How Most Data Problems Can Be Made Human-Size Before Going for AI

In this excellent post ‘What If You Can’t Afford AI?‘, Christopher C Penn explains how AI is only suited to very large problems and actually most people deal with human-size problems for which AI may not be very well suited.

AI is good at three things: processing data faster (and thus being able to handle a lot of it), processing data more accurately, and processing data in routine ways.”

But that presumes we have enough data to do all that labeling and processing. AI fails when we don’t have enough data. And therein lies the distinguishing factor, the real answer to the question. You need AI when you have machine-sized problems. You can use human solutions when you have human-sized problems.”

The point Christopher C Penn makes is that also a proper sampling of a small representative sample will also give quickly a proper estimate of trends and we don’t necessarily need a huge dataset and a trained AI to provide us guidance. In summary: be clever and don’t think AI will provide much more accurate responses than a clever sampling. “Find a way to reduce the data down to a human-sized problem and solve it with humans until you have enough resources – money, time, people – to work with the full-size dataset. Sampling data is a time-honored method to make big data smaller, and doesn’t require anything more sophisticated than a semester’s worth of statistics classes in university (assuming you did well in the class, of course). Make the data and the problem fit the resources you have to solve it as best as you can.”

Even if you are using AI, it is a good idea to check the robustness of the algorithm by some sampling anyway to check the main trends are adequately captured by the process

It is already possible to get good trends through proper data sampling and reduce problems to human-level problems before embarking on a complex and expensive AI solution. Don’t underestimate the power of this approach!


How Institutions Must Adapt More Quickly to Our Exponential World

This interesting Wired article ‘The Exponential Age will transform economics forever‘ provides some extracts of Azeem Azhar’s new book ‘Exponential‘. The statement is that the economy and society will be fully transformed by exponential growth of technology – with the risk that institutions, only able to adjust linearly, will lag behind.

Starting with the observation that we are not well geared to understand exponential development (see for example ‘How We Get Always Surprised by Exponential Growth – But We Shouldn’t‘ or ‘The Exponential Deception, or Why We Always Underestimate Incremental Change‘), the author states that economy is going to be transformed by exponential development of new technology and capabilities.

But is exponential growth really new? Looking back at the emergence of new industries in the 19th and 20th century, I am not so sure. Of course what has changed in the last decades is that markets are now global, and the speed of development and spread of new technologies (in years, not decades), but fundamentally this type of development has always been there since the start of the industrial age. Companies that have achieved full dominance of a particular new industry have existed before (Rockefeller – Standard Oil in oil, AT&T in communications…), and institutions have struggled to catch-up (for example with anti-trust laws). The same is happening now, but is it really worse?

The main point made by Azeem Azhar is the difference between ‘linear’ institutions and ‘exponential’ technology and industry growth. This has always existed, and institutions have always caught up, if sometimes a bit too late. Effort will be needed to adapt more quickly, but this remains I believe quite feasible.

We live in an exponential age, full of changes – but that has been the case for last 150 years at least, albeit it happens now more quickly. Institutions will catch up eventually to regulate the new world.


How Deep-fakes Become a Public Concern for Companies

In this interesting post by Darin Stewart ‘Executives Need a Deep-Fake Defense Strategy‘, the issues of deep-fakes being used for fraud are highlighted. Examples show how deep-fakes can induce personnel to believe they are being actually addressed by their CEO and make them commit inappropriate actions.

AI and machine learning permeate modern business and communications. It should come as no surprise that these technologies are being turned to illicit purposes. Deepfakes are audio, images, and videos that appear real but are actually AI-generated, synthetic creations. They are just the latest manifestation of disinformation in what the RAND Corporation describes as a culture of “truth decay.

Swindlers may increasingly used those techniques in the future. They may also be used to compromise people and exercise pressure on them, or in public or political settings to destroy the reputation of adversaries.

Therefore, finding ways to detect deep-fakes is becoming an important issue and quite some resources need to be devoted to this challenge. We can expect in the near future to have deep-fake detectors embedded in our communication software. In any case, we need to be ever more watchful for signs of deception in any communication!


How To Improve National Infrastructure Protection Against Hacking

This interesting post ‘The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and the SolarWinds hack were all but inevitable – why national cyber defense is a ‘wicked’ problem‘ shows how difficult it can be to protect national infrastructure against hacking, in particular in a context of globalization of IT outsourcing.

