AI-ming at the enemy

Last year Google used its AI ‘Deep Mind’ to create a simple game called ‘Gathering’.  The object is to gather more apples than your opponent.  They gave the AI the ability, however, to stun their opponent with a laser.  Watch what happens:

To me, this is an artificial manifestation of very human responses in a world of perceived scarcity.  It is worth considering Sendhil Mullainathan’s work (Harvard) on this topic, and his and Eldar Shafir’s book Scarcity:  The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives.

It is also eerily predictable that the greater the scarcity, and the more “intelligent” the AI, the more often lasers were used in gameplay.  There is logically a competitive standard in this game – the ‘win state’ is determined, and that is the goal.  Therefore the machine will take whatever logical steps it can to achieve that state.  This is something I’ve often thought about when working with leaders in organizations:  To what extent are leaders ‘playing a game of competition’ – in all aspects of their work?

In a world of constant competition for (perceived) scarce resources, what really happens to collaboration and mutual benefit?

I do wonder if artificially intelligent companions (as they are coming into play, now) and systems will learn this mindset of individualized win-states from their human counterparts, and what that may end up doing to human-machine (and human/human) relations and the possibility of abundant, shared prosperity.

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Starbucks and the impact of implicit bias training

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Employees of Starbucks Coffee in the United States and Canada will receive “implicit bias” training.

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Western University

On Tuesday, Starbucks stores in the United States will close for part of the day to deliver “implicit bias training” for all of its employees. Canadian Starbucks employees will get similar training June 11.

Whether you have heard of implicit or unconscious biases through Starbucks’ recent controversy or as a topic in the 2016 U.S. presidential debates, the topic of implicit bias seems like it is everywhere.

We are all familiar with the concept of explicit biases. These include attitudes and behaviours regarding certain groups with the intent to harm or exclude. Explicit biases can be obvious, such as racism or believing one ethnic group is superior to another. They can also be subtler, like favouring someone we know.

These explicit biases are conscious, intentional and deliberate.

In contrast, implicit biases are stereotypes that form through our experiences and that work outside of our awareness. Even though we are not aware of them, implicit biases lead to discriminatory behaviours and biased decisions.

Implicit biases can also include non-verbal behaviours or avoidance. By their very nature, implicit biases are automatic beliefs or associated behaviours that influence us without our knowledge and despite our best intentions.

Implicit bias is harmful

Starbucks’ baristas are not the only workers who demonstrate implicit bias.

When individuals with “Black-sounding names” applied for jobs compared to individuals with “white-sounding names,” the people with white names received 50 per cent more callbacks. In another study, psychologists who were applying for jobs found that out of two identical CVs, one would be rated more positively if it was attached to the name Brian compared to the name Karen.

Research on implicit bias in health care has demonstrated how health professionals can make biased clinical decisions, even when their intentions are to treat all groups fairly.

For example, an important study by doctor Alexander Green and his colleagues in 2007 found that despite explicitly denying a preference for white versus Black patients, doctors implicitly saw Black patients as less co-operative regarding medical procedures. Those doctors who demonstrated increased levels of implicit biases were more likely to treat their white patients over treating Black patients for their heart attacks.

Similar research has found that implicit biases contribute to racial disparities in pain treatment and adversely influence several patient populations.

Read more:
Racism impacts your health

We also know that implicit biases lead to behaviour that undermines trust. Groups that experience discrimination experience a profound negative effect which leads to self-reinforcing cycles of distancing and disconnection.

Individuals who encounter implicit biases can gradually internalize them and this leads members of certain marginalized groups to begin to conform to negative biases about themselves.

Bias training for all?

So should we all follow Starbucks’ lead and implement implicit bias training in our organizations?

Protesters gather outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia in April after two Black men were arrested after Starbucks employees called police to say the men were trespassing. The arrest prompted accusations of racism and led to Starbucks bringing in anti-bias training programs for all of its employees in the United States and Canada.
(AP Photo/Ron Todt)

While implicit bias is a problem that erodes equity and perpetuates discrimination, research on implicit bias training highlights mixed results and suggests that implicit bias training alone will not solve the problem.

My research on implicit bias in health professions sought to understand how this training works. Early in our journey, we learned that simply making individuals aware of their implicit biases was not enough.

