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Ultra-Intelligent Electronic Agents Will Shape the Future – Is Your Company Ready?
Ever since our first digital search we’ve all spent increasing amounts of time on the web looking for the information we need. Since most of us are in a hurry, we’ve used various search sites and mega portals over the years, from early players like AOL and Excite to today’s leaders such as Google and Bing. You know the process: You enter a keyword or phrase to find what you are looking for, and then you manually scan the results, which are sometimes staggering in length, looking for what you really want.
The good news is that the web has provided us with a world of information at our fingertips. The bad news is that the world of information we have access to is getting bigger by the day. As a result, we are all spending way too much time looking for the information we really want.
Help is On the Way!
We are now on the brink of having access to a powerful new tool that will do much of the search and sorting work for us, with far more intelligence and personalization that we have had in the past. Very soon you will find yourself using, on a daily basis, an emerging new technology called an ultra-intelligent electronic agent.
Actually, the first generation of intelligent agents was introduced by Apple when the iPhone 4S was launched…and her name is Siri.
Siri, what Apple calls their intelligent personal assistant, was very different from the Google app (that was available at the time) on your smart phone where you would ask for directions or a restaurant and it provided written search results. While Google search was intelligent and worked very well, Siri provided you with an actual agent to interact with. Siri has a woman’s voice; it has a personality; it can even give you some humor. Essentially, it’s an audio avatar. And if we look to the future a little further out, it’s obvious that soon we’ll be able to see Siri’s face (or visual representation) on a smart phone, tablet, computer, or even TV screen.
Of course, Siri was just the beginning. In no time at all we saw a Google version for Android phones, and as you already know, there are many others including IBM’s Watson.
So what makes Siri an ultra-intelligent electronic agent versus a text-based search engine? Siri (as well as its competitors) are linked to a super-computer in the cloud that can tap into all of the world’s databases and news feeds. It has access to increasing amounts of information coming from everywhere. This is about machines talking to machines and sensors, all communicating through the internet. In addition, it’s connected to our personal computing devices with access, granted by you, to your calendar, contacts, and more. All the data goes to a super-computer that feeds into our ultra-intelligent agent, which can then give us the actionable knowledge that’s pertinent to us.
Why You Need to Take Notice
Most people don’t realize the impact an ultra-intelligent agent will have, much less how it will transform companies the world over. Think about it…If you have an ultra-intelligent agent that can give you exactly the information you want, do you need to take the time to personally go to a website to get it? Did you do a traditional search? Did you issue the request for information, analyze the information, or even physically place the order for a product or service? The answer to all of these questions is “no.” The agent did the search, gathered the information, issued the request, and in some cases even analyzed the results and placed the order.
This is something powerful and disruptive, and it’s not an “if” or a “maybe.” We can see already with Siri and some of the Siri competitors how this technology is taking hold. And because of bandwidth, storage, and processing power growing exponentially, we’ll see more advanced versions of the ultra-intelligent electronic agent coming onboard very quickly.
When you know what’s going to happen before it happens, you have the upper hand. Therefore, you have to start looking at how you can both control and use this technology in your company rather than waiting for your competitors to use it, which puts you in the position of having to play catch-up.
Sell and Connect Better
Ultra-intelligent electronic agents provide a new level of competitive advantage to organizations because they help create a level of electronic advice and trust between your company and your customers. Even though the world is more and more technological, relationships are increasingly more and more important. Trust is still something that either earns your business or loses your business depending on whether your customers trust you. Business—all business—is still about trust and relationships.
You could expand upon this trust by offering your customers a plug-in to their ultra-intelligent electronic agent. Basically you’re making your company’s information a part of your customer’s intelligent agent so your company is always top of mind for them.
For example, your financial planner may offer an agent plug-in module to help you manage your investments. Your child’s school might offer a plug-in giving you information about your child’s progress. And your bank might offer a plug-in to help maintain your account balances and other financial information. The list of possible plug-ins is endless. Essentially, you’ll build your agent based on the relationships of the different companies and organizations you work with and have a trusting relationship with.