One of the important observations from the post is the realization that security threats are created through widespread subcontracting of IT work to external parties, often in developing or emerging nations. For example “SolarWinds, driven by its growth strategy and plans to spin off its managed service provider business in 2021, bears much of the responsibility for the damage, according to cybersecurity experts. I believe that the company put itself at risk by outsourcing its software development to Eastern Europe, including a company in Belarus. Russian operatives have been known to use companies in former Soviet satellite countries to insert malware into software supply chains.”

In addition, national agencies in charge of defending essential infrastructure are not always coordinated or integrated, and it is extremely difficult to check out all the various services used to manage IT infrastructure.

Resilience to hacking requires solving an issue in a complex situation, and this requires novel approaches are that more systemic than the ones applied currently. Moreover it is important to increase infrastructure resilience to events which may be up to some level unavoidable.


How Trance Is Associated with Pain Decrease and Strength Increase

Trance states are known to be associated with diminished pain and substantial increase of strength.

There are numerous examples of parents deploying incredible strength in emergency situations to save their children – they were probably in a trance state at that moment.

The most well-known example comes from Scandinavian lore: it is the berserker (which led to the english expression ‘going beserk’). Another example of a commony-admitted trance state, the berserker was traditionally a warrior in a trance state with much increased strength and almost not sensitive to pain. It was also associated with the image of a bear or a wolf, two of the common animal associations in the relevant culture.

In battle, the berserkers were subject to fits of frenzy. They would howl like wild beasts, foam at the mouth, and gnaw the iron rim of their shields. According to belief, during these fits they were immune to steel and fire, and made great havoc in the ranks of the enemy. When the fever abated they were weak and tame.”

Recent research is ongoing to confirm and quantify how trance states are effectively associated with less pain and more strength. In any case, the beserkers are clearly another example of a well-established and socially accepted trance state.

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 Imperfection Can be Leveraged for Inspiration

This article from ‘Finding Beauty In The Imperfection‘ reminds us that not everything that is beautiful needs to be perfect. In the field of entrepreneurship or in the field of personal development, it reminds us that we don’t need to provide the perfect service of product, or live the perfect life: there is beauty in the fact it is not fully finalized.

In reality things are always imperfect. We don’t necessarily need to go to the study of wabi-sabi (japanese approach around acceptance of transience and imperfection – like building from broken stuff), but it is quite true that there are always things to tie up that are not fully finalized. Imperfection is part of life, and we definitely need to accept it, and value it as a source of inspiration.

Imperfection is a clue to what can be improved, it is a hint leading to lateral thinking on how to do things differently. In any dynamic situation such as life, imperfection is a call to reflection and action.

Stop complaining about imperfection, and look at it rather as a source of inspiration!


How to Overcome the Project Uniqueness Bias

The project uniqueness bias is well explained in the Oxford Handbook for Megaproject management. It is the “tendency of planners and managers to see their projects as singular.”

Always striving to build something unique…

This bias is very common in all technology projects (engineers always try to invent new things or improve the existing), and also in other types of projects. It also exists in other situations, linked to the particular situation of the project. It generally feels good to convince oneself that the project is a unique challenge.

The bias has many consequences, among which the dismissal of benchmarks from the industry to make the project plan more robust, and more generally a sort of arrogance based on the legitimacy of doing something for the first time.

But then of course it “impedes managers’ learning , because they think they have nothing to learn from other projects as their own project is unique. This lack of learning may explain why mangers who see their projects as unique perform significantly worse than other managers” and thus “project managers who think their project is unique are therefore a liability to their project and organisations

Beware of the uniqueness bias. What we do is often building for most of it on the existing, with a few tweaks and add-ons. Let’s recognize that the share of uniqueness is most limited.


How The Collaborative Age Will Be Both More Local and More Global

Seth Godin in this post ‘Clusters‘ makes the point that while the Industrial Age expanded national broadcasting media to an uncredible point, there is a return to the local cluster: local marketing, locally grown vegetables, a sense of community. At the same time however we have never been more globally connected: working for a global corporation, talking to people at the other end of the globe every day.

This strange situation of both a concentration of the local with an expansion of our horizon beyond the national to the super global is an interesting contradiction of the Collaborative Age. Globally connected and locally aware. Globally active and locally committed.