When our participants became aware of their biases through an online metric of implicit bias called the implicit association test (IAT), developed by researchers at Harvard, it led to significant emotional distress and a defensive reaction.

A hard look in the mirror can hurt

We were surprised to find that when we provided people with feedback about their implicit biases, this information was inconsistent with an idealized version of themselves that was simply impossible to achieve.

Societal pressures and stigma against being prejudiced led to individuals feeling like they are not allowed to have any bias, despite the fact that we all have biases, and not all biases can be eliminated. In fact, some biases may be helpful to keep us safe.

Implicit bias training is therefore unique from other forms of diversity training because a conversation on implicit bias must start with a hard look in the mirror. The conversation can only begin once we humble ourselves by recognizing that we are all deeply flawed and imperfect human beings.

Training can be most effective when there is a balance between psychological safety and motivation to change behaviour.

Knowing and reflecting

Simply knowing about our biases is not enough. Once we become aware of our own biases, we must reflect on how these biases impact ourselves and others.

Discussion and dialogue are both important to reflect on how certain biases may be negative or positive and useful or counterproductive, depending on context. Then, we must begin to set and practise tangible changes in our explicit behaviours.

Research has shown that implicit bias in the health care system has led to different treatments for Black and white patients with the same symptoms.

For example, our research found that physicians and nurses often have implicit biases towards individuals with mental illness who come into emergency departments because these health professionals label such patients as “unfixable,” and implicitly avoid them because they do not feel like they can offer their patients any assistance.

The patients, however, perceived this implicit avoidance as prejudice and discrimination. Our initial training highlighted these biases for doctors and nurses but also promoted explicitly and intentionally engaging with such patients to counter the tendency to avoid them.

We also learned that accomplishing change requires dialogue to reconcile our biases and open conversations with our peers can help motivate us to change behaviour.

Learning together

Interventions to reduce the adverse impact of bias are most effective when people who work together learn together, and when teams feel comfortable being open about their biases with one another.

Our training was most effective when it was accompanied with constant discussion and dialogue among people who work together. Individuals who participated in the training began questioning biased practices and demonstrating new behaviours which provided a model for others in the workplace to emulate.

Another challenge with implementing bias training is that biases and inequities often become embedded in workplace structures and policies over time. In our most recently published paper, we followed participants for 12 months after they participated in implicit bias training.

Initially, these participants told us that they enjoyed learning about their biases and wanted to change, but any change they promoted went up against a workplace culture that was a barrier to change.

As we followed them over time, participants began reflecting on their biases and engaging in explicit behavioural changes that influenced the perception of structural changes within the learning environment itself. Together, our participants began co-constructing social change.

This finding is important because addressing implicit bias cannot be achieved by individuals alone. Explicit structural and organizational changes are also required to promote change.

If we encourage individuals to question biased norms within their workplace but they speak up and face retribution for doing so, we are creating more problems than we are solving. If any company wants implicit bias training to be successful, the company itself must survey its policies and processes and be prepared to change them.

The ConversationIf your company decides to implement implicit bias training, make sure you ask them what else they plan on doing to promote equity and reduce discrimination. Shutting stores or implementing mandatory training will simply not be enough.

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Psychiatry, Western University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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People who live in diverse neighbourhoods are more helpful – here’s how we know

The Conversation – April 16, 2018


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Jayanth Narayanan, IMD Business School

Whether or not diversity is a good thing is still a topic of much debate. Though many businesses tout the benefits of diversity, American political scientist Robert Putnam holds that diversity causes people to hunker down, creating mistrust in communities.

Empirical investigations into how diversity affects communities are too few and far between to provide any definitive answer to the question. So, together with colleagues in Singapore and the US, we set out to examine this very question in a series of studies – the results of which were recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

There is indeed evidence that diversity creates mistrust in communities. But diverse communities also provide an opportunity for people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to come into contact with each other, and we thought that these experiences would create a positive effect on people’s identities: specifically, the extent to which they identify with humanity, as a whole.

A human connection

This is one of the biggest and broadest forms of identity, which a human being can comprehend. A number of spiritual and philosophical traditions have upheld that believing you share a fundamental connection with other human beings – regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender – is the sign of a mature mind.

