Tag Archives: conference

The Consciousness Prosthetics: The Multi-Billion Year Evolved Brain and how it Lies to You.

I attended the Quantified Self conference at Stanford University on Saturday and I wanted to digest and present some of my notes and observations, notes first.


The number one amazing person I saw was Nancy Dougherty, Senior Electrical Engineer at Proteus Digital Health. I embed her previous year’s talk below about MINDFULNESS PILLS

These pills talk to her cell phone when she swallows them, this is proteus digital health technology. She labeled these pills as antidotes for her negative emotions, as a way to graph those emotions. In addition, she wanted to measure the placebo effect, which research shows works even when the taker KNOWS they are taking a placebo.

Calming Technology

I was surprised by the number of meditators at the conference. In fact, Sunday opened with a group meditation led by The Calming Technology Lab.

Your brain’s multi billion year advantage

What struck me at the conference was how there was simultaneously

  • a deep reverence for and
  • a deep suspicion of

the brain and sensory system to explain reality. I believe this stems from thousands of hours logged on self quantification experiments that truly uncover how the apparently seamless image of reality produced by the brain and sensory apparatus is really fragmented, discontinuous and untrustworthy, and how flashes of insight can be created by use of what I’ve decided to call consciousness prosthetics.

The first premise of this is simple that the brain itself is just an evolved information engine, and that this engine is primarily designed to process threat, nourishment and reproductive opportunities, probably in that order. It’s been evolving for several billion years at a minimum, and these main processing engines are extremely powerful… powerful enough to override conscious thought patterns.

I use the term “prosthetic” instead of “cybernetic” because it plays with the fusion of human and machine. A Prosthesis essentially replaces a missing part of a person, and I am here making the argument that conscious awareness is frequently a missing part of every person thanks to the limitations of the evolved mind.

In any event, the properties of Consciousness prosthesis as a subcategory of Quantified Self is characterized by the following:

  • Automated or near automated recording
  • Raises awareness of unconscious behaviors or mental states
  • Wearable or ingestable or highly body integrated technologies

What makes 2012 an interesting year from this perspective is the explosion of “smart mobile devices” including smartphones. With the ubiquity of powerful computing devices everywhere, we gain the ability (as do the projects above, both the Mindfulness pills and Breathware work hook up to smartphones) to ubiquitize this kind of equipment at a very low cost to just about everyone.

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The Enterprise 2.0 Crock

I think it’s great to have a panel called “Is Enterprise 2.0 a Crock?” at the Enterprise 2.0 conference. Much like SOA conference panels addressing “Is SOA Dead?”


Dennis Howlett posed this question in his blog, entitled Enterprise 2.0: What a Crock. The summary paragraph is quoted here:

Like it or not, large enterprises – the big name brands – have to work in structures and hierarchies that most E2.0 mavens ridicule but can’t come up with alternatives that make any sort of corporate sense. Therein lies the Big Lie. Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all. Yet none of that thinking has a credible use case you can generalize back to business types – except: knowledge based businesses such as legal, accounting, architects etc. Even then – where are the use cases? I’d like to know. In the meantime, don’t be surprised by the ‘fail’ lists that Mike Krigsman will undoubtedly trot out – that’s easy. In the meantime, can someone explain to me the problem Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve?

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe there are legitimate technologies that can help organizations collaborate and gain significant advantages. But the Enterprise 2.0 crowd for the most part do not show the kind of sophistication about the Enterprise that is needed. OF course there are many many counterexamples of people who are very sophistcated, @ITSinsider @Nenshad @PhilWW @Mastermark and others.

But when I hear panelists say things like:

* The way that business is organized is fundamentally changing, period
* we are breaking down silos
* I don’t know who goes into offices anymore
* Email “reply to all” costs $250,000

I really wonder if there’s enough healthy debate on this topic. It would be nice to see @dahowlett on the panel.

The concept that Silos are something that can be “broken down” shows the ignorance of the people saying it. I wont point a finger at the panelist who used the phrase, and I hear people saying this throughout the conference. But this is a completely wrong concept, and dangerous.

Silos, both organizational and technological are an emergent property of Enterprise. As I defined earlier in the week, the Enterprise can be defined as an organization whose mission requires longevity, size and growth. Longevity creates technology silos, growth creates organizational silos.

Christopher Allen cites Robin Dunbar very well in this post about the famous “Dunbar Number.” We are hitting fundamental limits to human social scalability in the Enterprise.

Until Enterprise 2.0 folks gain a deeper understanding of the day to day reality of the Enterprise, this will continue to have a superficial impact on the Enterprise. If we look back at Enterprise 2.0 in 20 years and can see lots of Enterprise 2.0 “legacy applications”, we can consider this effort to have been a success.

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Top 5 Definitions of Enterprise: focusing on the Enterprise in “Enterprise 2.0″

It’s a cool sunny day in San Francisco and there’s some bustle at the Moscone center.

