Do You Pass The Turing Test ?

I have just read, ‘You Are Not a Gadget”, by Jaron Lanier. It is a polemic about how the various design features and philosophies of the internet and web 2.0 applications are locking us into behaviours that are damaging us spiritually, morally, culturally and financially.

The book contains some challenging ideas and led me to a shocking revelation. I am going to leave the challenging ideas for another day and stick to the shocking revelation:

I see people online who fail the Turing Test. Yes, I do know that that is the wrong way around.

As a bizarre result, a computer might now be able to finally pass the test, because many of our interactions are becoming so diluted and predictable that a computer could easily now match them.

(Click here if you like this, don’t worry about the infinite rainbow of human emotion, just like it and say something safe, here is a pick list I mashed up from old greetings cards, how terribly retro, I had that Tim Berners Lee in the back of my cab once)

The test was devised by Alan Turing to determine the effectiveness of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes. The idea is simply that if you can’t spot that you are in conversation with a computer programme, then we have successfully developed AI.

We have lowered the bar for what it takes to pass as a human.

Our identities are crushingly impoverished by poor online representations. Am I really even partially defined by the music I like, the school I went to and the books I have read? I see disappointingly few people using a tone I recognise as authentic to them.

Our relationships are diluted by the constraints of message length and their clumsy public nature. I use it, but consider the “like” button a form of emotional slavery. That true friendship is characterised by knowing and valuing what is weird about each other, I thought a wonderful observation in Jaron Lanier’s book.

That my reputation is being derived then trivially gamified through LinkedIn endorsements disgusts me.

While there is a risk we are herded and encouraged to be supine and safe, or anonymous and hostile, the good news is that despite some of the design constraints and behavioural pitfalls, we still have a choice about how we behave.

I see some great stuff too. This post came about from a cheerful debate with Twitter folk. I know you may disagree with me here. Please do. It is part of what makes us human.

The people I relate to most closely online have one thing in common, they are simply themselves.

I am going to continue to work around the constraints, spread thoughts over several tweets, flip between channels based on context and content, ponder responses for as long as I need to, try to avoid that endorphin driven, “now” habit and, most of all, be myself, including the weird bits.

I hope this post passes the Turing Test. Let me know what you really think, now or perhaps after few days thought.


Does Love Have a Role in the Workplace?

I went to a lunch time seminar a while ago. We ate nice food and discussed some fairly arcane topics.  One was, “Does love have a role in the workplace?”.  At first I thought that was a weird one.

The group was a mix from business and the public sector. It also included a smattering of people from around Europe.

Many thought love not an appropriate concept for the world of work, to summarise, asserting that business is rational while love is emotional. The question was greeted with amazement by many. In particular, those for whom English was a second language, albeit a really strong one, associated love simply with family ties, romance and so on. The answer was easy to this group, an incredulous and resounding, “No!”.

Others argued that it does have a place at work if you understand the numerous subtle nuances of a word so complex as to be rather unhelpful if not unpacked a little. We discussed an interpretation that included interdependence, trust and respect, and the resulting motivation and commitment derived from strong relationships that are bound together with a little emotion. That’s a little cold, but I think it counts.

The debate went on for a while and became quite robust, with each group incredulous at the attitude of the other.

Finally, we turned to a senior military officer who was among the group. He’d said nothing up to that point.

His response was simple. In the army, the answer is absolutely, unequivocally, yes. They would be lost without it. While they’d never use the word itself, much of training and cultural development is designed specifically to create groups who take huge risks with and for each other. Without intense ties, they would likely fail under the extreme stress of operations.

I was in the yes camp. I can see a link between the rational and the emotional, translate one into the other. Now and again a little emotion (and I don’t mean being grumpy or angry) helps me connect people to each other, get things done and increases my enjoyment of it all.  Especially when working globally.

I think I might give the word itself a swerve though.

I can’t wait to hear what you think about this one!

Good to Great – A Summary

I woke up at 0100 last night, thinking about work. This is rare. One of the more challenging aspects of my new role is establishing the facts about how it all works, so we can confront and deal with them. “I need facts!”, I thought, as my mind raced and the LED clock seemingly stopped.

I remembered how important the confrontation of facts is in Good to Great by Jim Collins. I reckoned at 0100 that facts must be the most important bit, the idea that trumps all the others.

Then I remembered I’d clumsily summarised the book last year. I decided to read the summary in the morning to prove myself right, and got myself back to sleep by imagining I was Geoff Boycott batting in a test match. It works every time…

I woke five hours later to find I was wrong, the whole book is brilliant. Here is my clunky summary. The book is made all the better by each chapter having a one page summary from which I extracted the bits I agreed with and ignored the bits I didn’t, or which I simply didn’t understand:

1 Level 5 Leaders

  • Humility, low ego and high will
  • Set up successors for success
  • Diligent, work horses
  • Credit to others for success, blame themselves for failings, think their success is luck
  • Lack of celebrity status
2 Who Then What
  • Get the right people on the bus first
  • The  “genius with followers” model fails when the genius departs
  • Little reliance on lay offs (got it right in the first place)
  • Right people in each role
  • Vigorous debate common place
  • The right people are your greatest asset (not just people)
3 Confront the Facts
  • Create a culture in which people can be heard by
    • Asking questions not giving answers
    • Engaging in dialogue and debate not coercion
    • Conducting autopsies without blame
    • Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored
  • Retain faith and you will prevail AND confront the facts. Need to to both.
  • It’s equally as important as the vision
  • Dealing with the facts is central to motivating people
4 Hedgehog Concept
  • Understand three circles to define your hedgehog
    • What are you deeply passionate about
    • What can you be best in the world at
    • What drives your economic engine
  • The concept is not a goal or strategy, it is an understanding
  • What you can be best at might not be your core business, it might even be a competence you currently don’t have
  • For economic engine, seek out a unifying metric,
  • It’s iterative, be information rather than bravado driven
  • It takes years to work out the simple set of factors that make your HC
5 Culture of Discipline
  • Fanatical discipline within the circles
  • Bureaucracy rises to overcome incompetence and a lack of discipline. Mostly the result of having the wrong people in the first place.
  • Duality: adhere to system but freedom to act within the framework of that system
  • Disciplined people, thought and action
6 Technology Accelerators
  • Avoid bandwagons
  • Select carefully
  • Does it fit the HC? If so then pioneer. If not then you can ignore or settle for standard.
  • It’s an accelerator of momentum not the basis of it
  • Employ technology for outcomes not as an end in itself or out of fear of being left behind
  • Not cited as the top five factors in change by 80% of successful companies
  • Crawl, walk, run…
7 The Flywheel and the Loop of Doom
  • They look dramatic from the outside, it is attritional in reality
  • There is no transformational programme or event
  • Consistent build up and break through reign, it’s a flywheel
  • Those that fail, skip build up and seek quick breakthrough, then fall back on a set back
  • Failures use acquisitions to break through, successes consolidate break through with acquisition
  • Successes tend only to notice their success after the fact, there was no event, no programme
  • Great leaders spent no time explicitly creating alignment, motivating or managing change. These follow results, they are not precursors.
  • The short term pressures of Wall Street aren’t consistent with this model.

It is a great book. That is a fact.