time we dedicate to creating rules and regulations to create it artificially.  However, no rules and regulations can ever be complete.  In the end, trust does not cost much, but verification does.  We need a better understanding of what trust is, and this will help us on the world stage.  One area to think about is algorithms as agents - like the algorithms that trade stock on the NYSE.  What if these algorithms were more sentient?  Could we trust them?  
  • understanding technological effects: How can we structure data in ways that are more machine readable?  We need to allow the computer to take in multi-modal infromation (human senses).  How can we get the computer to display this so that all the human senses can be used to explore it?
  • anticipating risks: How do new technologies impact trust?  Dr. Jackson says we need to develop a greater appreciation for unintended consequences.  We need better tools to anticipate and assess the various risks and mitigations. For example, think about etiquette.  In international diplomacy, there is a kind of etiquette.  It works better than many technologies we come up with to deal with the unintended consequences that come up.  Is there an etiquette for the internet/social networks?  What if we could have reduced the negative consequences of the new tech on the internet?  on the other hand, it is thanks to this new tech that we have the opportunity to work in a coordinated way.  This represents important work for all of us.
Big ideas get me excited!  I love strategy, thinking of the future, and big-picture stuff in general.  Thinking as a generalist and drawing on broad range of sectors to think about technology/the future is a fun exercise for me, so I really enjoyed Dr. Jackson's talk.  What did you think?

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