A perfect data security service to protect our data and identity?

May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

What if I would suggest that it is possible to provide a 100% secure way of storing your data and in a way that the operator itself cannot read or reveal the data it is storing – even in front of any legal or other threat?

For example, the recent eBay episode where their user data (user names, passwords, addresses etc http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/us-ebay-password-idUSBREA4K0B420140521) were stolen would not worry you at all because you could be sure that even if they had all the data in their customer data storage, yours included, they could not find and indentify your data. You could sleep your nights well.

Further, what if you could decide on how various service providers in the net can collect data about you and your whereabouts? This will be possible with this same security solution where the operator simply does not know whose data it has and where exactly it is stored!

I’m lucky to work as the advisor for a project where such a (patented) system is on its way to the market, in various application and service forms. Of course it is an inspiring innovation challenge, but the most motivating ambition is to return the right to privacy to the individuals and to other actors who need protection, the right to own their personal data and the right to decide to whom they reveal it – or their identity. It is not only a matter of protecting our data, it is a profound human right and one of the most foundational requirements for true democracy as Pekka Pere, the chair of our company board has repeatedly emphasized. Sounds like science fiction? It is not.

The inflicted security neurosis

You don’t have to be a security pathologist to understand why people have lost their trust in data privacy. But it is even more surprising how firms and technology innovators alike express this same tendency to worry and helplessness. Having attended a few recent meetings and seminars on data security in Silicon Valley and in Finland I’ve been astonished by the lack of trust in the (near) future technology’s ability to solve the current security problems – once and for all. I know there are highly competent people and teams in the field, take a look at the Stanford University computer scientists, for example, but in general, most of the population and even computer professionals seem to suffer from a social helplessness syndrome in data security.


SanatCruzNo Why this helplessness?

It is not long time ago when the first seriously dangerous computer viruses gave their wake-up call to individuals and public and private organizations alike. Then came the targeted attacks like the Stuxnet worm in 2010 – only a year after the publication of the famous book “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez, where he painted a black fictional landscape for the worst future possibilities in data crime. Only quite recently we learned from Wikileaks, NSA, and Snowden that no data is safe today.

Last, the FBI and the US Government, in 2014, made their call by ensuring that even a data service operator, with good motivations, cannot offer secure data storage or mail systems to their eager and worried clients: the Government forced the operator to reveal their keys to access the data of interest, actually any ‘suspicious’ data – and in this way, made the trust-based business of LavaBit impossible in USA.

It is time to turn around the security question and formulate it anew:

Now that a perfectly secure data storage system becomes available, protecting your data so that none can hack it from its storage site and the system does not reveal your identity, what can – and what should we do with such a service and application? My prediction for a rather near future is that we will have to relearn the ways of protecting our data and identity but also to learn new ways to express our trust in the world of the virtual. Traditional protection systems are needed as before but the security game as a whole will change and people and firms will benefit from it. This will touch a number of digital service providers in all sectors of public and private life when they cannot take it for granted that they have automatic access to our data.

Hence, here are some of my first thoughts about the consequences of this change in security services and everyday practices. I believe that once we have our products on market and the potential customers – firms, public or private organizations or individuals – have learned to trust the new security tools and services, a game change is inevitable. The team with which I work will not be the only ones trying to ignite it; the markets have been ripe for some time already.

We deserve a 100% security

We all benefit from the services offered by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Pinterest, you name it – in exchange for the personal data we offer them to be used according to any of their business models. Visiting Stanford in 2010 and discussing some of these issues with my always inspiring colleagues there, I started thinking about a possibility to found a data & knowledge broker who could interfere with this situation – what I see partly as an unjust arrangement – and to start taking care of our personal benefits and protecting us when needed.

No such brokers have appeared so far, and then it happened that Manu Rautakoura – a friend and a security business pro, with similar ideas – started discussing this theme with me openly over FB. Finally, we ended up on a better idea related to Manu’s and his colleagues’ work: they had already started a most ambitious and innovative development work on personal data security – the 100% security concept I have mentioned above. We realized that their data and identity protection scheme could become one of the first significant steps towards a new arrangement of the secure, perhaps even dynamically anonymous personal data markets of the near future.

Personal data is our true currency, stronger than bitcoin

The most important data asset we have as individuals or firms is the knowledge of the security status of our data, be it family finances, other economical data and documents, private life episodes, inventions, work in progress, customer documents, health, whatever. Traditional computer security systems are surprisingly weak in providing this asset to us in a trustworthy form and it seems like people have just adapted to this unhappy situation – while being increasingly more worried about their data privacy and security.

It is a serious learning experience for anyone to find out how important it is to have the right to our own data so that it is not used against us in an unjust way. Public and private organizations alike can sometimes put us in a situation where by owning our data and using it according to their whatever business or service models, they can put an unjust pressure on us, affect and limit our behaviors – without offering any alternative solutions to us. There are a number of asymmetric transaction situations on the personal data markets of which well-known examples are the cases where a person’s credit history data is not perfect for reasons the person himself knows but the companies do not care to note. Similar problems occur when a person’s health-related precondition allows insurance companies to deny insurance services.

Most of us have nothing against telling the whole and honest health story when asked by a reliable company or organization, willing to offer its help and to use data for that purpose. But if the company does not have any service offer to its customers who are in trouble – and by that can only cause extra harm to them – then they do not deserve the right to access that personal data neither. It should always be a two-ways street of trust. Actually, the patient or any customer offers valuable capital, the data and identity, to the serving firm, which can then easily turn it into economical capital.

Knowing the true security status

The data security firms have not succeeded in helping us know our own security status and they try to teach us to trust when they say that “your virus defense has been updated” or that “we have a secure system”. When new threats occur, they have “updated their protections systems and services”. We need and deserve more: we simply have to know when our savings and the documents related to them are really safe and that nobody can access our private data.

The knowledge of the security level of our own data is not only a nice service or luxury (or a burden to the security provider) – it is the most influential knowledge that can guide us in managing our valuable assets of life. Anything can happen in the world and cause problems but we need to know exactly what is the security status of our possessions (e.g. customer data if we are a firm, personal data as individuals) in the storage systems we rely on. Our company should be able to provide that level of security within six months from now.

As shown by the scary example on how FBI and the US Government acted in the security case we now know that even the operators cannot guarantee complete security in USA – unless they are offered a suitable technology to do that. Of course, USA is not alone in the security battle and on these problematic markets, and we should better know the related practices in China, Russia and many other countries, small and large alike.

Better UI for data security awareness

Data security and privacy protection systems are perhaps the worst UI examples within the ict applications industry today, especially considering how vital they are to their user. Hence, I had an extra delight to be early involved with our security concept development and for once, could have a word early on how to build the UI so that it supports everything that the tools and the systems have been built for – to help the people and firms in knowing their security status, for real. I assumed the extra role as UI-concept designer for a totally new, simple and fresh way to help people in managing their own personal and identity security. This will appear on the systems to come.

What about cyber-criminals?

It is perhaps a wet dream of the cyber-criminals to have a 100% secure data storage and communication system – like ours – for storing any sensitive and criminal data. This being the fact of future we should again turn the question around: how can we involve people and help them provide secure ways to allow access to any of their data when they think it is relevant and beneficial for them or the society?

Then remain the serious questions of what to do when a cyber-criminal refuses to reveal the key to the criminal data or what does it mean when criminals have 100% secure ways of communicating and conducting their evil deeds? We do not have a solution to these problems now but we are convinced that whatever the solutions will be, they have to achieve the trust of the people who comply with such new arrangements. We will be developing these thoughts further and continue the discussion in the blog and in our coming Youtube videos.




On strategic perception III: Perception theorist meets a strategist

December 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is not the right place to make a detailed ‘correspondence analysis’ of the perception system architectures, intelligent perception-action systems (very little is actually known of them), and the strategy process elements but surely this will be happening in the future strategy research. Here I deal with a few less-known but inspiring aspects of perception, which I have admired over the years and explain their implications to strategy thinking. Further, although it is not often mentioned here I assume that all perceptions-action processes are tuned and colored by feelings, experiences, and emotions.  We cannot live without them. Of course, not all phenomena described are new or novel, but they are worthwhile to ponder.

I chose the following ones: functional structure of perception, invariance-based perception, and opportunity perception. The last one is a relatively novel concept and even non-existent – as far as I know – in perception sciences (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception/). The point here is to see if they could offer guidelines to the design of efficient strategy processes.


Functional structure of perception

 The human perception system is the best example of a successful strategic architecture I can imagine.  However, it is not as well known as many would think. If you doubt this claim just try to find a general theory on perception in the scientific literature – it does not exist although masses of data, some promising ‘small’ theories, and research paradigms exist.

No species can survive without agile perception-action; it is our essential capability supporting our development as primitive and cultural organisms – simultaneously. Of course, each species has its own advantages like the extended spectrum of vision in birds and insects, the amazing skill of birds to ‘compute’ the time-to-target time in their flight, the infrared sense of snakes or the zoom-like properties of the eagle eye. These exceptional qualities have provided them with real, perception-based strategic advantages. Here I use a few metaphorical views – derived from the analysis of intelligent perception – for the architectural analysis of the strategy processes in firms.

Strategic lessons of perception architecture

Ascending centers of intelligence. During biological development the increasingly intelligent processes of organisms are progressively drawn upwards in the (neural/sensory-perceptual) system. There are upper limits to this, and because of that the most developed species like some birds, mammals and humans have learned to outsource parts of their perception-action architecture  (use of tools, writing, technology in general, cultural objects). These intelligent resources are then refined and incorporated into the perception-action system, while the early object and feature recognition processes are made fast, reliable, and automatic.

There are two parallel development streams in the evolution of the perception-action architecture: towards faster and automatic early processes and towards the intelligent higher levels, including the adoption of tools. Interestingly, when humans learned to produce – outsource their specific perception/action processes – cultural objects, symbols and even writing, development did not stop there. Instead this material then became available for the internal processes as well in the form of imagery and imagination. Because of that, intelligent perception has become a continuously evolving system with interacting external and internal components.

It is not straightforward at all to define any upper limit to the quality and kind of tools that can be adopted. Of course it s possible to speculate about the neural processing limits of the mankind, but we simply do not have enough scientific knowledge to support this analysis (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/203/).
Human retina, for example, does not deal with the most complex visual processing and has allocated it to higher or ‘later’ layers, at the cortex.  Frog and rabbit eyes, on the other hand, use significant resources to record movement direction, for example, already on the retina in a way that does not take place in the human eye. The ‘bug detector’, an example of the early intelligence,  is a term originally used in the study of frog retina where such detectors exist.

The evolutional pathway may appear as a contrast to the prevalent organizational development of shifting decision power in the top-down direction. But a good strategic question remains, what kind of intelligent processing is valuable enough – and why – to be shifted higher up and transformed in the command chains or system network and what exactly is good to implement at lower levels and in what form and content? It is not only a division of labor between the lower and higher level processes but a genuine change of quality in both. Notice that I do not use the expression ‘should be left to’  – I want to emphasize that it is a matter of intelligent and learning resourcing of the organism’s strategy.

With the complex, emerging value network environments of future firms the distribution of different resources in the firm becomes an increasingly difficult strategy problem. We have outlined some of the behavioral aspects of this challenge in  “Behavioral theory of a networked firm in value network environment” (Göte Nyman et al., 2013). Preparing this blog I realized how significant role ‘network perception’ – the way a firm perceives an environment and itself – has in value network analysis.

