Here's a world changer... food for thought

Posted by Tandarin Nike Friday, February 25, 2011 2:15 AM 0 comments
Suppose a company offered you a billion dollars in exchange for a portion of your privacy.

To make this arrangement palatable, imagine that the company promises that your data will only be used anonymously. You don't totally trust them, but it's not as if you rob banks in your spare time. You don't have much to hide.

Now imagine that you can selectively leave out of this deal any future plans that are deeply personal. And you can leave out anything that might get you fired, embarrassed, or injured in any way. Those exclusions would be allowed by contract. And you could leave out any mention of your past, where most of your misdeeds happened anyway.

Now do you accept this deal?

Most of you probably said yes, although you might have more questions about this arrangement just to be sure you're not dealing with Satan.

Now suppose instead of a billion dollars, the company only offered a million. Some of you would walk away at that price. How about $100,000?

My point is that your privacy has an economic value. Or it could, if such a market was created. Today you give away your privacy for nothing, in dribs and drabs. Your credit card company knows some things about you, your phone company knows others, and FaceBook knows a lot.

One thing that all of those companies have in common is that the private information they possess involves mostly your past, and not so much your future. When you post pictures on Facebook, it is a record of where you were, not a prediction of where you will be.

Likewise, your credit card company and the phone company have records of what you did, as opposed to what you plan to do next.

Privacy about your past is so cheap that you literally give it away. Privacy about your future plans is another matter. That has real value.

Obviously the past has some utility for predicting the future. If you enjoy a certain activity today, you'll probably like it tomorrow. But predictions based on the past do not have the same economic value as, for example, knowing that you plan to buy a multi purpose vehicle in the next month.

Or perhaps you are planning a trip to Europe, or planning to find a new job. Private knowledge of your future would be worth a lot to advertisers. You wouldn't give away that sort of privacy for nothing.

Here's the Facebook killer part of my post. As I mentioned, Facebook is primarily a record of your past. Imagine a competing service that I will name Futureme for convenience. It's an online system in which you post only your plans, both immediate and future.

As with FaceBook, you decide who can see your plans. You might, for example, allow only specific family members to see your medical plans, but all of your friends can see your vacation plans, or your plans to buy a new couch.

The interface for Futureme is essentially a calendar, much like Outlook. But it would include extra layers for hopes and goals that don't have specific dates attached.

For every entry to your Futureme calendar, you specify who can see it, including advertisers. If you allow advertisers a glimpse of a specific plan, it would be strictly anonymous. Advertisers could then feed you ads specific to your plan, while not knowing who they sent it to. The Futureme service would be the intermediary.

Now imagine that you never have to see any of the incoming ads except by choice. If you plan to buy the multi purpose vehicle in a month, you would need to click on that entry to see which local advertisements have been matched to your plans. This model turns advertising from a nuisance into a tool.

You‘d never see an ad on Furureme that wasn't relevant to your specific plans.

The biggest benefit of the system could come from your network of friends and business associates. Suppose you post on the system that you would like to see a Asha Bhosle concert sometime in the next year. Now your friends - the ones you specify to see this specific plan - can decide if they want in on it.

Maybe someone you know can get free tickets, and someone has a van and is willing to be the designated driver. Maybe someone has a contact that can get you backstage passes. By broadcasting your plan, you make it possible for others to improve your plan.

Conversely, if you plan to do something stupid, your contacts have time to talk you out of it or suggest a superior alternative.

Your plans could be very general at first, such as a desire to go out next Saturday. Click on your Futureme entry on Thursday and perhaps you will see that three of your friends have the same general desire, and one of them has an idea of what to do.

It allows you to move from a general plan to a specific one.

I know what you're thinking. You're worried that this system allows the stalkers and mooches in your network to ruin your future plans. But remember, you are only broadcasting your plans to people you specify.

If you choose to tell a stalker where you'll be, don't blame the application when you get stabbed.

Almost any kind of plan can be improved by your network. If you plan to buy something, it would be handy to automatically receive ideas, opinions, links, and relevant ads.

If you plan a vacation to the mountains, your friends and business associates would tell you the best place to stay and the fun things to do. Your biggest vendor might throw in some freebees to keep you happy. Almost everything you plan to do could be improved by advertisers and friends.

Gift-giving would suddenly be easy. Just check what someone is planning to do, then plan a gift around it. Advertisers could automatically provide gift ideas around every planned activity. It would have the same utility as a bridal registry, albeit less filtered.

If you have kids, you're continuously matching their planned activities with that of their friends so you can arrange car pools, play dates, birthday gift-buying and more. It's a logistical nightmare. It would help a lot if mothers knew what the other mothers were planning.

Facebook succeeds in part because it is addictive. People like to talk about themselves, and people are nosey. But if you think people are nosey about what you did last weekend, imagine how nosey they would be about what vacation you are planning. It's a whole new level of nosey.

Yes, people already discuss their plans on Facebook. But doing so has a small payback because the system isn't optimized to improve your plans. You might discuss only 10% of your plans on Facebook, but 80% on Futureme, because the payoff would be greater.

