How AI Algorithms Evolution Approaches Provide Insight Into Natural Evolution

This interesting article ‘AI is now learning to evolve like earthly lifeforms‘ provides some insight about advances in AI algorithm development. Researches are trying to find the most effective way for algorithms to go through the process of natural evolution. And this provides interesting learning about our natural world.


The interest of this research is of course also to enlighten our understand of the principles of natural evolution, and how to keep its cost low (as it requires many trials for very few successful variants). “In their new work, the researchers at Stanford aim to bring AI research a step closer to the real evolutionary process while keeping the costs as low as possible. “Our goal is to elucidate some principles governing relations between environmental complexity, evolved morphology, and the learnability of intelligent control,” they write in their paper.

It involves the simulation of robotic agents in an environment, with some evolution algorithm for the AI algorithm driving the creatures.

Interesting results include: “validating the hypothesis that more complex environments will give rise to more intelligent agents“, and “in line with another hypothesis by DeepMind researchers that a complex environment, a suitable reward structure, and reinforcement learning can eventually lead to the emergence of all kinds of intelligent behaviors.”

Teaching AI algorithms how to evolve provides interesting insights. The fact that more complex environments will give rise to more intelligent agents is definitely a key insight into life’s evolution.


How the Project Economy Has Finally Arrived

It has always be my conviction that economic activity would be increasingly driven as a multitude of temporary projects – thus my main activity around project management. This is finally recognized in this HBR piece ‘The Project Economy Has Arrived‘.

Quietly but powerfully, projects have displaced operations as the economic engine of our times. That shift has been a long time coming.” “In Germany, for example, projects have been rising steadily as a percentage of GDP since at least 2009, and in 2019 they accounted for as much as 41% of the total. Precise data is hard to come by for other countries, but similar percentages are likely to apply in most other Western economies. The percentages are probably even higher in China and other leading Asian economies, where project-based work has long been an important source of growth.”

This transformation to a project economy will have profound organizational and cultural consequences. The problem is, many leaders still don’t appreciate the value of projects and write them off as a waste of time.

The author has been very active in the Project Management Institute and can thus slightly partial to the subject. However the reality is here and many leaders do not necessarily understand the implications of this shift in terms of work organisation and leadership. The image in this post is one of a turbulent flow, which is how I see the organization of the future: a number of projects (the vortices) that appear and disappear in the flow like projects with a limited time span.

Leaders must now account for the fact that probably a majority of value-creating endeavors is project-based. This must lead to significant shifts in organization and competencies to deal with those projects effectively.


How AI Can Support Creative Scientific Research

This provoking Scientific American article ‘AI Generates Hypotheses Human Scientists Have Not Thought Of‘ actually provides an excellent example of how AI can supplement human thought and together create a more productive and creative ecosystem.


Creating hypotheses has long been a purely human domain. Now, though, scientists are beginning to ask machine learning to produce original insights. They are designing neural networks (a type of machine-learning setup with a structure inspired by the human brain) that suggest new hypotheses based on patterns the networks find in data instead of relying on human assumptions. Many fields may soon turn to the muse of machine learning in an attempt to speed up the scientific process and reduce human biases.

The interesting part here is around reducing human biases, a topic which comes back several times in the article: avoiding preconceived ideas and theories and probably the burden of the institutional view on things. AI can provide an independent view and the combination can spark creative and innovative outputs.

I am convinced that we will find AI to be a great help rather than a competitor in all creative endeavors, like scientific research. And this is just the beginning!


How our Stressful Experiences Leave Traces in our DNA, that can be transmitted to our children

There is increasing evidence that traumatic experiences leave traces in our genetic makeup. An exemple is developed in the article (in French) ‘Childhood abuse leaves scars in the DNA‘; this is also true of other forms of stress – for example this article from the US American Psychological Association ‘How chronic stress is harming our DNA

This has been observed for a decade now in particular regarding the expression of certain genes, and in general epigenetic changes, which can be transmitted although they don’t change the overall DNA codes. Those changes are deeper when stress is stronger and more repeated. There is now proof that these can be transmitted to children, but also that they can in a certain manner be reversible, as proven by certain studies on post-traumatic stress disorder and the actual impact of psychotherapy.

In the field of chamanism and trance, it is considered known that people can bear within themselves the consequences of acute stress suffered by one’s ascendants and some ceremonies are designed to manage this situation.

DNA expression modification linked to one’s environment is all quite a new investigative domain with interesting consequences on the eternal topic of determination and choice. Expect more to be understood and written on that topic in the next years!


How Face-to-Face Work is Needed for Innovation

This article ‘New Microsoft Study of 60,000 Employees: Remote Work Threatens Long-Term Innovation‘ provides much food for thought on the limitations of remote work in creative endeavors.

While productivity seems to remain stable or even benefit from remote work in certain areas, creative areas lag behind. “a massive new peer-reviewed study from Microsoft […] found that, while remote work is fine for plowing through day-to-day work, it has the potential to put a serious damper on collaboration and innovation long-term.