Humans and rabbits have different strategic landscapes in the world and nature keeps experimenting with the biological strategies. As a result, our higher brain centers have become specialized in the analysis of complex, neurally computable object relationships (related e.g. to spatial analysis, numerosity, scene structures, color relationships, sound source recognition, among many others) in the external and internal world. Surprisingly little, however, is known how the brain perceives the internal environment. I have observed a neglect of the formal analysis of the internal perception in firms, but a similar tendency seems evident in psychological sciences, too – there is a scant interest in the formal-theoretical study of internal perception.  This is not the place to go deeper in this topic, but I do mean more than just subjectivity in referring to the problem of strong form of internal perception.  I believe hat in a near future many of the internal perceptual phenomena we now call ‘experiences’ or ‘conscious processes’ will be treated as specific forms of pattern recognition and decision making.

Assigning perceptual bandwidth and priorities. Connectivity to the higher centers from the sense organs, the retina for example, is arranged so that the most relevant information from the sensory ‘radar-field’ (the center of view in vision, sensitivity of fingertips, and lips, for example) is assigned a significant information transmission and pre-processing power. There are also ‘fast lanes’ that carry relevant attention-grabbing visual and other sensory information along special pathways somewhere higher in the system, where it has special value. At the moment we can only speculate about these functions. In the Vasa ship case, there was no fast lane to carry the perception data to the King who could have stopped the maiden cruise or warned about its dangers.
Foveal information from the visual field with diameter of only a few degrees uses most of the fibers from the human retina to the brain centers. The primary cortical areas have large cell masses reserved for hands, fingers, lips and the tongue, for example. Frogs for example, have a different retinal organization and the frog’s eye is more uniform in this sense and it roughly reminds of a camera sensor-cell system.

Considering firms, we can ask how should information-action relevance be defined and how to assign the bandwidth within the whole perceptual architecture? Of course it is a strategic resourcing question, but with increasing importance of dynamic, networked environments it becomes a wicked problem. Hence, whatever the answer to this will be – or was in the case of the financial crisis, Vasa ship, Challenger investigations, the Finnish Government – it is a most profound matter of strategic analysis and discourse in any organization. However, it is not uncommon to rely on strategic conventions and measures that together with a rigid power structure actually mask the perceptive processes.

Purposeful feed-back. Division of (fast) labor, feed-back, and functional organization starts as early as possible in the sensory pathway, already before the higher centers are reached, and it continues there and throughout the system. All human sensory systems (and already on the retina, or in the auditory pathway, for example) have strong feed-back (also lateral feed, either inhibiting or exciting) at all levels which helps the system to adapt fast to changing environmental conditions. Feed-back has different functions, depending at what level of the system it happens. The early processing, sensory feed-back can e.g. clean the noisy incoming stream of data and help reveal the relevant signals from other stimulation like overall luminance in vision and the noise background in hearing. At higher levels feed-back can have a role in a complex state control and world model updating, for example.

But not all feed-back is valuable – its system properties like time constants, purpose and processing cost determine its value – which in the natural, dynamic organizational context is actually difficult to model and quantify.

Cross-functional connectivity. Very early and rich connections are made with functionally different (other senses, motion, emotion, attention and arousal control, orientation etc) centers in different parts of the cortical and subcortical brain. All senses feed to the brain centers responsible for the sleep-wakefulness, orientation, and alertness. In other words, they all have access to vital function of our bodies. It is not well known how and why these connections have developed but of course it is easy to speculate that they provide – what is now known in organizations – a possibility for the bottom-up and top-down information to cross functional boundaries in order to guarantee relevant state-related behavior in the multi-dimensional world. Extreme specialization and functional separation would be inefficient, costly, and probably disastrous.

Early relationship processing. This is perhaps the most foundational aspect of sensory and perceptual processing but it is rarely discussed in popular texts on perception: as soon as possible, perception becomes relational (relationship computations). As a result, information about signal feature (and object) relationships – not of the features themselves – is carried to or offered for further analysis by higher centers. For example, there is no exact or unique point-to point mapping between the optical image on the retina and the visual cortex.  Knowing that a visual cortical cell is active does not allow back-wards computing to know what exactly has caused its activity. The same is true for all sensory data. We live in the middle of an inverse problem of the brain and life. Top-down connectivity makes this kind of systems even more complex – but also adaptive.

The relationship extraction starts already at the receptor level. In the eye, a receptor cell does not sit there quiet waiting for photons to arrive and to excite it. It has a hidden biological engine that keeps its membrane potential at a suitable level for survival. When photons then hit it, a biochemical process with strong ionic feed-back processes is initiated and the membrane potential changes: this is called cell response, but actually it is a cell system response and intimately connected with the surrounding biochemical processes.  The physical world as we interpret and experience it has already at the receptor layer lost its 1-1 mapping on our senses. In this sense it is impossible to exactly perceive the world. But there is sense in this: without such a relativistic process the brain would be overloaded with ‘stupid’ information – copies of the optical images or sound waves and the system just would not work. It would be ore or less like a digital computer memory. If our senses copied the word in 1-1 fashion our mind would be a universe of crowded with irrelevant material – a perfect bureaucracy.

I don’t think that any (human) measurement conducted by an organization is different from what goes on in the retinal cell. It is basically a relationship extraction process by an active recipient (a worker, analyst, researcher, engineer) who extracts (locally, but dependent) meaningful relationship information from the received stimuli (customers, partners, contractors, networks). Then there is the inverse problem in trying to interpret the data – what exactly has caused that data to be available?

In simple firm situations this relationship perception happens without problems: monitoring well-known phenomena or conducting straightforward measurements can be accomplished without errors and we have learned to make the right guesses and behave accordingly.  But as soon as the objects of observation become dynamic, complex, dependent on other objects, or just adopt unexpected behaviors, the characteristics of the observer or the observing systems as a whole start affecting the ‘measurement’.  This is nothing new to theoretical physicists. The observer characteristics are affected by system variables, like the royal pressure in the Vasa case or the limited field of view of the financial analysts of the US Government during the crisis.

When an event is measured or perceived the priority-one goal for the organism, or a firm, is to guess what has caused the event. But the same percept can occur for totally different reasons. Only a tested or otherwise reliable theory or a model of the world can help the perceiver to interpret the measurement data.

Integration of feature, object and scene information. All incoming sensory information is integrated and sensed together: the perceptual system makes holistic inferences about it and makes always one plausible and possible interpretation (object vs. background, for example) about the world perceived. This is why flight simulators (vision, sense of acceleration, tilt) or 3D movies with various augmentation features (tremor, water puffs, sound surround) work so fine and we are led to feel as if living in one world only – it really is a miracle performance how we accomplish this since other alternative world interpretations do exist always, both in real life and in simulators. Sometimes such a unique interpretation is not stable and we can see alternating versions of the same world. This happens in the well-known figure-ground perception demonstrations but it is not rare in firm contexts where the management can disagree whether they are facing a threat or an opportunity. There are some eye-opening visual demonstrations of this:




Attentive mechanisms guide perception and efficient action. Priority systems govern the perception processes and have the capability to orient the system towards the relevant source and to invest the best resources to the analysis and required responses. Amazingly, the attentive system is actually capable – almost hardwired – to take the full system (body and soul) control for a limited amount of time, as long as it is necessary to gain relevant understanding of the environment or of the organism itself and act accordingly. However, it is not only a catastrophe processing protocol, it is a most natural part of our everyday life and behavior.

Shared resources for internal and external analysis. Partly the same higher processes start dealing with both sensory information originating from the environment and the information generated within the system (imagination, memory, attention, for example). It is not well known how all this happens in the brain and senses although a popular topic are the mirror cells believed to demonstrate just this kind of resource sharing (cf. Rizzolatti, for example).

Perceptual invariance.

This is a fascinating but not well-known aspect of perception. In this context invariance refers to the relationship between the elements of the world that remain perceptually constant or similar under variable conditions. When we perceive the world or our own internal states we do not directly experience the invariant relationship because it is inherent or inbuilt in our experiences. A popular example from human vision is instructive.  Let us assume that the retinal image size of a person we are looking at from a 2 meter distance is 14 mm high. When the person then moves to 4 m distance from us the size of the retinal image becomes halved and it will be 7 mm. Amazingly, and as we all have experienced it, we do not see the size of a person to shrink (with the size of the retinal image) when he moves away from us.  This is called size constancy and it is based on a perceptual size invariance: the brain has detected something in the world, a relationship between the image of the person and then image of his environment (room height, for example) on the retina that remains relatively the same in both situations. This makes it possible to perceive the object size as a constant. We have no experience of this ‘computational’ process happening, it simply happens as a percept.

When firms measure any objects of interests they face the same challenge that some call the contextuality of the data: having the measurement data is not enough and can even be misleading  if they do not know the scene against which it has been observed or collected. Market data, for example can be highly sensitive to the cultural background  of the consumers which makes comparing the purchasing behaviors in different cultures problematic. This can introduce a risk of misinterpreting the  data. On the other hand, having the relevant data about the scene or environment can provide significant added value to the computations and make them more intelligent.

Perception experimentalists do know that if we observe a person totally without the environment, this constancy disappears or is at least weaker. Through the invariance phenomenon we have gained the knowledge that the observed object (the person) has not changed although the image (information) of him has shrunk on the retina. It is a most intelligent and valuable ability to perceive objects and phenomena in the world as the same even though our sensory mechanisms record significant changes that are caused by the environment or the behavior of the target itself.

Our brains have learned to infer the nature of an object from the information provided by other aspects of the world and the workings of our senses. It is an extremely complex process. Perception is not a simple physical measurement process and it is actually rather bad in measuring anything (physically) objectively but it works for us in this world and at the scale of our living.

If we did not have this ability we would be exhausted. According to a story, there is a small fish – the journal reference to which I have lost – that does not have this size constancy and it has been reported to attack anything that produces a certain size of a retinal image on its eye: sometimes the object can be an edible, nearby bug or a large fish far away from its reach. You can guess how such a creature behaves in clear water: it wastes a lot of energy. Maybe it lives in murky waters, where it just cannot see far, I don’t know.

Any organization should be interested in the internal and external object relationships that remain invariant. However, it is equally important to notice when an invariance is breaking down because it is a sign of significant change in the state of the world or of its objects. A current (analogical, a bit far fetched perhaps) example is the popular media discourse on print vs. digital magazine consumption. Not so long ago, some analysts seemed to think that it is basically a zero-sum phenomenon: an invariant total number of printed and digital magazines are read per customer. They claimed that because of this invariance, the fast increase in digital magazine consumption is causing the death of print.

If the ‘perception system’ of a firm is tuned only to direct measures and metrics it will miss the important relationships. For example, market data has not shown the magazine reading to fall with the same speed as digital reading has increased.  Similarly, the number of car accidents has not increased in direct proportion to the number of mobile phones used in cars – indicating that mobile phone use in cars is not directly causing car accidents. Such relationships are complex and finding invariances is puzzling. But they are hugely important in understanding the world through perception.

Other current examples are facebook and Twitter, for example, and the type of networks people (unconsciously) build there. There are many business-, technological, and economical reasons to be curious about what in these behavior networks remain structurally invariant even when their size and connectivity changes (http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130828/srep02522/full/srep02522.html. Having this knowledge can help planning campaigns, estimate ROIs, distribute any information and reach audiences- commercially or otherwise. Basically, this too is a matter of recognizing the invariances – and why they occur.

