Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Are digital devices altering our brains?

Anne says: Time for some myth busting from a reliable source (not #fakenews).

The summary at the beginning of this article provides just a glimpse at some of the topics that have been reviewed, in detail:

  • Research shows that by constantly distracting us, the Internet affects cognitive performance but does not radically alter our brains.
  • The findings also suggest that although video games and brain training influence aggression and cognitive performance, respectively, the extent of that influence is much less than many would think.
  • The risks of digital devices might be minimized by educating people in ways to enhance concentration, self-control and critical-thinking skills.

So – let’s take a look at some of the claims that this article has reviewed – remember, the value of research is acknowledged when it’s repeatable.

Myth (or unsubstantiated claim): Nicolas Carr, you may recall, authored a text: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brainsin 2011. He claimed that the Internet was making us stupid (actually – he named Google). He cited a number of neuroscience reports that highlighted the plasticity of the brain – hence using the internet will make our brains adapt to different ways of working.
Busted: BUT  – a group of psychologists rebutted the claim:

“There is simply no experimental evidence to show that living with new technologies fundamentally changes brain organization in a way that affects one’s ability to focus…”

The article then takes up the “stupidity” headline and examines where it’s coming from. Essentially, it’s about distractions and how we’re behaving. Remember, behaviour is an output/response, NOT how the brain processes information. Then there’s multitasking – literally doing more than 1 thing at a time. We think we can multi-task – BUSTED – we can’t effectively divide our attention without impacting our performance. (But that doesn’t mean we’re becoming stupid).

Solution: Rather than claiming the Internet is making us stupid – you could try to reduce distractions and develop ways to focus your attention – one task at a time!

Myth (or unsubstantiated claim): Video games make us aggressive.
The claim: “…the more they played violent games, the more aggressive their behavior was.”
Busted: Rather than dispute the claim, the article highlights the deficiency of the research to support the claims. The claim, is, in effect, unsubstantiated.

Myth (or unsubstantiated claim): Brain games improve cognition and performance.
Busted: Rather than challenging the performance during the game, the reviews have focused on how this has transferred into real-life contexts. The verdict – it’s questionable. The conclusion being that careful scientific research needs to be conducted (and repeated) before claims and assertions can be demonstrated to improve brain function.
So if you’re trying to improve your brain performance – think about reducing distractions and applying information in a variety of contexts. Learn something new – and difficult – like another language (and then apply it in context), a musical instrument (and trying playing in a group) – versus rote performance based upon online skill repetition.

The conclusions: We need more research that is repeatable across a range of contexts. We need to question claims made with little evidence (disregard the size of study – look at the methodology and question whether it was a valid way to test the claim).

I’m fully behind the approach of carefully tested research, rather than unsubstantiated claims – the underpinning of our research approach is based on uncovering a deep understanding of why people are doing things – not based on anecdotal, single event, personal experiences.

I particularly like the example in the article that translates this into practice:

“…rather than training your recall with abstract tasks that have little bearing on reality, try testing your memory regularly and making the information as meaningful to your own life as possible: If you memorize a shopping list, ask yourself what recipe you are buying the ingredients for and for which day’s dinner.”

Before blaming technology for new ways of behaving, try to understand why and how to manage the behaviour. It’s just too easy to blame the internet and our devices.


Owning less, is it a good thing?

Helen says: This opinion piece talks of the concept of property ownership and how it is changing in society, a change that has been brought on by technology – more specifically, software and the internet. Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics, observes that whilst we used to own books, these days many download copies and these copies actually remain the property of the supplier. Similarly, we used to own records, CDs and DVDs but with the onset of streaming, the majority of us no longer own movies or music, we subscribe to them instead.

Car ownership is also losing ground with a growing urban population and the share economy (maybe not such a bad thing). Even our phones are not really ours, software updates are imposed on us and we don’t have a right to fix our own device if needed. He suggests

“The libertarian political theorist might tell you that arrangement is simply freedom of contract in action. But the … broad libertarian intuitions … encapsulate a more … direct sense that some things we simply own and hold the rights to.”

Referring to AI services and their growing application in the home, Cowen foresees that with ‘the internet of things’, apart from owning our actual home (if you can afford it), “most of the value in that home you will in essence rent from outside companies or, in the case of municipal utilities, the government.”

He points out that we, “as parents, often give our children pets or other valuable possessions to teach them basic lessons of life and stewardship.” So how does not actually owning something impact society? Does it alter the way we connect to things, are we losing autonomy through conformity and software standardisation and could this all be impacting entrepreneurship into the future? These are interesting questions to consider – what do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


Will artificial intelligence spell the death of the artist as we know it?

