To break my blogging fast, am posting the article I recently wrote for Yale Divinity School’s Reflections, a magazine of theological and ethical inquiry.

Am especially happy to share this issue with my divinity school colleagues and friends, Rahiel Tesfamariam, the visionary behind Urban Cusp and the Rev. Reggie Bachus.

Also, the futurist is me is smitten with being in the same issue as Soren Gordhamer of Wisdom 2.0 and Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together:  Why We Expect More from Technology and Less of Each Other.

The article is available for download here and my article begins on p.27.  Feedback welcome!

Imagine a sort of social X-ray, a tool that raises your awareness emotions others are feeling when you are with them?

Affectiva (which specializes in affective computing) is now experimenting with glasses that provide you with visual and auditory feedback on the emotional expressions of others, based on facial recognition, galvanic skin response, and more.

In her recent article, Specs that See Right Through You, Sally Adee describes her (mis)-perceptions of a recent interaction with one of the masterminds behind the glasses, MIT Media Lab’s Rosalind Picard:

I became privy to this knowledge because a little voice was whispering in my ear through a headphone attached to the glasses. It told me that Picard was “confused” or “disagreeing”. All the while, a red light built into the specs was blinking above my right eye to warn me to stop talking. It was as though I had developed an extra sense.

The glasses can send me this information thanks to a built-in camera linked to software that analyses Picard’s facial expressions. They’re just one example of a number of “social X-ray specs” that are set to transform how we interact with each other. By sensing emotions that we would otherwise miss, these technologies can thwart disastrous social gaffes and help us understand each other better. Some companies are already wiring up their employees with the technology, to help them improve how they communicate with customers. Our emotional intelligence is about to be boosted, but are we ready to broadcast feelings we might rather keep private?

For more on Rosalind Picard’s Emotion Technologies, see her recent TEDxSF talk:

Today Joshua Foer stopped by Institute for the Future for a lunch talk.

Anyone who would name their book Moonwalking with Einstein:  The Art and Science of Remembering Anything (referencing a mnemonic device) is intriguing, and he also is the 2006 US Memory Champion.  Did I mention I love my job?

The conversation centered around the question:  How is the relationship between ourselves and our memories changing?  

Look back to look forward

Ancient scholars internalized printed texts so that they could share them by memory.  Then the printing press changed the relationship between ourselves and our memories.

More recently, people held memories of moments connecting with loved ones in their mind’s eye only until camera technologies changed all of that.  Today, critics of digital cameras remark how people seem to have a new self-consciousness around the shareability of the moments of their lives, making it more difficult to be fully present to any experience.  The debate continues…

Ourselves & Our Memories:  Emerging Questions for the Next Decade

  • What is human and what is machine? (See Michael Chorost’s Rebuilt:  How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human)
  • How will the very structure & function of the human brain change in response to how we use our memories (a la neuroplasticity)?
  • To what end are we offloading our memories via technology?  In an evolutionary sense, what is it that we’re freeing our minds up to do if we don’t spend as much time remembering content?
  • With whom will we choose to share our offloaded memories?  What might I gain or lose from being able to access your memories?  What new relationship paradigms are likely to form around memory-sharing?  How does our understanding of the human person change?
  • In sharing more of our memories with each other, are we moving toward the global brain (a view of shared consciousness posited by Peter Russell in The Global Brain Awakens:  Our Next Evolutionary Leap)?

Signal:  Gottafeeling

What?:  Gottafeeling is a mobile app that asks you about how you’re feeling, who you’re with and where you’re at intervals during the day.  A la Quantified Self, it then provides a data readout to see what % of time you spend in each emotional mood, with some context provided.  The idea is to provide emotional feedback loops so that you can 1) become more aware of your emotions and 2) make different decisions based on this awareness.

So What?:  This and other emotional mirroring systems (think:  Rationalizer) build from some of the research on social contagion.  Innovations like these nudge people to spend more or less time in certain environments, or connecting with certain people based on the data it gathers.

Impact Areas:  Workplace environments, community organizations & religious groups, Quantified Self lead adopters

July 2-3 people from around the world gathered for the World Culture Festival in Berlin for what seems like a powerful celebration of global diversity.

I was especially intrigued by the video just posted to give a glimpse into the group meditation by 70,000 people, focusing on world peace:

In this January 2011 study led by Sara Lazar of Mass General Hospital, the striking findings were that meditation changes not only your stress response, but also the very underlying structure of your brain–especially areas related to sense of self, stress, and empathy.

I can’t help but wonder what small-scale evolutionary steps we humans are taking when 70,000 of us meditate together.  In the big picture of the human project, what are we about here?

Are we using meditation to program our brains for world peace?

If so, what location should play host to the next gathering of 70,000?

After a woeful absence from blogging, *so many people* sent me the news about how the Pope is tweeting that it begged to be written about.  Here it is folks, from @News_va_en:

Though the Pope did apparently send *a* tweet, it doesn’t appear that he will be tweeting in any personal manner anytime soon.

It’s important to note the very real difference between the Pope tweeting once via News_va_en (an effort by the Vatican to leverage new media for communication, sharing, and outreach) versus frequently tweeting for himself.

The Tradeoffs of Personal Tweeting by Public Figures

When other intensely public figures–take US politicians for example–tweet as individuals, the feeling is different (that is, unless those figures actually have interns or PR people tweet “as them.”)  The candor, spontaneity, and authenticity of the person can shine through and endear them to you.

On the other hand, they also expose themselves in new ways, becoming vulnerable and increasing public scrutiny, as we’ve also seen recently with the @RepWeiner incident and more recently as President Obama has started to tweet occasionally using @barackobama.  His staff do most of the tweeting, but tweets from him will be signed -BO.