It is a most strategic perceptual decision to select between two or more alternative world-views. The famous works by Kahneman and Tversky, the Nobel laureates demonstrations were no different from this, only the decision domains studied were different: they could show how people make different decisions depending whether they have a vision of sacrificing or saving people. Such a vision would, on average, determine how people perceive the problem at hand, which would then have a significant impact on the perceived problem solving opportunities. On the other hand, there is a good reason to ask how often we actually perceive the world in such a clean arrangement?


Opportunity perception (OP).

I have described the essence of OP as I understand it in https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception. Every now and then organizations are surprised by a competitor perceiving the world in a totally different – productive or disastrous – way.  One of my most educational experiences dates back to year 2001 in trying to encourage the technology management at Nokia to open their device systems for sw developers and to create what is now seen as an ecosystem. In giving the talk to the Nokia tech managers – it included this explicit suggestion – I could immediately see and feel that they did not perceive any opportunity in what I was offering.  Only one of about 40 participants – she had a psychology (!) background  – approached me and commented on its importance and relevance. Surprised by this lack of interest and reaction I wrote a letter back to one of the supervisors, even put it in English and suggested it to be shared:

The issue concerns the degree to which mobile phone products (or other related or similar products in general) should have an architecturally open structure for usability components”. Then I continued:  “There is no doubt that some major player in this area will open up their devices and in some phase get a status as open standard and start an avalanche of usability applications from personal to very specific ones and even technical…” (dated on 5h January, 2001).

Nothing happened, no reaction.  Anyone who knows or remembers what was going on in the mobile phone industry then, understands that this was a very-very early indication of an opportunity. We all know what Apple did – apparently perceiving the opportunity.

The question arises: what prevents from seeing even the most valuable strategic opportunities? In this specific case all professionals in Finland already new about the open Linux and everyone could follow the Mac/Apple use culture; the evidence was there for everyone to see, it was not a weak signal – but it was not perceived.

Engagement aversion is a peculiar type of blindness

Immediate threats are easy to see, to recognize the opportunities for being damaged or hurt and to react because it is imperative. It is a very basic biological requirement for survival.  Positive opportunities, on the other hand, mean an invitation to a voluntary engagement, perhaps a change of the current world view  – and it requires time & work, re-orientation and re-thinking. It is a demanding strategic requirement and especially when the dominant ways to perceive seem to work well. In such situations it is not rare at all to observe what I have called ‘engagement aversion” in managers who already are overloaded by responsibilities and tight schedules.

Opportunity perception and entrepreneurship

‘Strategy’ in the firm relies on the perception of opportunities to achieve the vision and to reach the related sub-goals. In cognitive psychology, chess is a popular research model of strategic decision making and players have been studied in order to understand high-level strategic perception and action together, cf. e.g. de Groot, A. D. (1965). Thought and choice in chess. The Hague: Mouton & Company;  Hartston, W. R. & Wason, P. C. (1983). The psychology of chess. London: Batsford.

But even these studies the concept of perception is somewhat vague and researcher like Simon and Chase (1973), for example, were skeptical about the possibility to obtain relevant verbal information about perception at all:

“The player’s perceptual processing of the board is so rapid (and probably unavailable to conscious introspection) that it is impossible to obtain an accurate verbal description of the process from him.”

They focused on the rather primitive concept of ‘chunk’ in perception and memory. Actually it refers to a meaningful cognitive storage and perception entity (the exact nature of which is practically unknown) – a kind of knowledge package – that the players use in various chess-related tasks. A simple lesson from these well-known studies was that the masters of chess perceive and pay attention to meaningful structures and relationships, not individual pieces of the game and in this sense they differ from amateurs. Professional wine tasters have a similar ability: they use a rich and systematic vocabulary for classifying and differentiating wine tastes, which allows them to perform better than amateurs. As far as I know, it is not yet known, which chemical aspects in the wines exactly produce the most informative taste perceptions that the tasters then actually use for evaluating the various aspects of the wine quality.

The exceptional skills of the wine tasters are not rare aspects of intelligent human perception in general, and with my team POEM we have numerous similar findings from the studies on the perception and evaluation of camera and print image quality, for example (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/subjective-image-quality-beauty-and-the-beast-in-vision/). Similarly,  Tapio Lokki from Aalto University in Finland has conducted most impressive studies on the subjective perception and evaluation of the quality of spaces like concert halls (cf. https://mediatech.aalto.fi/en/research/virtual-acoustics). In other words, efficient perceptual (subjective) processing is a core competence in extremely complex environmental situations but it requires a systematic and a language of its own.

OP as a concept is receiving increasing interest in the study of entrepreneurship (cf. Shane & Venkataraman, 2000; Eckhardt & Shane, 2003, Zolin, 2013). Most of these studies use the terms opportunity identification, opportunity recognition and opportunity pursuit but with much conceptual variation. However, as far as I have noticed it they do not include any real theory of perception and instead rely on everyday concepts of perception. Hence they have remained descriptive, and conceptually superficial.

Among the OP studies there is an interesting approach concerning the need to speed up the strategy process. Eckhardt & Shane, 2003 have introduced what they call “The life cycle of opportunities” by which they refer to the risk for transient advantages – just like in any strategic choice – in capitalizing on a new opportunity.  Their view is related to the classic work and ideas by Schumpeterian (1934) and suggests an approach to manage the temporal risks of quickly emerging and changing competitive landscape.

Participation spans the firm’s perception array

Organizations vary in how much they involve their personnel or the customer-audience in their vision processes.  Firms having their roots in the Nordic countries are known from the participatory organizational culture. However, the underlying thought pattern is the same as elsewhere, namely that company vision is to be shared; unit- and even individual visions should be aligned and by that make the vision respected and pursued. Only if something extraordinary – in terms of risk management – happens the shared vision can and should be immediately changed or modified. In normal practice, however, the iteration is accomplished only every year and typically, less frequently, a major change is introduced. Emphasizing the ‘ shared vision’ has overshadowed the real need for shared organizational perception.

The complexities of the present world, the global and multi-cultural giants, the networked environment and the emerging value networks have for some time challenged a straightforward ‘shared vision’ paradigm. For example, the powerful and connected social media – external or internal to firms – networks, and the new information and communication channels have made almost any organizational system practically open and continuously adaptive in nature.  Navigating and managing an open system, in a multi-cultural and dynamic network world demands specific framing of the value chains that are fast becoming networks. Ecosystem ambitions, so fashionable a concept in the consideration of the digital markets, flourish and companies try to find competitive advantages through building them or participating in the existing ones.

As a result the traditional strategic orientation of the firm much evolve towards an attention system almost like a perception array being strongly guided and directed by its intelligent and multidimensional perception. Of course, the mission of the firm remains the foundation although even that can become increasingly challenging. Sticking to the traditional vision-strategy cycle is a major risk itself and it can become an obstacle to organizational progress as it has happened to the Finnish Government. The search for a dynamic strategy process model is on.

At the writing of this I just read a hilarious and educating article on how the management of many firms have already learned a double behavior: the strategy life vs. real life: The article  “Zorro-management” by professors Mika Pantzar ja Janne Tienari (Kauppalehti 28th November 2013) describes their observations on how the local management of multi-national or otherwise centralized, large companies are learning to lead a double life: to obey to and communicate with the headquarters according to the top-down strategy demands and the jargon to which they just have to respond by “yeas, of course” and “here is our strategy document” and to behave as good company strategists. But at night – in real life – they put on their Zorro masks and work with real, local company people and try to help them to work, make working life worth living, to use their own thinking and understanding to achieve something good. Not all companies have a brave Zorro to dare this and I doubt if a Zorro really ever gets promoted in Finland.

Requirements for the tools of strategic perception

There is the hidden assumption that it is realistic to assume the existence of a unanimous audience for a company vision. As a consequence, the management feels the pressure for effective communication which then forces the vision statements to be condensed and easy to understand by everyone – actually defined by the weakest links – in defining the objectives, either in the form of economical, value-related or other performance measures. It is probably impossible to find a vision definition that would be complex, inherently adaptive, multi-purpose, dynamic and multi-dimensional in nature. There are many reasons for this and one is the requirement to be able to measure the progress towards the vision. Furthermore, a plethora of metric are then used actually to freeze the vision and the strategy work. This overall process has not changed over the years and is getting relatively slower.

The vision statements are meant to be ambitious and to promise all the good for the firm and its customers. It is no surprise then that there is the frequent complaint that “they failed to fulfill the vision”. For example, our leading Government members seem actually afraid of failing publicly to reach – at any price – the visions or goals of which they are responsible in the Governmental Program.

On a national level and even within the political system the information society is making individual (human) visions increasingly different.  Accordingly, the perception of opportunities for a progress are becoming fragmented. Instead of emphasizing the coherent vision model in firms, the perception-based strategy view suggests to take it as a fact that a detailed, shared vision is becoming impossible and even be a hindrance to the firm. Of course, shared interest in and possibility for opportunity perception is crucial at al levels of a modern firm: you may call it empowerment, delegation, directing attention, motivation, or value-based behavior, but in essence it means a shared ground that guides the orientation to opportunities. Opportunity perception on the other hand, precedes personal and organizational intentions (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/the-psychology-behind-internet-of-behaviors-ib/) and the pursuit of opportunities (cf.  Stevenson, H. H., and T. M. Amabile. “Entrepreneurial Management: In Pursuit of Opportunity.” Harvard Business School Press, 1999).

Perhaps in the near future some of the following elements will the core elements of a dynamic strategy process in a firm having a purpose, motivation and goals:

– spanning the perception array,
– defining  intelligent and purposeful perception,
– processing of intention data,
– support for opportunity perception
– pursuit of opportunities and
– tuning the feed-back architecture.

It may be difficult and risky to change the current system, especially starting from a well-defined and rigid strategy model. The obstacles are many, ranging from strategy-oriented reward systems and power structures to the dominant organizational cultures. I do not have direct data available here but I guess that the speed by which the vision statements are today proving to be wrong, irrelevant or even hazardous, is increasing.

Guidelines for building a purposeful strategy process?  Not yet.

To return back to where we started: all animals – alone or as herds – are capable of opportunity perception, of purposeful, goal-directed behavior relying on the biologically implemented strategy systems and intelligent perception architectures. Using these resources they build an internal world model according to which they can pursuit their goals and act with full power when needed.

Opportunity perception is almost totally unknown perceptual-cognitive-motivational-creative phenomenon but it is an essential aspect of intelligent perception. As a first approximation I introduced the foundations of the concept of  “Firm perception” which actually means a functional entity consisting of Perception architecture+ Intelligent perception+Opportunity perception+Opportunity pursuit. I will later continue developing it further and bring it closer to perception-inspired building of the strategy process.

Conquering the audio space: let the world talk to me!

December 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Visual technologies and culture surround us everywhere and has made us deaf to innovative audio. Simultaneously, the radio, music channels, and mobile talk have made us blind to the huge possibilities of the audio space in general.

What follows is again one of the ideas I’ve presented to the representatives of a decreasingly famous telecommunication firm in Finland – without too much excitement of reception: expanding the audio space for any human purpose. So, I will here shortly introduce the concepts in the hope that somewhere, some might be inspired by it. Whatever happens, these technological innovations will be available for us one day.