Currently, Siri and its competitors represent a general, early intelligent agent, which means it’s intelligent, but not that intelligent. In the near future, though, it will get a lot more intelligent.
Not only will it get more intelligent, but it will also get more personalized. For example, let’s say you and I both have iPhones and we both use AT&T as our carrier. Even though we have the same phone, I can bet you $1,000 that my phone is still much different than your phone, and I’d win. Why? Because I have hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from. So it’s not an iPhone; it’s a myPhone customized by me to serve me best. The same is true for other smart phones and tablets.
In that same way, we’re going to create a customized ultra-intelligent agent by adding little components to it from the most trusted providers. That’s why business needs to wake up to this and take part—you want your company’s plug-in a part of every customer’s intelligent agent.
Additionally, we’ll have B to B intelligent agents. Now it’s not just about interacting with customers. It’s also about selling to businesses that service or sell to other businesses, to suppliers, to distributors, etc. Various levels of this selling, servicing, and advising will be done using intelligent agents to save us time; therefore, you have to decide how you’ll build the intelligence of your agent that’s helping you.
In addition to helping your customers, your company’s ultra-intelligent electronic agent will be able to help your employees work smarter. Chances are you have many employees who don’t always have access to a computer screen but still need information. This could pertain to employees who are on the road, such as salespeople, as well as those in the field, such as repair and maintenance people or engineers. These people can pull out their smart phone or tablet and ask their intelligent agent for detailed information.
For example, suppose you have a maintenance person fixing an air conditioner. He can pull out his smart phone and ask his agent, “Do I have this part in my truck?” And the agent can reply, “No, you don’t have that part in your truck.” He can then ask, “Well, do we have it back at the shop?” As he asks and gets his answers, he’s still working and doing maintenance, essentially multiplying his time.
Instead of having to go their laptop back in the truck or type in search terms on their smart phone, employees simply ask a question and have access to all of the information they need, including diagrams and videos for just-in-time training. These ultra-intelligent electronic agents are the way to help employees do more with less.
So determine how your company can use its ultra-intelligent electronic agent in the various functions. Just like mobility is driving a transformation of almost every business process—including purchasing, logistics, supply chain, etc.—we can do the same with an ultra-intelligent electronic agent.
The Future of Google, Search, and Your Company
In the future, will anyone want to do a manual search or surf the web when their electronic agent can simply do the work for them? To help answer that question, it is important to remember a guiding principle I have shared over the years: To see the future, think both/and. Some people will want to surf the web and do manual searches while others will never take on that task again. It is easy to predict that the number of people going to a search site will diminish greatly because of the increasing value of our time.
So does that mean that companies who offer only text-based search are out of business? Not if they have expanded their vision of what they are and how they serve customers. In fact, Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search companies are already in the process of becoming key players in the development of ultra-intelligent agents. Why? Because, if they don’t do it, someone else will.
The same can be said for your company. You want to be the first in your industry to offer customers an ultra-intelligent electronic agent plug-in. Remember, offering an ultra-intelligent electronic agent is not something that is here today, gone tomorrow. It’s something that is already here today…it just hasn’t been fully applied to business yet. If you don’t act first, someone else in your industry will. Plan your future now.
Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.
- It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
- Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
- Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Our hearts beat at a resting rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Lots of other things pulse, too. The colors we see and the pitches we hear, for example, are due to the different wave frequencies ("pulses") of light and sound waves.
Now, a study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers finds that Earth itself has a pulse, with one "beat" every 27.5 million years. That's the rate at which major geological events have been occurring as far back as geologists can tell.
A planetary calendar has 10 dates in red
Credit: Jagoush / Adobe Stock
According to lead author and geologist Michael Rampino of New York University's Department of Biology, "Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But our study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random."
The new study is not the first time that there's been a suggestion of a planetary geologic cycle, but it's only with recent refinements in radioisotopic dating techniques that there's evidence supporting the theory. The authors of the study collected the latest, best dating for 89 known geologic events over the last 260 million years:
- 29 sea level fluctuations
- 12 marine extinctions
- 9 land-based extinctions
- 10 periods of low ocean oxygenation
- 13 gigantic flood basalt volcanic eruptions
- 8 changes in the rate of seafloor spread
- 8 times there were global pulsations in interplate magmatism
The dates provided the scientists a new timetable of Earth's geologic history.
