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Jon Iwata on IBM's Policy of Social Media Freedom

Jon Iwata, IBM's senior vice president of Marketing & Communications, explains why freedom is the best social media policy for employees.

 


"I think corporations are, by and large, over the delusion that they can permit or disallow their employees from using so-called social media. But we had the debate, you know, we had the debate back when blogging burst on the scene about whether or not we should allow this."

Those are the words of Jon Iwata, IBM's senior vice president of Marketing & Communications, as well as friend to everyone's favorite game show-winning supercomputer, Watson. As the man responsible for framing the "voice" of the IBM brand, Iwata has made his fair share of discoveries with regard to what works and what doesn't in the many realms of communications. He offers his unique perspective on company-wide social media policies in an exclusive lesson available only on Big Think Edge titled "Don't Worry, Be Social: Why Freedom is the Best Social Media Policy for Employees." You can check out the preview clip below.

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Iwata makes the astute observation that we're past the Wild West stage of social media. Companies have surveyed the terrain, deemed it fit for use, and incorporated it as a vital communications tool. And while there are occasional hiccups in which branded Twitter accounts insert foot into mouth, companies are getting better and better at making sure everyone stays on message.

But Iwata isn't just talking about branded social media accounts; he's talking about employees. In today's never-unplugged world, you're never not a spokesperson for your company. Everything you say on social media is intrinsically linked to your employer's brand. Remember when Aflac gave Gilbert Gottfried the axe a few years ago when he cracked some tasteless jokes on Twitter in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami? There are plenty of other examples across the web of people losing their jobs for inflammatory or uncouth tweets

One might view this evidence and suppose that employees on social media are an unnecessary headache for most companies. Iwata sees things differently. To him, social media isn't any more a risk than all the other forms of potentially hazardous communication. The reasons corporate leaders sometimes fear social media aren't reasons exclusive to the medium:

"The lawyer worries about disclosure. The head of HR worries about, you know, people being recruited away. We worry about confidential information and so forth. And everybody worries about criticism of management."

These all fall under the banner of company communications, not just Twitter or Facebook. Social media is just another category through which triumphs and errors can occur. Therefore, the solution is not to ban social media or restrict your employees' online activities. The solution is to institute thoughtful communications policies as the foundation of your business practices. Each and every employee should be trained to represent the company well in any setting: live, online, in text, etc. An employee saying something dumb on social media isn't a social media problem; it's a communications problem.

"If you’re not going to give away secrets in a parking garage at midnight, we’re going to trust you that you’re not going to do it on the internet, for goodness sakes, where everybody can see what you’re doing. So we trust you. Just use good judgment."

Trust and good judgment are the bases of IBM's employee social media policy. Employees enjoy their freedom to communicate and take notice of the trust instilled in them. Leadership oversees a happy workforce that may very well surprise them with intuitive utilization of smart social media.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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