Visual information overloads us: the displays get larger and cheaper, 3D is here, flashing, moving, and talking displays surround us, ebooks are desperately trying to conquer our everyday life, and more is to come.  It is easy to predict what will happen: we have to learn to neglect the visual streams, fight against the visual noise by neglect, and the broadcasters will be frustrated observing the decreasing efficiency of their visual communications.

The simple reason for the problem of sensory disturbances and interference is that we are extremely bad in attending to two or more simultaneous tasks requiring vision. Because we are visual creatures and our surrounds have already been conquered by visuals, a simple solution is a better use of different sensory channels, which in today’s communication practice means expanding the available audio space and boosting its potential.

The familiar visual and audio developments have overshadowed the possibility to use audio space in a novel way and for new forms of communications, shadowing, interaction, on-line face-to-face communication, audio-shopping, and audio-based browsing – spontaneous talking to each other.

This is how it could go:

Imagine that we could always hear what we see: a shop telling its story, a person talking to anyone who wants to hear about his or her life, car drivers telling where they are going, train saying when its leaving, practically any object or anyone of us – could have a directional audio transmitter that sends audio that we want to broadcast or with what we want to create interaction. We would have audio connection with everything and everybody we can see and with those who can see us and are interested.  There are numerous technological ways to accomplish this.

Some might think this is just augmented reality that you could use as an application with the googleglasses, for example. Yes, of course it could be used with them but it is easier, and more fun and we are simply more efficient and accurate in just pointing at what interests us. We can then use the head and eye movements for what they are needed for in our attentive behavior.

More importantly: it is time to expand the audio space in our everyday life – work, education, business, and on just about any activity that is relevant to us. Anyone interested in the information offered through such audio sources could then get access – with practically no more effort or disturbance than from listening to music – by simply pointing his device to the source and locking to it: the object, the shop window, a person, or whatever and start reception or even interaction. A shop might want to tell about their new products, campaigns or offerings or just about their own thinking about anything. An advert could tell more than is shown by the flashing visuals to the eager listener. Objects could talk to us. People could talk to each other more. And it would not block our vision. But we would be in control – always.

A huge untouched audio space waits for the conqueror and is available for us for innovative and valuable purposes. As a technology it would be less disturbing than the visual one that demands our full 100% attention when looking at or reading something on a display or following a trailer or other ongoing story. Driving a car and following a live broadcast from a large display near the road is simply dangerous. We all have already learned how easy it is to listen to music when walking on the street, at work or while being engaged with other activities of life. Visual world alone is simply too demanding.

Finally, it is possible that these ideas have been around already for years. If so, I just wish something will happen with it in real audio life. If it is really new, perhaps a mobile phone company could conquer the audio space first. Internet of general audio does not really exist yet. And last, a mp is not a bad pointer and the earplugs are here already here. The audio space is huge and only the audio imagination sets the limits.

On strategic perception II: problems

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

On strategic perception II: problems

My perception journey to strategy turned out to be somewhat longish so I decided to post it in three parts. But first, I felt it fair to present already here the summary of the implications from my ‘intelligent perception’ –analysis and its relevance to strategy thinking. A comprehensive strategy process model is not realistic here and of course, various perception-analysis driven strategy process designs are possible. But if you happen to find these thoughts interesting I hope the background explanations in part III will inspire you.

What would a perception theorist ask a strategist?

I have put the perception implications in a question form and as you will see I keep repeating – on purpose – the word ‘perception’ instead of measurement. In addition I use the term ‘firm’ when I actually refer to any form of organization, public, private or other.

Furthermore, I do not make a separation between cognitive, emotional, motivational and experiential aspects of perception in any way. I assume and I’m convinced that they are always tightly integrated and inseparable. Only experimental maniacs and brain speculators separate them in their laboratories and top-science publications. The takeaway questions as I see them, considering the perceptual system theory in the strategy context, are the following:

  1. How does the firm understand the meaning of’ ‘intelligent perception’ in its business/behavior environment? What are its domains of perception?
  2. What is the perceptual (measurement, observation, action) architecture through which the firm relates to its environment and itself? Who and what processes in and outside the firm are at the center of this and why?
  3. How is intelligent perception-action implemented in the firm?
  4. How does perceptual learning and related action take place?
  5. How are the perception processes linked with the strategy process and decision making?
  6. How are the critical invariances recognized (e.g. on the market, competitor activities, customer behavior, in technology development, business environment in general, financial developments) in its environment and within itself?
  7. How does the firm find its own one-world interpretation? How are the alternative and changing worlds derived and dealt with in the perception processes?
  8. What is the firms ‘operating system’ and bandwidth solution in connecting the perceptions with action? How are the perception processes given the right to action and system control when something critical happens?
  9. How does the firm increase the efficiency of early observations and the intelligence of the higher levels in interpreting the perceived information?

10. Is there a cost/benefit analysis of the firm’s perception system?TopScience

Spanning the perceptual architecture

Intelligent perception systems are not designed for observing and reacting to everything.  Instead, they have the capacity to form a relationship with relevant external and internal events. Biological systems use these systems to direct the perceptual, neuro-hormonal, evaluative, and motor resources accordingly.  Furthermore, perception systems are multi-dimensional (cognitive, emotional, motivational etc) in nature and involve both the pleasures and pains of perception and they are always intimately linked with behavioral control.

We don’t know how much of the world we can actually perceive and it has been a matter of popular discussion how much of the environmental visual information humans really  ‘see’. Due to the eye movements we are actually blind about twice a second. Furthermore, I believe we see less that 1/1000 000 of what there is to be seen in the whole visual field – even if it is within the sensory range or our senses. These aspects of perception demonstrate well how biological and artificial perception systems have a design and architecture that optimizes between the system economy and functional value. We are blind most of the time but do not see it. Strategic perception is no different: in the middle of the continuous blindness, intelligent perception is necessary for survival.

Perception is spontaneously agile

Perception without action is nothing: when we accidentally burn our fingers, the incoming signal pathways do not have to ask for permission from the ‘brain management’ to recruit the motor system. Or when you triple and are about to fall down, your sensory-motor balance-maintaining system not only reacts to the surprise but it is also ‘allowed’ to take full control over your external and internal behavior – for the moment – in order to regain balance. After that, control is swiftly transferred back to the base behavior and the relevant context is recovered  (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/human-real-time-operating-system-theory/).

We could characterize this smooth perception-action behavior ‘agile’ as is now fashionable in talking about ‘fast strategies’ and agile ict development projects using scrum methods, for example (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrum_(development). In scrum, as in the above human examples the full (distributed) project control is momentarily transferred to individual (planned and interactively allocated) people or teams that have a relevant task to accomplish at that specific phase of the project.

This is accomplished and secured by forming a holistic project entity, including a dynamic team structure and multiple-level feed-back system. In this way the continuously interacting and evaluative collaboration project avoids the pitfalls of the rigid waterfall approaches. In one sense, as a system the scrum model resembles the human perception-action system: it includes specific actor roles (purpose-driven) and continuous interactions among the participants, and it proceeds according to fast and effective planned sprints (during a week, for example), guided by the continuous feed-back and evaluation processes.  As its best, a scum organization is fast, adaptive and can orient to new situations according to the internal and external project requirements.

In part III where I explain the core principles of the perception system behaviors, it becomes clear how they closely tangent the scrum methodology principles. But even scrum depends critically on its ability to gather relevant perceptual information about its distributed environment. This is especially challenging when the participants come from different disciplines, having their own stakeholders and operation domains with their limitations.

I’m not an experienced scrum master, although I participated in a short scrum education and have been involved in numerous spontaneous scrum-like processes. However my experience from one formal scrum project was that from the start it was unclear what was the perception architecture and how it was spanned. Of course everyone in the scrum project had a saying on the ‘perceptual background’ but not everyone was aware of its relevance in what was to come. Over the exercise it then became evident when conflicts of interests started to occur and hidden problem were revealed and discussed: it was clear that the perception architecture had not been optimally spanned and it did not fully serve its purpose. This seemed to be one of the repeating weak points of the scrum system.  However, at the moment I believe a scrum-like approach could perhaps best benefit from the perception lessons I will present in part III.

Organizations relying on the classic strategy model – mission-vision-strategy-resourcing-implementation are slow and have much to learn in trusting and avoiding the risks of giving the full control to its sub-systems. A recent Finnish example of extremely sow performance in reacting to the incoming perceptual data is our Government, remaining hesitant on how to respond to the perceived problem data, as I describe it in part I. It is not rare to hear similar stories from firms’ personnel. Indeed, a firm trusting its perception must arrange access to organized action when the perception system so requires. As far as I understand it scrum has not yet made a breakthrough in wide scale strategy work and it is absent from governmental –level strategy forums.

The illusion of a kind strategy world

We are destined to rely on extremely strong assumptions about the world. Only rarely can we hear CEOs and other high-level company representatives to explicitly describe what these assumptions actually are in their own strategy contexts. In everyday life we typically assume the world to be relatively kind to us – so that we don’t have to observe everything. It would take all our efforts and it would not be enough. As humans we do have moving eyes, which we could whirl around all the time, but luckily we have developed the swift ability to shift attention according to relevance and without moving the eyes or ears. This is a good metaphor to any firm: how to avoid excess ‘organizational eye movements’ in order to perceive (measure) important events and objects and to build intelligent perception systems that can direct attention by using the existing resources optimally?

Together the selectivity of perception and its ecological success show how valuable intelligent perception is for any system, biological or artificial. The strategic capabilities of the perception systems deserve our full admiration.

Strategy as the home of the firm’s perception system

Not unlike artificial and biological systems most organizations, public and private, orient to their world and are guided by a strategy. It is their de facto perception system and process and includes a perceptual action architecture – although firms do not typically use these terms. In the classic strategy process the perception system is used for collecting relevant internal and external forecast information and the current situation is analyzed in order to make the best possible decisions. Information sources are numerous and can be anything from the cash flow, competitive performance, competence, market, financial, and competitor data to the technology situations and trends. SAP and other similar integrated systems are trying to be the technological implementations of organizational perception: in the extreme case (imaginary only, I hope) such systems can be the only eyes to the world by an isolated manager or a bureaucrat.

I do know of firms whose strategy process is built on effective and relevant perception-action systems and architecture – and I’m lucky to have a friend, a true professional, Jaakko Ahonen  (http://www.ahonenpartners.fi/) who applies this kind strategy guiding approach in his customer (b-b or b-c) oriented growth consultancy. Interestingly, he has combined the analysis of the perceptual architectures of firms to collect data on relatively complex but relevant, multi-dimensional customer decisions and behaviors. Not surprisingly, even after many discussions with him, he does not use the term ‘perception’ in his context at all, but the results of his approach have been just impressive, to say the least. I’m convinced that there are others who think alike, but the concepts used vary.

Firms differ in how they collect strategic information: the way it is done is an expression of how they think about their perception mechanisms in scanning the external environment and the firms themselves. The initial phase of a strategy building cycle includes the declaration (either design or inventory) of this architecture and the perception resources are then spanned accordingly. This includes e.g. knowledge acquisition, measurement, and analytics, and can be seen as part of the firm’s knowledge management process. In this way the firm defines the true relationships it has with itself and its environment. Nothing else can achieve that. This may sound like loose philosophical talk but it is not: in building artificial vision systems, for example, the architectural approach is a necessary and critical ‘win-or-loose’ design phase.