It would be a pain to enter all of your plans into the system, and keep it updated, but it would save you a huge amount of time in the long run. That would be your payoff for "selling" your privacy.

Imagine how different society would be if most people started sharing their plans.

I think it's a world changer, on par of importance with the invention of the wheel, and the rule of law.

Just imagining it will work......

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, February 8, 2011 8:04 AM 0 comments
Are conjoined twins one person or two?

That's easy. They have two minds, so they are two people.

A person is defined by his or her brain. Your limbs, hair, lungs, heart, and all the rest of your parts can be transplanted, conjoined, or in some cases deleted, yet you remain the same person. You are your brain.

Now consider regular identical twins. Their brains have the same DNA, yet they are considered two people because their brains operate independently. I think we'd all agree that having the same DNA doesn't make twins one person.

Now what about the individual whose two halves of the brain are separated either by an accident or by surgery? Do you end up with one person or two? The two halves can operate independently, as shown by so-called Alien Hand Syndrome, where half of your brain is telling your hand to do one thing while your other half is wishing it didn't.

In my opinion, that's two people occupying one skull. If you went into a voting booth, I expect that the alien hand could vote for one candidate while the other side could make a different choice.

Now I make the leap from something mildly interesting to something totally ridiculous.
You should leave now if that sort of thing bothers you.

It seems to me, based on observation, that what we think of as one person is always two, even if the two halves of the brain are communicating. You wouldn't label twins as one person just because they communicate before they make decisions.

It's the independent thought that defines a person, not the degree of their communication. If twins made a deal with each other to always make the same decisions, effectively acting as one, we would still know them as two individuals because they can think independently.

Sometimes when I'm alone in the house at night, I am certain the place is haunted while simultaneously certain that ghosts do not exist. Perhaps the right side of my brain is generating the thoughts of imaginary ghosts while the left is being rational.

I realize that the human brain is a bit more fluid and complicated than the left-brain-right-brain model suggests, but I'm guessing that any time we hold two contradictory views at the same time, the two hemispheres of the brain are thinking independently.

Sometimes you might have three or more choices and you can't decide which one you prefer. But I'll bet your brain needs to consider them one at a time, in a serial fashion, if they are all rational choices. That's different from the ghost example, in which the sensation is that you believe the ghosts exist while simultaneously knowing they do not.

It takes two brains to simultaneously have two contradictory beliefs.

I also think the two brain theory explains why people who are smart in general can hold irrational world views. In my experience, people who hold irrational views are almost always aware of their own irrationality. They simply have two brains, and the rational one doesn't always get to make the final decision.

Now suppose you could do a brain scan and determine which side of a person's brain is most active while pondering a particular political question. If the scan shows that the rational hemisphere is clearly in charge, you allow that individual to vote on the issue.

If the irrational side is overly active, you politely explain to that person that he or she has to sit out this vote.

No, it's not a practical idea. But the cool thing is that I know it's a bad idea while simultaneously imagining it could work.

Illusion.... and a useful one at that

Posted by Tandarin Nike Tuesday, February 1, 2011 11:42 AM 2 comments
Confidence is a good thing, right?

Everyone wants confidence. It makes you more attractive to others.

It helps your performance. It makes you feel good about yourself. It allows you to set high goals. It's good stuff.

Remember, it's also an illusion.

The reality is that there are only two conditions you can be in. You can either have an accurate view of your own abilities or an inaccurate view. Confidence is similar to will power in the sense that neither of them exists and yet society is quite certain they do.

Will power isn't a real thing because humans simply act based on the greatest impulse in their brains at the moment. The guy who can best resists eating cupcakes is the one who enjoys them the least, or is the least hungry.

Will power never enters into the equation. It is a rationalization after the fact. Confidence and will power feel as if they are real things because we have words to describe them, and we usually agree when the words apply.

That's why the illusion is so persistent. If the words didn't exist, I don't think the illusions would be so troublesome.

I came to this view of because people insist on viewing my various behaviors through the framework of confidence. When I have a realistic view of my ability to do some particular task well, I am labeled confident, as opposed to simply accurate.

When I predict that I would be below average at some particular task, based on years of knowing myself, I am labeled unconfident when in fact I am simply right or wrong.

Where does confidence come in?

Suppose a drug existed that could give you the sensation of confidence independent of your actual ability to perform tasks. Would that be a good thing?

Actually, we know the answer to that question because the drug is alcohol and it kills 80,000 people per year in automobiles alone, just in our India.

But what about the self-fulfilling nature of confidence, you ask? Doesn't the feeling of confidence sometimes make you perform better? A confident public speaker, for example, is a better speaker. A confident batsman will make better decisions, and so on.

I would argue that in some cases your performance can be enhanced by generating in yourself just the right amount of illusion about your own performance.

A trained cricketer might imagine himself able to throw the perfect throw 100% of the time in order to succeed half of the time. He would be using confidence as a useful illusion because it keeps his energy in balance after some bad misses.

Generating a temporary illusion of confidence in yourself can be a good thing so long as you are aware of what you're doing. The cricketer needs to understand that he's just using a trick to pump up his performance. Otherwise he'd feel like a failure for completing only half of his passes.

Confidence is an illusion, but a useful one.