Brain Food – February 5, 2017

Brain Food – February 5, 2017



This week’s selection of stories on brains, bias, and wearable technology


Speed Bumps


The other day I was listening to a podcast and the hosts were discussing how difficult it’s become for them to read novels, finding that their attention spans are often too short despite their desires to read more long form content. But if you find yourself short on time, figuring out how to read faster seems like seems an obvious solution to fitting more books into our lives.

However, if the point of reading is to take in more information (to get smarter, more informed, etc.), speed reading is not your friend. According to a new study published in Psychological Science in Public Interest, “there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy. It is unlikely that readers will be able to double or triple their reading speeds (e.g., from around 250 to 500–750 words per minute) while still being able to understand the text as well as if they read at normal speed.”

In other words, there’s no silver bullet for reading faster, at least not if you want to take anything in. Full story from Quartz here.


Diffusing The Situation


In these troubling and uncertain times, it’s easy to find yourself in political arguments. In fact, we witnessed quite a few of them on our own Facebook feed in response to the election tool we posted following the final US presidential debate.

When these battles happen with friends and loved ones, they have the power to divide us. And some of that stems from our own bias. In the heat of the moment, “people are egocentric, which means that when we think about our problems, we tend to focus on our own feelings and perspectives.” How, then, do we show empathy and diffuse the situation for the sake of bettering the relationship?

Psychological studies have shown that thinking about how you will feel about the conflict in the distant future (i.e. – think about how you will feel about the argument in a year) allows you to remove yourself from the emotions you are experiencing in the moment and focus on the bigger picture. And being conscientious of the consequences of what we say could go a long way toward improving society as a whole.

Full story from Harvard Business Review here.

The Terminator Takes Texas Hold Em

Ethical considerations around AI have been and will continue to be of massive interest as AI continues to develop. You may have even heard about the founders of LinkedIn and eBay starting a 20 billion dollar fund to protect society from AI.

For some time, concerns around AI have been a bit tepid as it hasn’t been reliable in mimicking human behaviour. But if you want something new to ponder, consider that a computer program just beat a group of poker pros for the first time ever. While this initially seems like old news (computers have been able to beat humans at games like chess and checkers for some time), Texas Hold Em is a game where decisions are made with “imperfect information.” In other words, the AI can’t calculate it’s true odds of winning since it doesn’t know what the other players are holding or whether or not they are bluffing.

To win, it needed to be able to develop strategies with imperfect information. And it absolutely destroyed the pros. While this program has only been tested against poker so far, it’s developers have hopes for it’s use in military strategy and cyber security. But if it’s that much better than humans at poker, do we want it running a war?

Full story from Washington Post here.


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