Thus if one’s work is pure production without distraction, remote work is great. If it requires a lot of informal communication and exchange, nothing replaces face-to-face. While this is quite intuitive and not a discovery, the fact that it is described in a peer-reviewed paper enhances the validity of the findings.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella calls this ability of remote work to simultaneously improve heads-down productivity and harm creativity the hybrid work paradox.” 

In a world where most value lies in innovation and creativity, a return to the office is inevitable at least for part of the time, and that’s exactly what most organizations are doing now.


How Mediocre Generalists Could Be Quickly Endangered by AI

In a newsletter, Christopher C Penn (link to his blog Awaken your Superhero) writes about the ‘demise of the T-shaped marketer’ with the argument that AI is eating the concept rapidly – producing quickly mediocre content but thus replacing the generalist aspect.

The ‘T Marketer’ is someone with a vast array of generalist skills and a particularly deep area of specialization. It is widely recognized to be a rare beast – and that such people have a very high value on the market. It is quite rare because it is difficult to be both a strong generalist and a strong specialist as this requires quite different intellectual approaches.

Any way, Christopher C Penn’s point here is that as AI develops (and while it is still producing quite mediocre output), it is much better at bringing together all sorts of information and it thus in competition with the generalist aspect.

Why does this myth of the T-shaped person endure in marketing and business? The reality is that most of the time, mediocrity is sufficient to get the job done.” “As the line of mediocre output from AI advances, it will do more and more of the mediocre work, the stuff that everyone can do to some degree. That line advances a little more each year; three years ago, natural language generation was in a sorry state of affairs. You wouldn’t even consider using machine outputs for final product. Today, machines can write the same bland press releases humans can, with the same average level of quality. Three years from now? Those machines will probably crank out better blog posts than the average person.” The conclusion would thus be rather to focus on being really good at something special. “Good enough isn’t good enough any more.”

It is quite a good question before I personally strive to achieve something like a T-shaped competency, because I believe complementing deep expertise with the breadth of generalist approach is quite beneficial. The question is really how much generalist thinking can inform and make even better the specialization area. I am convinced that while one must definitely be very good at a narrow domain, keeping a broad overview is still quite essential.


How Memes are Selfish

Since the inception of the concept by Richard Dawkins in 1976, memes behaviors have been considered analog to genes in their way of reproducing and evolving. This Gapingvoid post ‘the mean meme‘ reminds us that when one wants to design memes that spread, those need to have certain characteristics. And that memes are selfish: they can spread whether they are useful or harmful.

According to Wikipedia a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.”

The Gapingvoid post reminds us that “Memes, like genes, are designed to be spread. Which means they must take on characteristics most likely to ensure spreading. There is art and science to how this is done.”

Luckily the art of creating a meme is not yet infallible although many people work daily on this (advertisement agencies or book writers, for example). There is a lot of psychology involved.

Memes are necessarily tainted by culture and education, and they also may need to evolve with our knowledge and understanding of the world.

The post also reminds us that “memes, like genes, are selfish. They don’t care about us.” Bad memes can also spread if they have the right characteristics, and it is up to us to be alert to keep them under control. And there are definitely also some specialists in creating harmful memes around.

We should probably try to be better at recognizing memes and their origin, and also better analyzing if they are useful or harmful. In any case this concept leads to some fruitful consideration of what our culture is made of.


How Human Augmentation Becomes Imperative for Defense

This interesting article ‘Space Force scientist warns it’s ‘imperative’ the US military experiment with human augmentation and AI to stay ahead of Russia and China‘ expose how military competition leads into human augmentation. And what happens in the military will undoubtedly spread later in civilian usage.

[this Space Force scientist] announced we are entering the age of ‘human augmentation,’ which is crucial to the US’s national defense in order to not ‘fall behind our strategic competitors.

It proposes in particular to use self-learning algorithms to develop innovative strategies (such as AlphaGo algorithm that has self-taucht how to play go). This would lead to a battlefield combining human and IA agents (including probably drones). Therefore, human agents will need to be augmented to be able to fully work together with AI and fully participate in the battlefield.

This development was expected but we can now anticipate that it may go faster due to increased competition in the arms race between nations.

The challenge I believe will be to effectively combine the virtual battlefield with the real battlefield conditions: in effect the twin battlefield will have to reflect actual conditions on the ground and this will certainly be a major challenge in the years to come.


What Does Trance Feel Like?

To finish this series of posts about my exploration of trance, I am sure you all ask yourselves how it is like to be in trance. It’s difficult to describe, I’ll still give it a try.

Basically getting in a trance state is getting the habit of inhibiting our higher cognitive functions to allow subconscious processes to express themselves, through gestures and movement as well as noises. Visions appear including colors and sometimes impersonation of animals or things.

The amazing part is that one remains very much conscious during the experience, self-observing what happens and in a certain capability to recount the experience (although like a dream, memories tend to dissipate after a while).

It is not infrequent to produce sounds or perform movements that one would be quite unable to produce in a normal state (remember that trance increases strength and diminishes pain).

An important parameter is also that trance is quite a contagious state: during the training with 20-ish trainees and 5 or 6 experienced trance practitioners, the departure of a critical number of people in the trance state had almost an instant effect on the rest of the group.