Tick, tick, boom
Credit: New York University
Putting all the events together, the scientists performed a series of statistical analyses that revealed that events tend to cluster around 10 different dates, with peak activity occurring every 27.5 million years. Between the ten busy periods, the number of events dropped sharply, approaching zero.
Perhaps the most fascinating question that remains unanswered for now is exactly why this is happening. The authors of the study suggest two possibilities:
"The correlations and cyclicity seen in the geologic episodes may be entirely a function of global internal Earth dynamics affecting global tectonics and climate, but similar cycles in the Earth's orbit in the Solar System and in the Galaxy might be pacing these events. Whatever the origins of these cyclical episodes, their occurrences support the case for a largely periodic, coordinated, and intermittently catastrophic geologic record, which is quite different from the views held by most geologists."
Assuming the researchers' calculations are at least roughly correct — the authors note that different statistical formulas may result in further refinement of their conclusions — there's no need to worry that we're about to be thumped by another planetary heartbeat. The last occurred some seven million years ago, meaning the next won't happen for about another 20 million years.
Brain cells snap strands of DNA in many more places and cell types than researchers previously thought.
The urgency to remember a dangerous experience requires the brain to make a series of potentially dangerous moves: Neurons and other brain cells snap open their DNA in numerous locations — more than previously realized, according to a new study — to provide quick access to genetic instructions for the mechanisms of memory storage.
The extent of these DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) in multiple key brain regions is surprising and concerning, says study senior author Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, because while the breaks are routinely repaired, that process may become more flawed and fragile with age. Tsai's lab has shown that lingering DSBs are associated with neurodegeneration and cognitive decline and that repair mechanisms can falter.
"We wanted to understand exactly how widespread and extensive this natural activity is in the brain upon memory formation because that can give us insight into how genomic instability could undermine brain health down the road," says Tsai, who is also a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a leader of MIT's Aging Brain Initiative. "Clearly, memory formation is an urgent priority for healthy brain function, but these new results showing that several types of brain cells break their DNA in so many places to quickly express genes is still striking."
In 2015, Tsai's lab provided the first demonstration that neuronal activity caused DSBs and that they induced rapid gene expression. But those findings, mostly made in lab preparations of neurons, did not capture the full extent of the activity in the context of memory formation in a behaving animal, and did not investigate what happened in cells other than neurons.
In the new study published July 1 in PLOS ONE, lead author and former graduate student Ryan Stott and co-author and former research technician Oleg Kritsky sought to investigate the full landscape of DSB activity in learning and memory. To do so, they gave mice little electrical zaps to the feet when they entered a box, to condition a fear memory of that context. They then used several methods to assess DSBs and gene expression in the brains of the mice over the next half-hour, particularly among a variety of cell types in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, two regions essential for the formation and storage of conditioned fear memories. They also made measurements in the brains of mice that did not experience the foot shock to establish a baseline of activity for comparison.
The creation of a fear memory doubled the number of DSBs among neurons in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, affecting more than 300 genes in each region. Among 206 affected genes common to both regions, the researchers then looked at what those genes do. Many were associated with the function of the connections neurons make with each other, called synapses. This makes sense because learning arises when neurons change their connections (a phenomenon called "synaptic plasticity") and memories are formed when groups of neurons connect together into ensembles called engrams.
"Many genes essential for neuronal function and memory formation, and significantly more of them than expected based on previous observations in cultured neurons … are potentially hotspots of DSB formation," the authors wrote in the study.
In another analysis, the researchers confirmed through measurements of RNA that the increase in DSBs indeed correlated closely with increased transcription and expression of affected genes, including ones affecting synapse function, as quickly as 10-30 minutes after the foot shock exposure.