Quite a strange situation indeed and I can understand that some feel a bit unsettled by this new situation. Yet it is obviously by building those links between the local and the global that we will let the value of the Collaborative Age emerge. It is by overcoming this contradiction that we will find our place in the Collaborative Age.


How the Future of Work is Shaping and Accelerated through the Covid-19 Crisis

Following up on our previous post ‘How Companies Manage Hundreds of Employees Remotely‘, this additional post ‘Tech will return to work, but habits will be changed forever‘ provides more perspective on the changes coming up for more traditional technology companies (those with large offices!).

Empty offices of the future

Because in the next few months it will not be possible to have more than 25% of the people normally present in offices (from distanciation to limits in elevator capacity for high rises), many companies will be forced to work remotely for most of the time, with limited office presence.

In reality as I have heard around me and confirmed in the post, productivity has increased by working remotely for many people (provided there are limited domestic disturbances and limited impact of children care). One of the elements is the time gained by avoiding commuting.

On the other side, the working rhythm is tough with many people finding that the long days on video meeting take a toll on their well-being. The lack of informal relationship may also not be easy to bear on the longer term and may even create inefficiencies, because relying only on formal conversations and events is not sufficient in most companies and processes.

The era of trophy-like corporate headquarters such as the Salesforce tower (1.6m sqft over 61 floors in downtown SF) may be over.

It also seems that many people are now considering moving to the countryside to work remotely and maybe only attend the office a couple of days a week. This shift it is confirmed beyond the current intentions may well be very significant in reshaping our communities. It actually runs contrary to the tendency of relocation to city centers that prevailed in the past few years.

Interesting trends are shaping up. I am quite convinced that those are just trends of the Collaborative Age that are getting accelerated by the current crisis. For sure, for white collars, the era of the nomadic remote worker has just become much closer.


How Logical Razors Can Be Used Daily

While Occam’s Razor is quite famous, I discovered in this post ‘A Look At Razors (No, Not That Kind)‘ that there are a quite a few other well known such logical razors. This Wikipedia entry on philosophical razors also covers the topic. Logical razors serve to act as a heuristic guidance to decide on what is the best explanation for an event.

Occam’s razor is based on simplicity. There are several formulations, I like the one given in the post: “When presented with competing hypothetical answers to a problem, one should select the answer that makes the fewest assumptions.”

Among the other razors, I like Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity

Popper’s falsifiability principle is also quite interesting: “For a theory to be considered scientific, it must be falsifiable“.

Or, Hitchens’ razor: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

In fact we should use those razors more often than we do. These are quite interesting heuristics worth pondering when faced with some unexpected evidence, theory or observation!


How to Address potential global ‘Common-Cause Failures’ like Covid-19

Following on our post ‘How the Covid-19 is a ‘Common Cause Failure’ Crisis‘, let’s examine how this type of issues or their consequences could be better prevented.

There are quite a few potential common cause failures that could affect humankind with a sizable probability. Climate change is one obvious. Another example is some kind of solar magnetic eruption that could destroy electronic systems.

How can societies be made more resilient to this type of situation? The only approach is to diversify the means to minimise the possibility that they are all affected at the same time; and in addition build-up reserves to be able to sustain a painful transition to some other operating mode.

The important aspect here is diversity. And we need to recognize that the Collaborative Age needs to foster diversity, contrary to the standardisation that was so characteristic of the Industrial Age. Diversity needs to be express itself in society setup, and also geographically. Collaborative Age does enhance diversity; our supply chains also need to follow suit.


How Facts and Truths Have a (Short) Half-Life

I loved reading the book ‘The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date‘ by Samuel Arbesman. It is a great reminder that whatever we believe is the truth today will probably not be the truth tomorrow – and that there are some rules about how those truths disappear and are replaced.

Facts change all the time . Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly . Meat used to be good for you , then bad to eat , then good again ; now it’s a matter of opinion

It turns out that facts , when viewed as a large body of knowledge , are just as predictable . Facts , in the aggregate , have half – lives : We can measure the amount of time for half of a subject’s knowledge to be overturned . There is science that explores the rates at which new facts are created , new technologies are developed , and even how facts spread . How knowledge changes can be understood scientifically

It is a great reminder that in our complex world, whatever we contemplate to be true is only relative to our time and situation, and that every truth is quite a relative statement. Those that stick to old-fashioned truth simply because it was the truth at the time it was identified as such and formalized may not have realized how relative that notion can be.