Organizational perception can be implemented in the form of customer, market, sales and forecast data analysis, various data representation forms, discussion forums, person-to-person interactions – any big or small data process and it can also occur in various knowledge and customer relationship activities of the management and other personnel. However, it is not an extremely complex task to map and model this architecture in a company, or a government, for that matter, and to describe the basic components and the inherent perceptional relationships, but I have never seen it done.

Scorecards – bureaucrat perception?

Balanced scorecard models (e.g.http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/10-074.pdf) come close to the perceptual approach in how they define the metrics for the firm’s progress on financial, customer-, growth, and business process sectors.  The BSC system spans a ‘measurement architecture’, but it differs from the perception approach where the emphasis is on intelligent perception aspect: I use the ‘perception-action lens’ to look deeper into the nature of the measurement and data collection as part of the strategy. Perception is more than measurement as it has its own domains of activity and forms of engagement.  No measurement happens without some human engagement.

A simple example is the employees responding to various questionnaires probing their work or the firm atmosphere. It is not rare to hear them complain that they lack the real means to express their relevant observations and at the right time, for example on quality, coordination, or management communication, even when it would be of utmost value for the firm. The problem is not a lack of data, or lack of personnel inventory it is a problem of a distorted perception-action system.

For company strategists the design of measurement metrics is crucial: ignoring the perception mechanisms can entertain unfounded faith in the data sources and measures or simply cause neglect of relevant information.

Distorted perception architecture is disastrous

A curious example of a distorted perception architecture concerns the investigation panel of the Challenger accident in 1986 where one member of the panel, Richard Feynman, the famous physics Nobelist could not get his strong and clear message through and had to find his own ways to express his opinion about the accident causes. The panel was reluctant to accept his simple and practical observations, which inspired him to demonstrate them on a televised hearing. He took a glass full of ice and water and put a real O-ring from Challenger into it and then showed how he could break the cold ring by hand; this made it impossible to neglect the valid observation and his arguments. For an unknown reason, the panel had spanned its perception mechanisms in a way that made Feynman’s observation invisible in the investigation process. To many the arguments by Feynman had remained weak or silent signals but the demonstration changed the situation. It is a good question, why this happened and just like in the 2008 crisis, various explanations, political, social-psychological, institutional and others can be given but the outcome was the same: the distorted perception architecture determined which perceptions were possible.

Another educational example is the US financial crisis in 2008, which was sharply analyzed by Charles Perrow in his 2010 talk at CISAC/Stanford. He described in detail, with names of the relevant persons why the approaching disaster was not perceived by the Government and by those responsible individuals and organizations, which should have seen it. As is now well known, also a number of firms had good short-range, economical reasons to hide it and make it difficult to perceive.

A feasible interpretation is that the perceptual architecture of the Government and its analysts network was significantly biased, for a number of reasons. It did not include the players, especially banks and insurance companies, the main actors who were in continuous lobbying contact with politicians and other stakeholders. Information about the subprime problems had been visibly accumulating and a few specialists had been explicitly warning about it, but they were excluded – perhaps on purpose – from the perceptual architecture. Indeed some of them have later complained about improper treatment and behavior they received to their warnings (http://rwer.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/keen-roubini-and-baker-win-revere-award-for-economics-2). Sparrow described in delicious detail how the available observations on these actions and behaviors were neglected, left outside the perceptual architecture, which should have contained the underlying influential persons and their organizations. There were no weak signals – only very strong ones but they were neglected.

Why the lack or perception?

Is it a matter of sensitivity? Yves Doz, for example (http://www.strategicagility.com/) discusses strategic perceptions in terms of the need for strategic sharpness.  As these crisis examples show, there is much more to perception than meets the eye.  There seem to be at least two, almost orthogonal ways to interpret these architectural perception-problems. On one hand, some futures researchers argue (Ansoff, Hiltunen, for example) that it is a question of weak signals, which are simply difficult to observe. Because of that methods like the Delphi method are used to probe the best imaginable information sources (people).

I have questioned this by suggesting that it is a matter of a distorted perceptual architecture, which does not include relevant perception mechanisms and processes (https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/weak-signals-or-weak-theory-of-observation/). The observed signals may appear weak, but only because the sources have not been properly identified and included in the perceptual architecture. Of course it would be possible to combine the Delphi with the architecture approach but there is the challenge that the best sources may not be the members of the establishment or have the fame to be recognized as valuable sources.

Another explanation is related to what a colleague of mine Professor Leena Kasvio once described several years ago: an accident where a landing passenger airplane crashed against a car driving on the runway. Her description of the causes was that the air traffic controllers had a distorted (she did not use this term) idea of what was their core task and consequently, what to monitor; it is not only managing the air traffic and finding the right landing window and process etc. for the planes but especially to help them land safely. The latter view would span the perception architecture accordingly and had naturally included the runway traffic, be they cars cats or bulldozers.

An alternative, cognitive-theoretical explanation to poor organizational perception is the notion of cognitive dissonance according to which denial and distortion of perception or even blindness can be caused by a person’s – or an organization’s – observation and experience that reality appears to challenge her deepest and most established beliefs about the world (Kessler, 2010, in real-world economics review). At first sight this feels like loose psychoanalytical thinking to me and not very convincing.  

However, I have just read an interview from a Danish economist predicting that Netherlands and Finland will be the next ones on line to cause economical problems in Europe (Kauppalehti 12.11.2013). There is strong statistics to support this view. Finland having been among the best pupils in the European economy class, the claim has surprised many Finns and indeed, it seems like it is threatening our deep national (positive) views of ourselves. Hence, almost as a support for the cognitive dissonance view his comment has not had a serious predecessor in the dominant Finnish economical discourse although the possibility has appeared on the strategy charts of firms preparing for the near future.

One is tempted to claim that due to the cognitive dissonance our (public) national perceptual architecture has not included sources, which would reveal such negative phenomena. Hence, we just remain passive, as if waiting for an external and forceful attentive signal or even instruction (from economists, EU politicians, rating organizations etc) to include such perception sources – when the situation becomes undeniably threatening. After that, the new perception mechanism will be span and in open public use, but time has been lost again.

Is it possible to perceive a ‘black swan’?

In his books “The Black Swan” and “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets” Taleb described the ‘black swan’ metaphor used to describe significant but rare and ‘outlier’  – improbable, difficult to predict with traditional methods – phenomena. Interestingly, hindsight is also included in the black swan concept, that is, the tendency to offer explanations to its occurrence retrospectively. My colleague Hannu Tuomisaari from Aalto University reminded me of Taleb’s work in this context and the possible challenge it is to the perceptual architecture concept – and made me think:

The retrospective explanation of the ‘black swan’ carries an interesting perceptual aspect, although imaginary: retrospection itself is a demonstration of the possibility to envision what has caused the unexpected phenomenon to occur. Illusory or not but the imagination is also based on spanning a (imaginary) perceptual architecture that includes the relevant observations. How else could such phenomena be explained? A question remains, though, is it ever been possible to span a relevant perceptual architecture for catching a black swan?

A distorted perceptual architecture can sink ships

Disastrous consequence of a biased perceptual architecture is not a novel phenomenon. One of my favorite historical examples is the stability test of the famous Swedish Vasa warship, which sank outside Stockholm on its maiden cruise in August 1628 (http://faculty.up.edu/lulay/failure/vasacasestudy.pdf). It was built in a hurry and with the largest investments ever in order to make it the most glorious warship in Sweden. King Gustav had hurried its building and put the shipyard management under royal pressure. By doing this, he seriously distorted the perception-action mechanisms at the shipyard.

The construction process was problematic from the beginning and there were early doubts about the ship’s stability. Aware of these problems, the shipyard management had Vasa tested at the harbor by ordering a group of 30 men to run from side-to-side of the ship: already on the third run Vasa was rocking dangerously. The warning signal was strong enough for them and the test was halted. Curious enough, no information of this result could reach the critical decision makers, and Vasa prepared for her celebrated maiden cruise. One could say that the warning signal remained ‘weak’ from the system – surely from the King’s – perspective. Then on the first celebrated cruise, a mild wind outside the harbor was enough to heel Vasa over and she sank after a 1300 meter cruise, taking 53 seamen with her. Today the well-preserved Vasa, raised in 1961, can be admired at the amazing museum in Stockholm.

One could consider Vasa either as a simple case of bad communication or a combination of bad management, fear for the Royal power of the King and his subordinates – and a communication failure.  But there is more to it; the catastrophe bears a close resemblance to the preceding events of the financial crisis in USA. Had the perception-action architecture been spanned according to the core national strategic goals, untouched by local interests, lobbying, political, and other perception masking factors, the early warning signs would have been early, strong and loud enough within this architecture.  In both cases, many seemed to ask, after the disaster: “Why didn’t we see it coming?”, but it is the wrong question – it should read: “Why didn’t we tune our perception-action architecture right?”

On strategic perception I

November 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

 In the short discussion on “The art of strategy” (October 2013) two well-known McKinsey specialists do not refer to strategic perception at all, although their comments touch on physics, resourcing, analytics, rigor, and even psychology as important concepts and metaphors in strategy discourse. Their view on perception is quite different from the famous swordsman Musashi’s who had a saying (my very free translation): “Seeing is weak, perceiving is strong”. In his world a misperception at a critical moment would cost his life and so it is with organizations – a difference in time constants perhaps. Vision without intelligent perception would be fateful for a samurai. Indeed, it is not rare to forget ‘perception’ in strategy considerations although ‘vision’ is ever present.

Here in this first part,  I will first introduce my thoughts on the fascinating topic of perception and then take up some familiar problems of the classic vision-strategy processes and finally start relating these two worlds.  This may be an unorthodox linking of the apparently separate worlds but I have been fortunate to live in both of them during my academic and not-so-academic career, and Musashi is no stranger to me either.

What is perception – in this context?

Intelligent perception could be an essential component of any vision-strategy model. The term ‘perception’ does occur in organizational studies but it is my general impression that it is typically misunderstood, hidden under trendy disguises like sense-making, sensing, framing, or awareness building, for example, its relevance underestimated, or it is just used in a popular-psychological sense and as such of not much use.

Perception is not an easy topic: the theory of perception is an evolving and moving target itself. For example, it may come as a surprise to many that there is no general theory of the observer (perceiver) even in classical or modern physics (cf. my article related to this at http://arxiv.org/abs/1309.3633). No wonder then, that such a serious theory does not exist in the organizational sciences either. I’m convinced that it will soon evolve because of the fast increase in the complexity of the organizational environment, where perception skills and capabilities become – they already are – necessary assets.

Perception is a fascinating phenomenon. It is not about recording the world or oneself – it is acting in them. The ‘in’ here is not a spelling mistake, I really do not mean ‘on’ – I believe I use the language right here: perception-action cannot be separated from the world and the perceiver without damaging the knowledge of either of them. Further, perception is directed outwards and inwards – simultaneously. Because of this intelligent perception is a most intriguing biological capacity and has a huge ‘strategic’ value when it drives the internal and external ‘behavior’ of an organism, human experience, or the behavior of a machine or an organization.  You would expect strategy researchers to be seriously interested in it.