Joel says: While the title of this article sounds like yet another fear mongering ‘Technology is coming to take all our jobs’ piece it actually provides a really good insight into AI and Machine Learning and explains the concepts behind how artistic AI algorithms are built.

O, if you were a feeble sight, the courtesy of your law,

Your sight and several breath, will wear the gods.

That’s not a passage from Shakespeare, it was generated by a recurrent neural network (RNN) — a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that has been taught the signature writing styles and flairs of William Shakespeare.

Chris Rodley, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney who makes his own computer-generated art, thinks it could be a watershed moment:

“What I think we’re going to see with AI is perhaps a gradual erosion of this idea that artists have this absolutely unique insight that really puts them on this other plane from the rest of us.”

“AI is the broad area of technology that seeks to emulate human skills or human abilities,” explains Rodley.

Most of the digital art Rodley generates uses a recent form of AI called deep learning, based on deep neural networks. The neural style transfer algorithm allows the style of one artist to be transposed onto the shape of another image. Using the neural style transfer algorithm, Rodley has also transferred the style of old lithographs of flowers onto the shapes of dinosaurs.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t consider this image a cool piece of art. But, technically, it didn’t come from the hand or mind of what we would call an artist.

Check out the article yourself to read about Rodley’s thoughts on AI, machine learning and about his upcoming stage show ‘Death of a Playwright’ where he’ll be reading several AI generated texts.


Sexism and misogyny are just bad business

Jakkii says: Nat would’ve particularly loved Joel’s piece this week – not only for the dinosaur art! She often talked about art and technology and would have been all over it from a philosophical standpoint. As someone unafraid to call out sexism, I think she’d also have been right into my topic this week.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a craft beer hobbyist. I’m reasonably involved in the craft beer community, both online and off, and yesterday was quite a doozy of a day. Gold Coast brewery, Black Hops Brewing, published posts across their social media channels to promote a new beer. Sounds innocuous enough, but the beer was named ‘Pussy Juice’ and the posts contained lewd copy that many deemed inappropriate for its graphic content. Some went so far as to describe the copy as “rapey”, with many concerned about the sexist nature of the marketing.

Black Hops removed the posts, and posted an apology of sorts that did not address the lewd copy but sought to explain the in-joke meaning behind the name while stating they acknowledge they “stuffed up” in using the name, and that they believe in inclusion.

There’s a lot to be said about the incident, including what businesses should be doing to avoid making such missteps in future. You might think, upon reading the content, that your business would never post something so outrageous so this doesn’t apply to you. Truthfully, however, we have seen a great many social media missteps over the years and it really could happen to anyone who doesn’t have strong governance or a strong understanding of how to manage a brand presence online – or manage the community of people around their brand and their industry.

Today though, what I want to say is this: sexism and misogyny is bad business. The risk of alienating half of the population because you let an in-joke grow into something more than it should’ve been is very poor business indeed. As one Facebook commenter put it:

All issues of offence aside: I like great beer. I make pretty decent money, and I’m willing to spend some on beer. I’m going to choose how and where I spend that money based on marketing. Marketing matters… unless you don’t care about selling your product to as many people as possible?

Women are decision-makers regarding spending in many households no matter the household makeup, as research shows – for instance, they’re responsible for 80% of travel decisions. In a traditionally (and still) male-dominated industry this isn’t irrelevant; in fact, it’s even more relevant – as craft beer grows and more and more women are brought into the fold, this only becomes more important to consider.

Ultimately, if we want craft beer to continue to grow, we need more people drinking craft beer – turning half the population off that by being sexist in your marketing and allowing misogyny to propagate in your online community is not only not being a good corporate citizen, it’s just straight up bad for your business.


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: What’s in a museum? Give us words, and ancient blockchain. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

National Museum of Brazil fire – are museums broken?

Other stories we bring up:


Join us September 21 for DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ 2018: Robots against the machine?

DISRUPT.SYDNEY™, in its 6th year, is Australia’s first and oldest disruption conference. In recent years we talked a lot about what makes innovations disruptive. This year we look at the other side of the coin: Managing for innovation, disruption and change from within. With two Q&A panels, parallel workshops after lunch, and an interactive futures session on ‘digital humans’ in the afternoon, DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2018 is shaping up to be another engaging highlight.

More information and registration

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