Enterprise 2.0 conference.

You can tell it’s an Enterprise conference because unlike the Web 2.0 Conference there’s no free pass even to the show floor. Also the full pass is about $2500 bucks. One way to define Enterprise is:

  /ˈɛntərˌpraɪz/ [en-ter-prahyz]

5. Stuff I wouldn’t do unless you paid me.
crime scene clean up
This definition puts Enterprise squarely in the camp of crime scene janitorial services. It adds a concept of “professional” to the discussion and establishes the Enterprise as the realm of uncomfortable clothing. I recall reconnecting with Arthur Van Hoff after our adventures in Java and having him laugh at me because I was wearing (in his words) an “IQ Restrictor”, his parlance for a necktie. This definition also puts a dynamic tension between the “Suits” at the Enterprise 2.0 conference and the boho hipsters wearing the Emo Hair.

4. Software that sucks.
This was the definition I evoked in my post “The Human Enterprise.” To be honest, I introduced the idea of “The Human Enterprise as a direct counterproposal to “Enterprise 2.0″. I think the piece that was missing from The Human Enterprise is the extent to which fragmentation plays a role in the essential nature of the Enterprise, which is a theme I’ve been addressing more lately in terms of the effect of sheer size on the Enterprise.

3. A venture requiring industriousness or courage.
This definition deserves some attention because it in some ways captures exactly what’s missing from the current debate around the Enterprise. The extent to which courage has been slowly sapped by the ravages of the Great Recession and “job security” is to some extent disheartening. In particular, efforts to rejuvenate the complex IT System Architecture and to mitigate the effects of Entropy and the “Heat Death of IT” have been met with cries of “SOA is Dead“. So here’s a call for the restoration of courage in IT, to boldly go. Set phasers on “frappe”.

2. Dead stuff that used to matter
he's dead jim
Rumors of the death of Enterprise Software have been greatly exaggerated (nice post by David Hornik). The thing people find hard to understand about the longevity of most Enterprise IT is that “dead” software actually lives a long time. In fact dead software (nice post by James Governor) runs 90% of the economy. Another word for “legacy” is IT projects that worked. The word for IT projects that didnt work is “consolidation”. This should be especially resonant for folks at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, since 99% of the projects spawned by “Enterprise 2.0″ will fall into the latter category. We will have won when there’s “Legacy Enterprise 2.0″ apps out there.

1. An organization whose mission requires significant size, growth and longevity
I present this as the number one definition in an attempt to extract the most salient feature of the Enterprise to casual observers. The definitionis designed to be inclusive of Government organizations. I don’t want to open a can of worms (big government vs small government) but arguably some “missions” such as the regulation of interstate commerce and providing for the common defense would require a degree of size, scale and longevity. But what’s more interesting about this definition are the implications.

At this scale, the organization struggles with whether it’s “too big to fail” or “too big to succeed”.

The implications of size include fragmentation of organization into tribes.

The implications of growth include fragmentation of markets into niches.

The implications of longevity include fragmentation of technology into silos.


These forms of fragmentation is the key challenge of Enterprise, and the points that some E2.0 companies seem to miss. Trying to repackage consumer apps and peddle them to Enterprises misses the unique pain of Enterprise. I’ve spoken and written extensively about the effect of technological and organizational silos, for example in my book SOA Adoption for Dummies. But lately I’ve been thinking about the effects of market fragmentation.

There comes a tipping point in any large commercial sector Enterprise where the market for the flagship product or service becomes saturated. At this juncture, the revenue growth challenge becomes less about attracting and delighting new customers but rather about sucking as much money out of existing customers as possible. The example I will provide for you is the Apple iPod. At the risk of offending fanboys, the iPod market is saturated. I must own a half dozen iPods. Now I go running with my iPod nano 3g. When my 3g failed, I went to the Apple store to buy a new iPod. The way Apple segmented their products, they had created a low end model at $59 dollars (the clip) which had no screen, a “medium” range but portable option (the nano) at $150 and then the “platform” model, the iPod Touch at $199.

The nano costs only 50 bucks less than the Touch, but for users who want to run with an iPod, the Touch is too big. Since they overloaded the nano with features I dont want (accelerometer, video camera, FM radio) they were able to jack up the price.

ipod sucks

This kind of behavior exists in many mature markets, including cell phone plans. The cell phone companies have “package designers” who specifically design packages including SMS and email that rack up a maximum number of overcharges and fees. They design packages that exploit the gap between what users think they will use and what they actually use based on data mining in their demographics. This type of behavior makes the Enterprise essentially the “enemy” of the consumer. Of course we want successful companies to have profits so they can fuel the next generation of investment. I certainly want Apple to succeed and I bought their product even though I found it mildly distateful (it was still the best player for my purpose).

I wrote this post in the hopes that it would stimulate discussion about how people define the “Enterprise” in “Enterprise 2.0″.

My 2 cents,

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