My colleagues and I thought that living in diverse neighbourhoods might create opportunities to come into contact with different people again and again, thereby expanding a person’s sense of identity. As a result, people living in diverse neighbourhoods should be more helpful towards others. We examined this possibility in five empirical studies.

Lending a hand.
Wonderwoman0731/Flickr, CC BY

In the first study, we took to Twitter to analyse the sentiments of tweets across the 200 largest metropolitan areas in the US. This was a somewhat basic, exploratory test of our hypothesis, using a large sample of data. In this study, we found that the likelihood that a tweet mentions words which suggest positivity, friendliness, helpfulness, or social acceptance was higher in a more diverse city.

Opening up

Encouraged by our findings, we then sought to examine how diversity of a zip code where people lived might affect people’s likelihood to offer help in the aftermath of a disaster, such as a terrorist attack. We used data from a website that the Boston Globe set up, where people could offer help to those stranded after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

After accounting for factors such as distance from the bombings, political diversity, religious diversity and the mean household income of these zip codes, we found that people who lived in more racially diverse zip codes were more likely to offer help to those in need after the bombings.

To take our investigation even further, we examined whether people living in more diverse countries would report that they had helped someone in the recent past. We used data from the Gallup World Poll in 2012, which asked more than 155,000 individuals in 146 countries to report whether they had helped a stranger in the recent past. Again, we found that people in more diverse countries were more likely to report that they had helped a stranger in the past month.

Expanding identities

These three studies seemed to provide converging evidence for our ideas, but we needed to understand whether this was because diversity expands people’s identities. From a scientific standpoint, this presented a big challenge. It would almost be impossible to conduct a real experiment where we allocate people to live in different neighbourhoods and then check whether this had an effect on their level of helpfulness.

A friendly face.
blue.bone/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

So instead we borrowed a technique routinely used by social psychologist, called priming. Priming is a psychological method, used to activate a state of mind for people in an experiment. We primed people to think about neighbourhoods that were either diverse, or not. We made this allocation randomly, then examined how this affected their willingness to help.

We also measured whether this simple procedure of priming also altered their identities. We used a survey measure developed by other psychologists, which measures how much someone identifies with all of humanity. In two studies, we found that imagining living in a diverse neighbourhood expanded people’s identities, which in turn made them more willing to help a stranger.

These results don’t prove definitively that diversity is always a good thing. But they do offer an encouraging view of some of the benefits which diversity might bring to communities, given the way that people’s identities shift when they often encounter those who are different to them.

Some governments are already putting policies in place to make the most of these potential benefits. For example, in Singapore, each public housing apartment block maintains the same ratio of Chinese, Malay and Indian residents as exists in the wider population. This has prevented segregation and created diversity in neighbourhoods, which has led to a better society for everyone.

The ConversationIn ancient Indian texts, sages exhort people to view the whole world as one family. Our studies show that this isn’t a pipe dream – it’s a real possibility.

Jayanth Narayanan, Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Leadership, IMD Business School

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Virtual Reality: Defining and Applying

There is quite a lot out there at the moment about virtual reality.  News just today in the NY Times assesses the current position of this technology in Gartner’s hype cycle – apparently we are now in the “trough of disillusionment.”  Indeed, some have even claimed that this new tech may even be the “ultimate empathy machine”.  Okay.  As I said back in 2007, let’s get real about the virtual.

Defining it:  Virtual reality, to my mind, falls into three different categories.

  1. Augmented – Digital content applied through a visible overlay onto one’s current physical environment
  2. Immersive Video – 360 video as experienced through a head-mounted viewer.
  3. Synthetic – Completely computer-generated environments to be experienced on a flat screen or through a head-mounted viewer.

I know that there is a growing number of haptic systems that allow for additional input / feedback systems (Oculus and HTC Vive, for example), but I’m only talking at the moment about broad categories of virtual reality.  To that end, I’d like to share a few examples and offer some possible applications of these virtual reality technologies to learning.

Continue reading

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Lunches with Chuck Sullivan

The following was written hastily and with NO edits in 1998.  I had just started an office-based job after having taught elementary school for 9 years.  I had the great pleasure of working with Chuck in the summers of 1994-96.