What I talk about when I talk about perception (I borrowed this title from Haruki Murakami’s book title which he borrowed from Raymond Carver)

Perception – human, animal, artificial – is necessary in building an intelligent relationship, a symbiosis, with the unknown environments – the internal and the external. It constructs (internal) images, scenes, and many unknown mental activities related to these worlds, to recognize and represent the inherent invariances (behavior-strategically most important and informative relationships between the perceived objects or internal states), in order to plan, guide and be entangled with actions accordingly.  Intelligent perception means being sensitive both to opportunities and obstacles in reaching for something valuable; to learn and adapt to these environmental changes quickly and to learn from them, to generate intelligent perception structures (hard-,  soft-, inherited or culturally wired)  that help automate perception and action processes. This is necessary because both need to be fast and focused. In doing all this intelligent perception makes it possible for the actor-observer to release its limited resources for ever higher-level and valuable functions, and finally – it allows the organism’s full trust on its perception so much that any action can be accomplished with full power and accuracy. It may be good to repeat here that perception is not directed to the outer world only. Beneath all this lies the world of pain and pleasure, colors of mental life, aesthetics, culture, and love – which I only can imply here.

We can admire the amazing perceptual abilities in human sports and performance arts and in animal flight and fight. Of course we can experience them in our everyday life, but most of its wonders remain hidden from our awareness because we live our perceptions. Robots are still ignorant: in war they can accidentally kill anyone and they are practically useless in trying to recognize peace. Having said all this, is there anything in this description of perception that should not be an essential aspect of any strategy considerations? Could this insight be useful in the analysis of strategy processes and perhaps inform their design in organizations?


Strategy discourse – problems and opportunities

Strategy researchers discuss the need to extend strategy analysis and views to better cover what they call “demand (D) or consumer/customer side” of strategy research (and practice).  This is in contrast to the resource-based view (RBV) emphasizing the production side (cf. Priem, Butler, Li, 2013, for example; thanks Mikko Laine from Aalto DVN team, for sharing this J). This may not appear novel at all, especially to a human-centric worldview and in the familiar matters of our global, digitally driven life. However, it is a way to turn the perceiving senses to the world outside the organization. But a burning practical question remains, how to best conceptualize and organize the strategy process of firms, large companies and even nations. The vision-strategy process as it is typically applied today hides an increasing number of problems, one of them being the neglect of strategic perception.

The most amazing flaw in the organizational vision-strategy process is that it is practically never impossible to formulate a vision. In Finland, for example, we already have several national vision-strategy documents but we are in trouble. We have the national brand vision and the Team Finland strategy for 2014 (http://team.finland.fi/public/download.aspx?ID=115910&GUID={5F2A2D13-C30D-40A0-B71A-A4E2B5ADF6C0} and a recent futures document from our Government (which b totally underestimates scientific matters).  Every firm has it, even the third sector communities, universities and the minuscule departments have it.  I have never met an organization that would openly say that it was impossible for them to build a shared vision.  What a wonderful tool that works everywhere, in any conditions, and by anyone?

Vision can make the strategy process blind

Imagine an organization or a national government with a vision-strategy process actually masking the perception of its environment and adapting the strategy accordingly. Under changing circumstances this can be more typical than not in many of the present-day organizations, especially the large ones.  We Finns could sense something like that happening over the years following the collapse of Nokia – practically blind to its crucial market life – and we are now following another major scale strategy dance: the Finnish Government Program from June 2011 that has met a similar risk of slow deterioration. Again, like Nokia with its “connecting people” vision, it describes our wonderful national vision to be a “caring, open, responsible, globally aware and prosperous well-fare society.”

The way our national vision is defined in the Governmental program and has been guarded by various stakeholders and situational factors has actually fixated this vision on business-as-usual targets, blocking a perceptive, smooth, adaptive and novel way towards the national vision in the changing circumstance. Right now, as a nation we suffer from the lack intelligent perception inwards and outwards.

Strategic tools as weapons of internal destruction

Like all strategy programs, the Finnish one includes an analysis (perception) of the current environment and the foreseeable futures, and then looks at the politically agreed strategic means for reaching the goals. It is a standard process, based on difficult party negotiations after which the feasible or compromise policies are chosen to work towards the vision goals.

The worst of such strategy versions I have seen implemented are almost identical: from the higher education and university context in Finland, especially in my own ex-institute. Only about 10 or more years ago such strategy processes at universities were mostly harmless and academically eloquent exercises on discourse and documentation that could go on in parallel – with little interference – with effective real-world work and activities. Now with new power structures at our universities the situation has changed profoundly and the process has become an essential tool of both progress and survival.

I’m not arguing for the old system, but this has made the strategy process a de facto internal weapon of academic mass destruction: the power relationships dictate how different organizational units, dominant individuals, and research groups must struggle for resources and their ‘strategic position’ necessary for survival. Those who make it and succeed will be the ones defining the new strategy and gain more power – not much interest is given to the rest of the resources or the organization. In this specific context strategy process has a dissonant audience.

Many seem to think that the ‘fittest’ will survive, but a question remains, ‘in what sense the fittest’ because after destruction the weaker ones have no voice. Self-perception has not much role in these considerations when perception is fixated at external and formal outcomes. Businesses are no different, the metrics used and the weight given to different measures only vary, but they can have shared aims, often economically grounded.

Of course the classic strategy model is meant to be dynamic, sensitive, relevant, creative, and adaptive by using intelligent data, analysis, excellent leadership, and modification or re-evaluation during the vision-strategy cycle, every year or so. “Fast strategy” has even been the title of the book by Doz and Kosonen (2007) emphasizing the need to build a sensitive and fast or ‘agile’ strategy process. But ‘fast’ is relevant only when perception is intelligent. The McKinsey discussion above describes this well.

Change and volatility challenge strategy dynamics

Our Government case is no exception among the organizations suffering from the unstable environment and massive changes. The financial crisis in 2008 happened too fast for many. From the beginning, it was a challenge of perception – but it was not recognized as such. In Finland, already by 2010 we could perceive, by looking at our falling export data and its trend that something was seriously wrong: the export did not show any signs of recovery, unlike in Sweden and Germany, our two best reference countries in this context. The relative data looked scary.

In US the financial crisis was, most of all, a problem of intelligent perception but this became clear only after the crisis. The real predecessors of the 2008 events were vividly described at CISAC/Stanford on April 1st, 2010 by Charles Perrow:  “Markets, Information, and the Spreading of Risks: The Economic Meltdown and Organizational Theory”. The talk confirmed the problem of biased and weak organizational perception that had prevented many from seeing what was coming although the real signs were not weak at all. It was not a problem of misbehavior or strategic sensitivity only but a true lack of intelligent strategic perception. (https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/weak-signals-or-weak-theory-of-observation/ ). This is an excellent example of the conceptual difference between the concepts of perception as recording and perception as an intelligent process, directly linked with action.

Of course, strategies are meant to meet any positive or negative futures. Despite observing the heavy economical consequences of the crisis, our Government’s perception remained separate from its action; it had the vision and it did receive the environmental information but lacked the perceptual intelligence to support action.  Furthermore, it had a grounded strategy, produced with difficulty and in addition, the backing parties were willingly or unwillingly freezing it. As a result, the Government remained not only blind but also the hostage of its own public vision-strategy process: there was no quick way out or even a chance to perceive new strategic opportunities which would have been desperately needed.

Media and the public have learned to ‘know’ what a strategy is

The situation was not made easier by the media that loves to remind of the strategy (plan) and its ‘promises’ made in 2011. Now the Finnish Government had effective and willing guards in the media – and opposition, of course. As if to strengthen the friction effect, the visible public opinion and the news-hungry media had together become significant stakeholders treating the national strategy and its vision as promises – not as an imaginary future and the means to reach it. The media and its audience had obtained the power to inhibit any strategic changes from happening. In the discourse produced, the strategy adaptation process was transformed into a ‘breaking promises’ discourse.

Lack of intelligent perception has real consequences. An example I followed closely how our dominant print media were reluctant to turn its perception on the export and innovation problems in 2011: Finland had been unable to build economically large-scale firms during the last 20 years. For a colleague of mine, it took nearly two years to get published an analysis based on these nationally significant perceptions.  Our leading business magazines and the main newspaper were not interested to write about it: they did not perceive what professor Eero Byckling had clearly perceived. Finally Eero could publish his analysis on the Finnish export and innovation system failure in a journal focusing on cultural matters (!) (cf. Kanava 1/2013). Today, these topics have become public knowledge in the media discourse, but we lost valuable time. Why does this happen in ‘broad daylight’? Is this only a specific perception problem of Finland?

The standard explanation to the national-level problem is that we are currently suffering from the same ideological and democratic crowding problem as the US.  There the democrats and republicans block each other’s way to what the opponent sees as progress: the two parties perceive totally different and divergent opportunities to reach for the national vision. The scope of the damage possible due to such a process has been a real surprise to many.

Interestingly, the same thing as in US has happened in Finland, but in slow motion – it has been the outcome of the unanimous, multi-party Government remaining true to its vision and strategy statements – being passionately guarded by the media.  Changing the original vision and strategy had been ‘breaking the promises’, a failure and not intelligent adaptation.  Now we are ‘forced’ to adapt. Surprising enough, a recent poll in Finland showed that about 50% of the citizens have been ready for significant policy changes related to taxation and retirement age, for example.  Can a strategy process be weaker than this, frozen in front of its perceptive audience, willing to change? (http://www.eva.fi/blog/2013/03/19/evan-arvo-ja-asennetutkimus-2013-kadonneen-kasvun-metsastajat/). An amusing and inspiring example of a similar adaptation by workers to the strange US Governmental shut-off situation was observed at NASA Mars project (thanks Michael Sims for sharing this: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304500404579129810090504206).

Lack of passion for the vision

Only rarely does the formal organizational vision evoke a true passion in its audience, in the employees, and in those responsible for reaching it or among the citizen. It is no surprise that our Government has turned to a national guru who has the rhetoric and media fame and who can so re-formulate or translate (perhaps even transform) the formal visions and programs for their audiences to enjoy. Our national guru Dr. Himanen and his co-author, the famous Manuel Castells published a book in November 2013 on our national vision where they lifted dignity as a core element for our national vision. Of course, nobody is, or can be directly against such a valuable thing and many seem to accept it as a promising vision.

This is not a rare situation in companies that regularly invite charismatic speakers and showmen to ignite the audience for the implied by boring vision. In Italy, a clown became a significant political actor. Such performers and gurus are hoped to act as apostles with the ability to offer an inspiring vision – or the criticism of it – that is actually derived from the organizational situation and documents but to which they are hoped to breath signs of life.

The need for gurus has led to a curious recent event in Finland, the one now called “The Himanen case” where a visibly weak-quality national strategy-project application was accepted without open competition by the Head of Finnish Academy and the Head of Tekes, our leading and the most prestigious organizations for the national management of science and technology. The process was totally and bluntly against the standard evaluation practices and ethics in Finland.   The leaders of the two organizations willingly explained that they had been under pressure from the Prime Minister to accept the offer.

Some might think that the public process has been unfair to the guru in question since Dr. Himanen was only offering his help and (expensive) consulting business to the Prime Minister Office where they really needed help to give life to the dead-appearing Government vision-strategy plan. It became a total failure of trust in the strategy process – even before the final report of the work has become public. Now that the strategy report has appeared, it has received a chaotic reception and – to me – it seems that it will block our national perception for a year or two at least.