"Overall, we find transcriptional changes are more strongly associated with [DSBs] in the brain than anticipated," they wrote. "Previously we observed 20 gene-associated [DSB] loci following stimulation of cultured neurons, while in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex we see more than 100-150 gene associated [DSB] loci that are transcriptionally induced."
Snapping with stress
In the analysis of gene expression, the neuroscientists looked at not only neurons but also non-neuronal brain cells, or glia, and found that they also showed changes in expression of hundreds of genes after fear conditioning. Glia called astrocytes are known to be involved in fear learning, for instance, and they showed significant DSB and gene expression changes after fear conditioning.
Among the most important functions of genes associated with fear conditioning-related DSBs in glia was the response to hormones. The researchers therefore looked to see which hormones might be particularly involved and discovered that it was glutocortocoids, which are secreted in response to stress. Sure enough, the study data showed that in glia, many of the DSBs that occurred following fear conditioning occurred at genomic sites related to glutocortocoid receptors. Further tests revealed that directly stimulating those hormone receptors could trigger the same DSBs that fear conditioning did and that blocking the receptors could prevent transcription of key genes after fear conditioning.
Tsai says the finding that glia are so deeply involved in establishing memories from fear conditioning is an important surprise of the new study.
"The ability of glia to mount a robust transcriptional response to glutocorticoids suggest that glia may have a much larger role to play in the response to stress and its impact on the brain during learning than previously appreciated," she and her co-authors wrote.
Damage and danger?
More research will have to be done to prove that the DSBs required for forming and storing fear memories are a threat to later brain health, but the new study only adds to evidence that it may be the case, the authors say.
"Overall we have identified sites of DSBs at genes important for neuronal and glial functions, suggesting that impaired DNA repair of these recurrent DNA breaks which are generated as part of brain activity could result in genomic instability that contribute to aging and disease in the brain," they wrote.
The National Institutes of Health, The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, and the JPB Foundation provided funding for the research.
Research shows that those who spend more time speaking tend to emerge as the leaders of groups, regardless of their intelligence.
- A new study proposes the "babble hypothesis" of becoming a group leader.
- Researchers show that intelligence is not the most important factor in leadership.
- Those who talk the most tend to emerge as group leaders.
If you want to become a leader, start yammering. It doesn't even necessarily matter what you say. New research shows that groups without a leader can find one if somebody starts talking a lot.
This phenomenon, described by the "babble hypothesis" of leadership, depends neither on group member intelligence nor personality. Leaders emerge based on the quantity of speaking, not quality.
Researcher Neil G. MacLaren, lead author of the study published in The Leadership Quarterly, believes his team's work may improve how groups are organized and how individuals within them are trained and evaluated.
"It turns out that early attempts to assess leadership quality were found to be highly confounded with a simple quantity: the amount of time that group members spoke during a discussion," shared MacLaren, who is a research fellow at Binghamton University.
While we tend to think of leaders as people who share important ideas, leadership may boil down to whoever "babbles" the most. Understanding the connection between how much people speak and how they become perceived as leaders is key to growing our knowledge of group dynamics.
The power of babble
The research involved 256 college students, divided into 33 groups of four to ten people each. They were asked to collaborate on either a military computer simulation game (BCT Commander) or a business-oriented game (CleanStart). The players had ten minutes to plan how they would carry out a task and 60 minutes to accomplish it as a group. One person in the group was randomly designated as the "operator," whose job was to control the user interface of the game.
To determine who became the leader of each group, the researchers asked the participants both before and after the game to nominate one to five people for this distinction. The scientists found that those who talked more were also more likely to be nominated. This remained true after controlling for a number of variables, such as previous knowledge of the game, various personality traits, or intelligence.
How leaders influence people to believe | Michael Dowling | Big Think www.youtube.com
In an interview with PsyPost, MacLaren shared that "the evidence does seem consistent that people who speak more are more likely to be viewed as leaders."
Another find was that gender bias seemed to have a strong effect on who was considered a leader. "In our data, men receive on average an extra vote just for being a man," explained MacLaren. "The effect is more extreme for the individual with the most votes."
The great theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg passed away on July 23. This is our tribute.