My brief daily interludes from

my cubicle:  What would Pablobasic-cubicle

think of this ergonomically safe

climate controlled sound absorbing

cubist interior designer’s creation?


The close squareness the

quiet tapping, clicking, beeping

and buzzing of computers,spiced

by the occasional song of the fax.

One could quietly die in one’s

fantastically adjustable wheeled chair

and padded chair and maybe in

a day or two or a week someone

would notice that you had not

yet taken your break.


I’d like to take a break now,

before returning to previously

programmed material and activities

edited for your enjoyment and formatted

to fit your scream, to exit the

hall, to step out, to be

“outside the box” and mention

my little friend and personal

savior Chuck Sullivan.  Many

of you don’t know him, some of

you might, and certainly none of

you could appreciate him as

much as God Himself.


Chuck is a monk on sabbatical.

Chuck is a soldier of God’s fortune.

Chuck is gifted with the Word,

and lots of others.


Chuck builds the mile-high stadium

where The Game is played.  Life

wearing the face of a refugee, a nun,

a mother, a father, a milkman

a ball player a president or an addict,

and death wearing, well, a hood.


We’re all invited to the game,

and few of us attend.  We all

want to know what the score is,

but none of us wants to take to

the field.


A field of springtime beauty,

sun shining, breeze blowing

snowing petals of lily white dogwoods

down to the still cold eyelids

of the sacrificed child, asleep

in perpetuity at the new and

last home away from home.


Please don’t let the children of

Kosovo pay your price for loving

your God and hating your brother.


(Please consider getting your copy of Chuck’s Alphabet of Grace)


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Lessons from the track

Over the past few years, I’ve been able to realize a life-long dream of driving fast.  Er.  Driving fast, safely.  Lots of people drive fast – too fast – on public roads.  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about going green on a closed track where your only objective is to go as fast as you can.

It started with my friends Mo and Charlie’s invitation to join them in autocross – a straightforward, come-as-you-are time trial on a flat course, dodging traffic cones.  You spend most of the day helping and preparing at the course, and then take 4 shots at the track – each run only lasting about a minute.  After a couple of years of that, and then a few years off with a work assignment that took me away, I came back to the US and decided to get into a form of auto racing that would get me more ‘seat time’.   Hello, Chump Car.

After turning wrenches, busting knuckles, multiple parts store memberships, and a whole bunch of camaraderie, my race team (myself plus a guy who runs a cancer research lab, and another guy that is a senior software implementation consultant) ran two endurance races this year in a car that was, well, manageable for us newbies.

After some reflection, I have realized that you can learn a lot about yourself, your teams, and your approach to the future from doing this kind of hair-raising sport:

  1.  The teamwork is the cake.  As our team spent time together wrestling engine

    Lots of time in this view.

    mounts into place, fussing with cam shafts and draining and re-draining coolant, I think it was Alex who said:  “This is the cake!  The racing is just the icing!”.   Lesson:  Take time with your teams.  Make the drudgery fun.  Realize the value of team discussions, shared responsibility, allocation of talent, and checking-in whenever big choices are in front.

  2. Make sure you can stop.  I learned this long ago, and we should’ve paid a bit more attention to it at the last race, where we ran out of brakes in the last of 7 hours on day  2.  Lesson:  While the glory may be all about forward momentum, the ability to slow down and even stop if you need to trumps ANYTHING that the engine and power train can deliver.  Slowing down to make turns is essential.  Hitting them hard to avoid a pile up is not only great for your personal safety – it keeps you in the race.
  3. Looks ain’t everything.  Look, there are lots of fancy cars out there.  In fact, there were 45 or more cars in the field when we raced. Most of them had a lot more money in them, were later models with bigger engines, better gear, and even better drivers 🙂  But when it came down to it, our time in the garage paid off.  We outlasted half the field in our last race.  Lesson:  Make sure what’s under the hood and behind the wheel are in good shape.  You may be slower than most, but it’s not about ultimate speed.  It’s about how long you’re there, and how many laps you turn.  (See results – Team Integrenader)
  4. Keep your eyes up!  When you’re really cooking down the track, and there are a lot of loud, fast cars VERY close to you (sorry, Miata, for the paint-trading in Atlanta), it’s easy to completely lose it – your body gets incredibly tense, your head drops down, your grip gets too tight, and your eyes focus, oh, about 20 feet in front of you.  That’s bad.  Lesson:  You drive where you look.  This is so terribly true.  If you only look at what’s right in front of you, you will go there.  No matter what.  And the ‘there’ can be another car, a wall, or worse!  Keeping your eyes above the fray, and off to the left, or right, up and down the straight – that’s where you want to be, and your body (and car) will follow.