I am interested to watch how public figures–including religious leaders–will weigh this balance. How will they strengthen candor to connect with their community in authentic ways versus expose themselves to vulnerability.

nid%3D3882%7Ctitle%3D%7Cdesc%3D%7Clink%3DnoneAuthor & neurologist Robert Burton visited IFTF today and treated us to a conversation building from the principles of his book, On Being Certain:  Believing You’re Right Even When You’re Not.

He’s currently working on a new book:  A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind; What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves.

Together with our staff, Bob talked about the conundrum of how the mind is the tool we use to study the mind, the knowledge of E=MC² versus the feeling of knowing that 2+2 = 4, the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind, and even dipped our toe into the neuroscience of forecasting.

Lots of fodder to consider, but one thing I found particularly interesting was the topic of the self, and how we locate the self in our own understanding.

It made me think about discussions of the global brain in a new light.  I would love to see a mashup of Pierre Teilhard de ChardinPeter Russell, and Bob Burton when it comes to our understandings of the self & the brain, looking ahead to the coming decades.


Do you know of other experts at this nexus with whom it might be interesting to connect?  If so, please be in touch (@Rachelkeas or  Thanks!

PS–Friend of IFTF Mark Schar was also part of the conversation today–he just finished his PhD in an area akin to innovation intelligence at Stanford, so we were all proud to say “Congratulations Dr. Schar!”


Also posted at IFTF’s blog FutureNow

Gallup and the New York Times have teamed up to find the happiest man in America (according to how his profile fits with the demographics of happiness).

Gallup said that the happiest person would be: male, Asian-American, a religious Jew, self-employed, living in Hawaii, married, has children, receiving a household income of at least $120,000.

Lo and behold, they found someone who fits this description!  In this Times article yesterday, they shared a profile of this gentleman:

Here’s a breakdown of how each of Mr. Wong’s attributes contributes to happiness, with links to some of our previous coverage on these correlations. But remember, as always, correlation is not necessarily causation.

RELIGION: On average, Jews have higher levels of well-being than their counterparts of every other major faith in America. Muslims have the lowest levels of well-being. In between, from happiest to least happy, are Mormons, atheists/agnostics, Roman Catholics, “other non-Christians” and then Protestants. For people of most religions, greater levels of religiosity (like frequent church or synagogue attendance) are associated with higher levels of happiness.

GENDER: Men, on average, report slightly higher levels of well-being, a score of 67 on a scale of 0 to 100, compared to women’s average score of 66.6. This modest gap is mostly because women score much lower on the physical health index, as measured by the presence of illnesses and various other physical ailments like neck pain and low energy.

RACE: Asians have by far the highest levels of well-being, followed by whites, Hispanics, blacks and then everybody who doesn’t fit into those defined categories. Asians beat out their non-Asian counterparts on five out of the six well-being sub-indexes: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors and basic access to things like food and shelter. The one category where whites beat them, but just barely, is work environment.

MARITAL STATUS: Married people have far and away the highest happiness levels. The biggest differential between married people and non-married people is in the work environment index. Across the entire index, married people are followed in happiness by singletons; people with domestic partners and people who have been widowed (these two categories have equal levels of well-being); those who are divorced; and finally, people who are married but separated.

CHILDREN: People who have children are slightly happier than people who don’t.

AGE: Seniors — those age 65 and older — rank as the happiest, followed by Americans under 30. The people in the middle —the ones with mortgages, teenagers, car loans and midlife crises — are perhaps understandably the ones who are more miserable.

INCOME: Income tracks very neatly with well-being. People earning under $12,000 annually lead the least happy lives, and the more money they make, generally speaking, the better off they are emotionally and physically. This probably makes sense when you consider what goes into the index, things like good health and access to basic needs like food and shelter. You can’t afford to lead “the good life” if you can’t afford much at all.

GEOGRAPHY: In 2010 Hawaii topped the well-being list, and West Virginia was at the bottom. If you want to zoom in further, you can see well-being rates by Congressional district. California’s 14th district, one of the highest-income districts in the country that also happens to include most of Silicon Valley, ranks at the top. Michigan’s 13th district, an area of high unemployment that covers parts of Detroit and the wealthier Gross Pointe suburbs, is at the very bottom of the barrel.

EMPLOYMENT: Americans who own their own businesses were the happiest on average in 2010, followed by professionals. The least happy are transportation and manufacturing workers.

HEIGHT: Randy Newman was right: Taller people are generally happier.

Came across an interesting visualization of how we make decisions by HopeLab (I believe it was presented at the Wisdom 2.0 conference last week).

What I like about it is the way it visualizes the many filters we place on our understanding of reality.

Wanted to share this fascinating Harvard Business Review article about what our workplaces might learn from the power of ritual and the sense of abundance rituals can provide.

Photo via Flickr's Wade Rockett

A key excerpt of this piece by Peter Bregman, also outlined in the Atlantic Wire piece, “What the Business World Can Learn from Religion”:

Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment. And that’s something we could use a lot more of in the business world.Imagine if we started each meeting with a recognition of the power of bringing a group of people together to collaborate and an intention to dedicate ourselves, without distraction, to achieving the goals of the meeting. Perhaps even an acknowledgement that each person’s views, goals, and priorities are important and need to be heard. Of course, that would require that every meeting have a clear goal, an agenda, and a purpose. But those are just nice side benefits.

What if every performance review began with a short thought about the importance of clear and open communication? If every time we worked on a spreadsheet someone else created for us, we paused to acknowledge the complexity of the work she did and the attention to detail she brought to it? If at the beginning of the day we paused to honor the work we are about to do and the people with whom we are about to do it?