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Humans Are Underrated

Geoff Colvin

Human learning gets harder with time. When we start, we make slow progress, then more rapid progress as we get the hang of it, but then only very slow and incremental improvement. IT is just the opposite. Computers are doubling in fitness every 18 months according to Moore's Law, acquiring skills that are increasingly complex and difficult.

Previous revns have not only created new jobs, they created better jobs. Workers using improved technology are more productive, so they earn more, and spend more, creating more jobs across the economy. And the goods they made cost less than before - machine made cloth costs a fraction of hand woven material.

Common experience of someone asking why you're in a bad mood, and you deny it. People are hopeless at recognizing when they're stressed or in grip of anger, but a computer is good at recognizing it. We make life-changing decisions based on our imaginary knowledge of our own feelings. But for the first time, technology can read those emotions better than a human can.

'Computer-enhanced' sounds good, but what it means is that you spend 13 years helping a computer read medical scans, then suddenly ...BAM!... the computer is better than you, and getting better at twice the rate. Economist's term ZMP or zero marginal product, meaning you add no value at all.

Same pattern, repeatedly: very smart people note the overwhelming complexity of a task that humans find easy - like driving a car - and conclude that machines will never master them. Yet repeatedly, it turns out that it's just a matter of time, and often even less time than anyone expects.

Study of judges deciding whether to grant parole to prisoners. Over the course of a day, about 35% applications approved. But the approval rate declines steadily in the two hours before lunch, reaching zero just before the break. Immediately after lunch it spikes to 65% and then declines steadily from that.

One of main reasons why job recovery much slower this time is that displaced skilled workers have moved down the job ladder.

WW2 was last war won by destroying the enemy's productive capacity and most of his infrastructure. Future wars will require a victory that is widely accepted, including by the defeated. So soldiers have to be diplomats as well as fighters.

Today's kids spend so much time in front of screens that they don't get to practice social skills, particularly things like empathy, which requires you to put yourself in the other person's place.

Personal contact still required - a handshake makes all the difference in establishing trust.

Study found Facebook made people less happy - the bonds you establish online are weaker and less genuine and authentic, and less satisfying. Teens avoiding phone calls, fearful that they will reveal too much - a text can be crafted and considered.

When a newborn baby hears another baby cry, it will cry too. Not if it hears an older baby cry, and not if it hears recording of its own cry, but only if someone very like themselves.

Study found college students measurably less empathic, and more narcissistic. Partly due to different values - 64% said "getting rich" was their main goal - but also the decline of family interaction as TV and then phone/computer has replaced the dinner table as the center of family life.

kids need unsupervised play to explore roles - pretend to be the teacher or the mother or the nurse - and grow empathy.

Doctors used to try hard to be impersonal and detached, because thought that would make them more objective, and would avoid emotional pain when treatment failed. But clear evidence that empathic doctors improve patient's health and fewer lawsuits. And doctors and hospitals partly paid on basis of patient satisfaction feedback.

People are the ones who identify problems that need to be solved; teams are better than individuals at choosing solutions.

But the success of teams depends on the social relationships between members. Success comes from multiple exchanges between all parties, getting feedback and encouragement. This in turn depends greatly on body language to build trust, which is why groups need to be together IRL.

Teams vital in many fields. USAF trains bomber crews together and they live together. The best surgeons are the ones who do lots of the same operation, but their top rating disappears if they have to work in a different hospital with a different team.

All technical innovations are crummy when they're new.

Need stories to persuade people, but it is the storytelling, not the story, that is important. People aren't moved by a story unless they can evaluate the storyteller - is he trustworthy and is he passionate about what he's telling us.

ISIS, Al Qaeda etc successful in recruiting bc of the stories they tell - about injustices and outrages past and present. US Dept of Defence has a Narrative Networks program to try to understand the way these stories work in radicalizing prospects, and to develop counter-narratives. Stories are becoming a battlefield.

Stories as treatment. Dementia patients shown a pic of something happening - maybe just a boy and a dog - and asked what was happening. All the comments were recorded and quickly assembled into a story, and read back to them, and they were asked what story should be called. Didn't do much for patients - they forgot it in minutes - but changed the attitude of doctors and nurses, who often get depressed and negative at their failure to get patients to engage in anything.

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