Organizational vision is not perception

Recently I browsed through a list of popular strategy tools in a local business magazine (Optio, 16/2013) introducing their core elements: scorecards, swots, blue ocean, lean systems, neo-taylorism, scenarios, weak signals, co-creation, change management, vriq, benchmarking, portfolios learning organization, and so on. While they do include a plethora of means to observe, analyze and model the environment, they have no serious interest in organizational perception. ‘Vision’, however, remains their basic component.

Interestingly, the term ‘vision’ actually has nothing to do with human or any other vision systems or perception. It is a definition of what an organization wants to see to happen to it, internally or externally, and it is not a matter of perceiving something. A better term would indeed be organizational imagination or dreaming – with the requirement that it must be – in some acceptable way – grounded and realistic in the eyes of its presenter or the audience.

I the next part, I will explain my view on why I believe the classic strategy process paradigm fails and suggest an alternative, opportunity perception-based concepts for supporting an effective strategy process that can match the demands of the complex and changing world. 

The psychology behind Internet of Behaviors (IB)

October 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Not so long time ago, only a fool or an artist could ask and expect a real answer to the question ”What is happening to our world?” Today’s knowledge companies are already making mountains of money by answering it. But reading the Big Data optimists’ claim that we can soon predict and recognize human behaviors I can see Sigmund Freud lurking behind the hunger for ‘objective truth’ about our behaviors (its 2100 century version is called ‘unedited behavior’): http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/09/predicting_customers_unedited_behavior.html?cm_mmc=SocialHub-_-3271-_–_-9135650988269047185 It is time to turn to the next question “What are we intending to do to the world?”. There is no ‘IntentionGoogle’ to satisfy that curiosity.

As an example, at the writing of this, my blog has had about 5000 visits, not a big number in today’s blogsphere but I would really like to know what were some of the true intentions of my readers when they met my texts. Knowing that I would understand a lot more about the world and in a way that could teach and touch me.  Current technologies and apps do not offer that luxury to us.  What a shame.

So, what follows is the second part on ‘The Internet of behaviors (IB)’  text https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/internet-of-behaviors-ib/ and idea where I now try to explain the human background of it and describe its potential value in improving our ability to see intentions and to know better what is about to happen in the connected world.  IB is an easy technical concept but psychologically a very complex one. It has many risks, but offers also huge potential if implemented in a right way.

Blind to intentions, blind to the future

It is for personal pleasure and benefit that we want to know the intentions of our trusted friends and fellow citizens. In everyday life we simply ask them. We do this at individual and organization level and use the acquired intention knowledge to prepare our near or far future. Parents, company executives and medical doctors mine intention data routinely from children, employees, and patients. All this happens automatically, but we do not call it ‘intention knowledge’, and actually, I have never even seen this term used before.

Sociologists and politicians teach us that the dominant powers in the world are structural and ideological in nature and that individual behaviors are but direct reflections of these structural forces. Accordingly, individual intentions are just buried noise in these sociological masses. Psychologists on the other hand, are  trapped with their academic and context independent personality and intelligence measures that actually have almost no predictive value in life. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/entropy-of-the-human-soul/

It is not common knowledge that, for example, the best known personality factors “The big five” have close to zero % explanatory value in predicting future success in work performance. Knowing all this it is no surprise that the futures researchers with their forecasting methods have problems in dealing with the future of human and socially driven technology developments cf. e.g. http://www.meaningprocessing.com/personalPages/tuomi/articles/ForesightInAnUnpredictableWorld-extract.pdf.

It is time to learn to deal with the intentions and to accept that several drivers exist simultaneously behind it.  Intentions are true subjective phenomena.  It was almost impossible to understand what made the Norwegian murderer to act as he did – there is no one explaining variable, not even a complex set of them like intelligence, mania, political view, or personality, but he had intentions. He had clear and explicit intentions that integrated all his psychological powers. This made him dangerous.

In the connected world the individual has new potential in good and bad: the acts of creative souls and stubborn maniacs have repeatedly surprised us; first with their intentions – which typically have been recognized late like in the case of Steve Jobs – and then by their revolutionary or transformational actions that have changed our world and its structures.

Intention is more than wishful thinking and self-deception

What if we could know more about the intentions of individuals, organizations, or even about artificial systems? Wise parents have always been sensitive to the acceptable or questionable intentions of their children, just like civilized managers and coaches have been in order to interfere or provide support early. Perception of intentions requires true intelligence.

The core idea behind the Internet of Behaviors (IB) is to provide means to personally code, register, share, and address (individual or organizational) behaviors and to use pre-defined IP (v6) addresses to be used as individuals or any communities see as best.  By IP a person can indicate his current intentions and behaviors. In doing this, it is not necessary to think about ‘addresses’ – it is possible to use seamless or ubiquitous future UIs of which various designs can be easily imagined.  Thinking about the potential of the future technologies it is a fascinating challenge to design such interfaces for individuals, friends, families, couples, colleagues, and to trusted outsiders. What could a personal repertoire of IPs be like, and what can it offer?

Random behavior addressing by data giants

Our behaviors are already being addressed by the knowledge giants. They have ways to represent our expected behaviors (traveling, shopping, work, hobbies) but it is more like shotgun addressing with a very coarse aim. Actually they do not call it ‘intention knowledge’ although that is exactly what it is, only that it is guessing because we have not been asked.  All this happens invisibly and typically we are never informed about the data structures that point their finger at us. The knowledge businesses look at our economical histories, our social and national background, education, habits, networks, locations and then they combine and pack these data to sell it further. They have no idea of our intentions. But they behave as if they were the owners of our intention knowledge because we have no means to manage it.

Not unlike the respected giants also pirates use our data without our knowing of it. But they really don’t know what we actually want, what we intend to do and why we do things our own way. Most of their data is inferred (relative to mass profiles) and it is only superficially based on what we have directly told or otherwise expressed. They cannot avoid the human inverse problem: as individuals and even larger communities we do apparently same things for completely different reasons.  The idea behind IB is to make this behavior addressing visible and to declare it our own property.

Expressing ourselves in media

Despite the great social apps like fb, Linkedin, Pinterest, Goodreads, and many newcomers it is astonishing how impotent the current information environment is in offering us means to express ourselves, in what we are doing and engaged with and what we intend to do. A typical way to start a conversation over a mp “Are you busy?” We have no idea what our contact might be up to during the phone call.  Similarly, most network apps collect superficial and static information about us, probably because they suffer from the history of a questionnaire mania and have remained elated by the modern and easy data collection tools. As a result, they lag the real technological potential to support our opportunities to make us visible in a way that is beneficial to us and to our friends and trusted ones. Simultaneously there are numerous devices on the market that record your hear rate, sweating, running and whatever and they do not tell much more – but they could.

Future library – a service example

Knowing that a person is in the library, especially in a modern one, does not tell much why he is there. No present library offers a service, by which you would have everything you need ready for you, from books to your relevant knowledge sites, open documents and the work space that you need when you enter the library. You could have your last manuscripts exactly in the same state as you last left it and perhaps even announcements open for you about potentially interesting new information or comments to it if you happen to be writing one. In the old days it was easy to accomplish this at home and just leave books open and the manuscript beside them. Now we have learned to manage the work space configuration every time we start working on something.

Why don’t we have such services? The reason is simple: the library does not know you and it cannot infer your individual reasons to be there. And it never asks. This is strange because often you just tell your friends or colleagues:  “I’m going to the library to study  X”, indicating a real and simple intentional act. One has to be a paranoid to claim (still many claim this) that it is not possible to trust what people say in such situations. But we tell it because it is useful information for our co-existence. We all know why it is useful in a number of ways; even monkeys signal their intentions to each other and reindeers have systems to share intention knowledge when they move in flocks. (For a fascinating lesson about reindeer ‘team behavior’ by Esa Kirkkopelto, see http://www.toisissatiloissa.net/esitteet/PORO_valmis_press.pdf .)

Why should we let others know our intentions? Having a means to express the intentions – before we actually do anything – is a most valuable and inspiring form of knowledge. Between lovers it is a most fascinating form of knowledge but the library has another kind of a role. A library visit is a repeating behavior pattern that is easy to express by opening and activating the IB address assigned to this specific behavior. Anyone with the access rights could then make use of that knowledge.

Intention occurs before action and it allows intelligent preparations. This is where Big Data analysis lags behind: it is always late in knowing (or guessing) our present individual intentions. The receiver who gets this knowledge from the person has an advantage over any Big Data analysis outcome.  There is no limit to the richness of the intention knowledge itself and to the way it is expressed – only imagination sets its limits.

With the simple message, and a unique IB address related to it  ‘I’m going to study and work on X’, a place (library) and time tag, and the student could indicate that he is a client that is ready to enjoy any possible service and data that is targeted to this address. If he happened to live far away public transport info could be of help. On the other hand, when he would express this same intention to ‘study and work on X’ at home, in his own ict environment the same service could be available to continue exactly where he last time left, in the texts, with open documents and net connections.

For this type of services to work a permission arrangement is necessary between the IB address owner and the potential service provider or anyone else enjoying the right to access. In many cases it is not difficult to achieve. For example, in the library case, often libraries require a library pass and in giving it they also record relevant information from the new customer.  Many other coordination, security-checking and practical arrangements can be easily imagined.

When we share the intention information about the meaning of the address with someone else (like the grocery store, car sales companies) we give a permission to be approached or followed by these trusted parties. They, on the other hand can either collect information or provide data or services to the person. As a result communication will be coordinated with our relevant intentions and behaviors.

Scaling up with finances – shaking the banks

Putting the security aspects aside first, what if all bank customers of a bank, say in Spain, had a quick and simple means to express how they intend to behave with their banks, for example, how much cash they intend to take out from their accounts over the next 6 months? This could be a two-way arrangement: the bank could own a large pool of IB addresses that it can offer to its clients to use for their specific purposes. Each of its customers then has an individual address sub-pool that allows a number of expressions (willingly) to indicate his variable economical actions or intentions.  Of course it is highly likely that customers (and banks) would get seriously suspicious about this arrangement. Criminals and manipulators could find new business opportunities.

But it is also possible for the customers to arrange it in a clever way and to team up with the help of a trusted operator or an app, for example, and to coordinate their own activities so that the IB system serves only their purposes. They would gain a major leverage to impact or put pressure on the bank behavior, services or decisions by simply expressing the personal intentions or behaviors. This would open a way to create a kind of an Outside The Wall Street movement. Many a financial, operator and economical policy maker would surely be interested (and worried about it) in this possibility – in good and in bad.

Dangerous and stupid, or both!

Of course IB is dangerous. “This threatens our privacy”, “It is just another trick to help the big brother watch us”, “You can never know what people really intend to do or what they will actually do”, “This is dangerous”, “It’s a new scale of threat to privacy”, “It is against the human rights” “People don’t want to express their intentions openly” “This will be a paradise for malevolent hackers and manipulators”… Despite these already-heard and imaginary criticisms I believe the IB is a paradigm worthwhile to consider, to see its potential and to look for the beneficial innovations it could offer – both in theory and in practice. I have already started designing my own toy IB-experiment.

Nationally I can imagine numerous application contexts, not least in political follow-ups, influencing, analysis, interaction between people and politicians, open government developments, and many more. You might still wonder if this approach can be really different from the already available customer inventories or other means to collect customer data? Yes it can: it is fast, real-time, and relies on acute intentions or acts of people, it scales tremendously, it can be quickly re-oriented, it is easily scalable and it is cheap.

The science of intentions?