    The Integrenader post-AMP race

  5. Hold your line.  There’s a crazy dance that occurs, typically at the end of a straight before the first big turn.  Drivers jockey for position and more or less get in each other’s way to try and get through the turn first.  If you picture the optimal ‘driving line’ of a track, you know what the most efficient, and fastest, route is on the course.  That’s what you want.  The ‘line’.  Some cars that are better equipped can take multiple fast lines, but there is one that is optimal.  Even in our slow-ish car, we had to hold the line and make it our competitors’ job to try and find a way around us.  Lessons:  There is an optimal way to do things that maximizes your speed and conserves your brakes.  It’s a ‘path of least resistance’.  Find it and stay in it as much as you can.  Also, not driving that line makes you unpredictable, and dangerous, to yourself and the other drivers.
  6. Give up your line.  If your mirrors are FULL of grilles, fenders and front air dams, maybe you need to step out of the line and let some faster folks go.  It’s called ‘blocking’ if you don’t.  Lesson:  Know when to yield.  Be a grown-up.  Enjoy the sport and the competition, but don’t deny reality.  Remember the long game.  This is just the icing.
  7. Let the pressure off.  When you first start out on the track, everything’s kind of cold.  You are, the engine is, the track is, your brakes are, and so are your tires.  Unless you’re really fancy with nitrogen in your tires, your tire pressures will change (increase) as you heat them up in the first few laps.  That changes how they, and your car, handle.  It changes how much grip you have on the road, and therefore how fast you can go.  Lesson:  It’s good to check the pressure, and if it’s too high, let some of it out.  This is a simple thing about workplace dynamics, project work and relationships.  When work or relationships get to an intense place, through stressful projects and circumstances, find the time to let some of that pressure off.  Stop the madness for a bit and go get a smoothie.  You’ll have much better grip when you get back into it.
  8. If the track is going sideways, you are now likely just a passenger.  I came over a hill after a fast 944 cut my line off in a turn.  I had too much speed, got my right front wheel over the apex into the ‘gators’, and that was all she wrote.  The rear end came around and now I was going sideways down the hill towards the next turn.  I went from driver to passenger really fast.  Lessons:  Know what to do when you have a different role.  Know what to do in a crisis.  This is talked about – the ‘what to do when’ scenarios – in the drivers’ meeting before the race starts.  Put both feet in

    Drivers’ Meeting

    (clutch/brakes) and try to keep the steering in a direction that will keep you out of trouble.  Perhaps similar ‘drivers meetings’ need to occur to help your team members know when they need to adjust their roles when a crisis or change arises.  (I ended up in a cloud of dust and grass.  Restarted the motor and became a driver again.)

  9. Cut corners.  Use the whole track.  Everyone is (hopefully) going the same direction, so going wide and cutting corners is REQUIRED if you want to be competitive.  Plus that is the fabled ‘driving line’ mentioned earlier.  Lesson:  Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to drive on it.  The driving line is your strategy.  Find the optimal path to streamline things, and then go as fast as you can.
  10. Never cut corners.  I like to have fun, but I don’t want to die (and neither do my team mates).  So when it comes to safety and preparation, don’t cut corners – even if it slows you down.  We added an additional bar in our roll cage, added 3 fire extinguisher nozzles pointed toward the driver (and 2 at the engine), bought new 5-point harness straps, use a window net, bought new helmets, fireproof suits, socks, shoes and gloves.  Most of this is required, but some of this was elective on our part.  Lesson:  What are the practices, equipment, processes, structures that are non-negotiables?  How can you have the maximum fun with the greatest security?


    Team Integrenader:  Mostly cake, and just a little icing!



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There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

*Coulrophobia:  (n) The fear of clowns.

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