Trance is quite an enjoyable state and in a way, is a method for self-healing emotional and physical conditions. In that matter, the power within can sometimes be extremely impressive.

As I am practicing and it will take weeks to increase my understanding of trance, I give you all an appointment in a few months’ time to learn more about trance, and possibly my adventures as part of the associated scientific experiments!

I hope you enjoyed this series of post on my personal journey into an altered state of consciousness – cognitive trance – that I was privileged to undertake this year. I will recount from time to time my experiences around trance. Stay tuned!

Previous posts in this series:


How Trance Has Become a Scientific Experiment

The most amazing part of my trance teacher Corine Sombun experience is that she managed to transform trance from a folkloric experience to a scientific experiment. And since 2018 she is training people to have a cohort of trance practitioners to check that measurements performed on herself are consistent for people trained to induce trance.

Pushed by curiosity Corine Sombrun, once she was a trained Mongolian shaman, tried to connect to scientific brain research institutes to better characterize this strange trance state she was practicing.

At the start no-one was interested and it was quite unclear for professors whether she was healthy or pathological: during trance she demonstrated clearly the combination of several pathological states, but at the same time she was able to come back to a perfectly healthy condition. This was surprising, so unconventional that it took a decade (!) for the first scientific paper on her capabilities to be published.

In the meantime she managed to get her brainwaves measured and studied. To achieve the best results one has to be perfectly immobile, which is not quite consistent with trance practice. However Corinne progressively managed to learn how to induce trance at will and be perfectly immobile during that state, so that electro-encephalograms could be measured (see picture), which showed a significant alteration of brain activity during the trance state. Those alterations were not very different from those measured in very experienced meditation practitioners; generally there is a change of the balance between brain hemispheres and a different activity in the cortex.

The current state of this evolution is the creation of a scientific institute on trance, the training of cohorts of trance practitioners, and an increasing number of projects about the capabilities of trance in a number of situations: for astronauts, people suffering from cancer, people close to die, artists that want their creativity to be boosted, people treated by psychologists or psychiatrists etc…; and also what trance brings to common people in their daily life.

And that’s how I was privileged to join this cohort training to be part of the experiment.

In a series of post I will describe a personal journey into an altered state of consciousness – cognitive trance – that I was privileged to undertake this year. Previous posts in this series:


How Shamanistic Trance Inducers Are Quite Ineffective

Traditional shamanistic ceremonies are based on the shaman inducing a trance state on himself or herself to look at situations presented to him or her beyond normal consciousness.

Most “primitive” societies rely on some kind of shamanistic ceremonies to resolve issues and problems. Depending on cultures and locally available drugs, the shamanistic trance can sometimes be induced by drugs, but is most often the result of a capability that has been trained by another shaman.

Shamans in those cultures are usually quite rare; in Mongolia (before shamanic ceremonies became touristic), Corine Sombrun estimates there were about a ratio of 1 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Trance induction using for example a drum or some other instrument that creates a trance-inducing sound appear to be somewhat ineffective and are only active on the shaman and a limited number of particularly sensitive individuals. Experiments carried out by Corinne on the basis of shaman drum ceremony recordings have failed to induce trance in the listeners.

The challenge that Corine Sombrun grappled with was how to find a more effective way to induce trance, and she has progressively, through trial and error, found specific rhythms and sounds that tend to create trance in a majority of people. Those are the sound loops I have been subjected to during my training.

In a series of post I will describe a personal journey into an altered state of consciousness – cognitive trance – that I was privileged to undertake this year. Previous posts in this series:


How My Teacher Corine Sombrun Discovered Trance Practice

Corine Sombrun (link in French), my trance teacher, has quite an incredible destiny. The amazing part is how she managed to transfer a millenia-old shamanic practice into a scientific experiment of an alternate state of consciousness.

She is a musician and composer, as well as sound engineer. During a BBC-commissioned trip to Mongolia at the start of the 2000s, which followed a difficult personal emotional period of mourning her partner, she entered a trance state unexpectedly during a shamanic ceremony. The shaman struggled a bit to bring her back and then announced to her she was a great innate shaman and she had to learn to become a full shaman.

Under the shamanic threat of not being able to regain her inner balance, she travelled several years in succession to Mongolia for her shaman-training, ultimately becoming a shaman herself (and participating to shaman competitions!). The picture shows her with her shaman-teacher.

The tale of this learning experience was so dramatic that her book rights has been acquired by the movie industry and a movie was produced in 2019 with a well-known French actress (who also was trained in trance!): “un monde plus grand” (a wider world)”.

Beyond the traditions of shamanic trance, she was able to train and develop her trance state, increasingly being able to induce it easily. However she was still very much requiring all the shamanic associated contraptions like the drum and other folkloric impedimenta. Soon however, pushed by curiosity, she was able to work on better characterizing this state, and induce the trance-state differently – to be followed in a subsequent post.

In a series of post I will describe a personal journey into an altered state of consciousness – cognitive trance – that I was privileged to undertake this year. Previous posts in this series: