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

Photo via Flickr's Rickydavid

The debate about the reason people believe what they believe is long and storied across the history of the world’s religions.

Are your beliefs shaped by your knowledge? Experience? Cultural worldview?  Are they reinforced by the way your brain is stimulated during spiritual experiences?

A recent Pew study surveyed almost 3,500 adults in the U.S. to explore the first of these categories:  knowledge about religion.

The highest levels of knowledge about religion are correlated with being atheist, agnostic, Jewish or Mormon, and with having higher levels of education.  The executive summary of the findings is available here.

Overall, the results suggest that a lack of shared knowledge about religion as a huge barrier to inter-religious (and even intra-religious!) understanding in the next decade of the U.S context.

Why do you believe what you believe?  Is it because you know the history or principles of a particular religion and it has either led you to reject or adhere to it?  Is it because of the experiences you’ve had or the community in which you’ve been raised?  Because of your brain chemistry?  All of the above?  Which factor would be the most crucial to explain when dialoging with someone who believes differently than you?

Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law & Religion has announced the line-up for their Interfaith Summit on Happiness, to take place in October 2010.

Speakers include the Dalai Lama, Katharine Jefferts Schori (Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church), Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth), and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr (George Washington University professor of Islamic Studies).

Each will offer a full academic address on the meaning and measure of happiness in the Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist traditions respectively.

Wish I could be there!  Since so much of the recent happiness literature has revolved around the connections between science/neuroscience and happiness, I hope that there will be some room in discussions that follow of what happens in the brain during religious experiences across faiths, and how it connects to happiness.

Unilever's Sunsilk advertises a product benefit to headscarf-wearing Muslim women

Consumer packaged goods are increasingly targeting both product design and marketing to connect with populations who choose their purchases based on religious criteria.

Liz Gooch’s recent New York Times article, “Advertisers Seek to Speak to Muslim Consumers” gives some interesting examples.

Other signals of this direction of change that Gooch highlights include:

Colgate-Palmolive‘s halal toothpastes and mouthwashes

Nokia‘s “Islamic organizer” with alarms for prayer time

Nestle products from Kit-Kats to Nescafe and more