There is no science of human intentions. It has remained a poorly charted territory in the psychology while the intentions of politicians, criminals, entertainers and other public figures have remained free material for media speculations and yellow papers. In psychoanalysis intentions have been buried into the mystery world of the subconscious. Modern cognitive psychology as known from the works of Kahneman, for example, have described basic interpretative or choice and decision making behavior and thinking but it does not have much to offer to predict individual, complex behavior like criminal acts, political career choices, and individual or corporate economy behaviors to mention a few. Intentions remain hidden and objects of guessing – unless they can be somehow revealed.

A popular belief among brain scientists and other specialists suggests that it is not objectively possible to know these hidden human forces (see the above link and reference to “unedited behaviors”)  – because we cannot trust what people tell about their intentions and, so the argument goes, we need trustworthy, objective machines or recording systems to reveal them. Surprisingly many seem to trust more in our sweat glands than in our talk.

I want to be clear about this and distance my views from these populist ‘objective’ sciences: Based on my own research experiences with thousands of people in the lab and at their homes or as customers I believe we can trust people when we allow them to be spontaneous, when we use proper methods in interviewing and in analyzing the acquired qualitative data. The present brain sciences are of little help in disclosing complex human intentions in real life and people are often false beliefs about the potential of today’s brain sciences in psychology,  cf.  http://www.innovationjournalism.org/archive/IJO-7-8.pdf  I truly agree with reverend Smith who in his Harlem Church one winter day preached to us “Trust your data! Trust your qualitative data!” He did not know it but he touched on the key discussion topic we had during the journey and when visiting his church.

Individuals can easily describe their intentions before taking actions and better than ever before it is possible to collect this massive real-time and even near-historical intention data. Unfortunately, psychologists are typically uncomfortable with this concept; they prefer the notion of the science of attention, motivation or decision making. But decision making and intentions are psychologically profoundly different: intentions are integrative, internal phenomena that organize the actual decisions but as we so well know (cf. Daniel Kahneman’s or Herbert Simon’s work, for example) they do not directly lead to certain behaviors. Sometimes we do have good intentions but accomplish something totally different. However, I believe that in general there is a fuzzy, but reasonably systematic connection between intentions and the kind behaviors and behavior spaces they precede. Explicit and voiced intentions even have a strong impact on the audiences as we so well know from the politics using threat.

Research on the psychology of life strategies comes close to the science of intentions. Several studies have looked at specific or general problem solving and planning in life (cf. the classic book like Miller, Galanter & Pribram, 1960: Plans and the structure of behavior, or the article by Smith, J., 1996: Planning about life: Toward a social-interactive perspective. Se also B.F. Malle, L. J. Moses & D.A. Baldwin (Eds), 2003: Intentions and Intentionality, MIT Press, for a cognitive and social cognitive analysis of intentional and unintentional behavior. It is my impression – although I’m not a specialist in this field – that these studies do not consider intention very deeply or describe intention knowledge in the framework it is presented here.

Giants will loose their knowledge power?

“Knowledge is power” has become the symbolic statement of social optimism, social revolution, transparency, crowd sourcing, empowerment but also of fear, injustice and threat.  Just look at the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street movements, and Wikileaks and it is clear how the dark and bright sides of knowledge mining already prosper together, stronger than ever.

Seeing the avalanche of world knowledge it is astonishing, how few innovations there are for novel data mining paradigms. Visualizations and open data improve fast, massive search, classification, source tagging, and pattern recognition schemes are increasingly used but relevant meanings and significance seem to evade these.  Semantic webs are perhaps the most advanced approaches but even they have problems with context and intention knowledge.

Facebook faces trouble with its mobile advertisement strategies. Google defends its position as the one and only knowledge search and social knowledge sharing emperor. Media world lives under an intensifying turbulence and any speculation in the media about how to best reach the audience is welcomed, entertained and then soon cast away. More intelligent and semantically sensitive systems like Wolfram’s Alpha have not flown yet.

Competing knowledge companies hit the same wall of dynamic world knowledge because the potential pool of meanings and human behaviors underlying any data multiplies faster than the amount of data collected: individuals and social systems have become huge technology-driven, information-generating engines. The more we discover data about the world and use it, the wider will be the gap between what we know and what we would like to know.  Present data mining approaches are loosing the battle.

Intentions and reality

Intentions are the most important guiding data structures in the human mind. For example, when something goes seriously wrong like in the mass murders in Norway, in Finnish Schools, in the U.S. located Sikhi temple, and in the recent killing of the US ambassador in Libya it is natural to look for reasons or psychological predecessors to these murders and to speculate about the intentions behind the acts of violence. Media is lost with these incidents and the journalists conduct post hoc discussions on motivations, political or religious reasons or personal histories of these violent persons. Only rarely they refer to the intentions involved in these acts, as if no such knowledge existed.

Consider the following cases. Firstly, the clerk in the Vatican office who stole secret documents from the papal office is now being charged for the theft. His explanation is that he intended to reveal the misconducts and corruption in Vatican.  But intentions do not seem to matter, even in the papal system, he will be treated as a thief and only that.

The other example comes from Sweden (Sept 2012) where the court in Göteborg freed the suspects (the two men were from Somalia and Irak) who entered a galleria, looking for the artists who had drawn a cartoon of prophet Muhammed.  There was no proof of intended murder although the men had knives with them and they were looking for the artist, who luckily was not there then.  What was their intention? They know it, of course, most people have no difficulties in guessing, and maybe also Muhammed knows it, but the court was helpless, it was not able to deal with he intention knowledge and let them free. Perhaps it was the right thing to do,  I don’t know.

The system of law has problems in dealing with intention knowledge, and in Finland, for example, it is not a crime to prepare a theft or a robber and you can arrange an effective crime exercise in order to fulfill your criminal intention and be even properly prepared for a theft, killing or other crime! Intention knowledge escapes the law authorities totally. (cf., in Finnish about the matter in our Parliament: http://www.eduskunta.fi/triphome/bin/thw.cgi/trip/?${APPL}=utpkk&${BASE}=faktautpkk&${THWIDS}=0.4/1349000344_482448&${TRIPPIFE}=PDF.pdf

Underestimated substance of human knowledge

Without intentions we would be lifeless machines but intention knowledge, the awareness of our own or of others’ intentions, has remained a mystery. Actually, I have never seen anyone include explicit intention structures as components of the human memory and knowledge system. It does not occur in the textbooks of cognitive psychology and when it does it is described under the fuzzy terms of ‘motivation’, ‘attention’ and ‘perception’.  In experimental work it is often something to be controlled away because it can distort the study.

‘Intention knowledge’ is a genuine subjective phenomenon, as familiar an internal aspect of the mind as the feelings of pleasure or pain. Unlike to the experiencing individual, to the data-mining systems, intention has been left outside the focus. Only seldom do they directly deal with the individually verified intention data. And often – like in the law cases – it is seen as too difficult a problem.

In my business, consultation and even research activities I have heard it ad nauseam how it is slow, unreliable or expensive to collect such a detailed and complex data from individuals. Often it is claimed that you cannot trust what people tell about their private mental or physical life. Many demand extremely large samples in order to find anything interesting in consumer behaviors. These assumptions are simply wrong.

It is easy to conduct stupid consumer inventories or other studies, but a cost benefit analysis – which is only seldom conducted – would show how much money is wasted in market research and user studies by not wisely investing in these methods and analysis. Reliability of verbal data can be analyzed and evaluated just like any other type of psychological measurement data. For case examples, see the activities of my research team http://www.poem-research.org/.

For a culturally tuned mind it is no news that intentions matter, only the framing might be different: world literature, art and theatre are built on impressive drama of human intentions, their obstacles, failures, dangers, and other consequences.

The power of intention perception

We perceive intentions. Psychologists might refer to ‘anticipation’ that is an emotion-related phenomenon. However, the two are different phenomena: anticipation describes how a person prepares for any incidence while intention perception refers to the knowledge of the intentions of someone, a person or persons, whose behavior is relevant in the situation. As an example, imagine walking on the street and someone approaches you aggressively, threatens your child or your spouse. You get automatically defensive and tensed, perhaps even aggressive and you want to defend yourself and protect your close ones. What is this ‘perception of a bad intention’? Clearly, it is a peculiar form of human personal knowledge that immediately reserves specific mental structures in your mind for its use and at the same time pushes other ongoing mental and physical processes aside. You get into a state of anticipation.

Similar situations, in a less dramatic form occur frequently in our everyday life when we feel that someone – a person in a street crowd, in a sports event, in theatre play, in an organization or even a leading figure of a nation – reveals intentions to harm somebody. What is common in these instances is the power by which the knowledge – or better, the assumptions – about the intentions touches us automatically and with full force to produce a vigorous reaction.

Clearly, intention perception is more than just recording an event in the world. It is not only opening the gate to the emotional meanings and anticipatory energy but it contains all these psychological phenomena, integrated together in the form of specific type of knowledge. Intention knowledge integrates all our available psychological resources.

Scientists do not know how this significant process happens in the human and animal mind.  Like animals we have to react quickly, not to what we see as the world state, but to perceive what someone is intending to do: a ball thrown at us or an aggressive animal approaching must be immediately perceived. Any deep psychological analysis is time wasted because all this must happen in less than a second as we can see in the fast sports like ice hockey, boxing, karate, squash and tennis. Cf. an example of karate reactions: Had the goal keeper in ice hockey no idea of the intentions of the shooting player he would have no chance to catch the puck coming at the speed of 200 km/hr. It is about half a meter in a millisecond (1/1000th of a second). The human reaction time at its best is about 100 msec . He must correctly perceive the intention. http://www.budopoint.de/en/science/articles/reaction%20times%20and%20anticipatory%20skills%20of%20karate%20practitioners.pdf

Intuition has become a popular topic in the present management and decision making literature and research (cf. Hodgkinson G. & Starbuck W., (Ed.), (2008) The Oxford handbook of Organisational Decision Making, Oxford University Press, Oxford). One of the reasons to this can be that the basic cognitive psychological knowledge and decision making concepts do not have explanatory power over psychologically complex phenomena like intention and it has led to the use of other concepts like ‘intuition’. In this context it seems to mean that ‘we don’t know what went on in the decision maker’s mind when he made his choice because we cannot look inside him’.

Sometimes the lack of intention knowledge is demonstrated by environmental or technical designs that fail to serve the very basic human need to act according to personal intentions. By overlooking them the designers miss essential aspects of human aims and needs. Our behavior is guided by intentions and we try to fulfill them by looking for or being aware of opportunities to do so.  This is vividly demonstrated by what I call ‘opportunity perception’, our constant habit to look for (to perceive) ways to proceed in life according to our intentions. Bad technical or architectural designs are a temporary  hinder only  (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/small-creative-acts-and-opportunity-perception/). Like intention knowledge, its close relative -opportunity perception – is a psychologically integrated phenomenon and there is not generally accepted system model of it.

Truth does not matter (much)?

Watching a movie we know that the subjective feelings associated with ‘intention perception’ are almost the same whether there is objective background to it or not. We all know from personal experiences how strongly the knowledge (which is actually an assumption) of bad intentions moves us. In extreme conditions when life is at stake it gives us the power to kill. No wonder then that painting the picture of  ‘bad intentions’, making people perceive intentions,  is so efficiently used in political rhetoric, yellow paper journalism,  and in various forms of propaganda.

By revealing or communicating imaginary bad intentions the audience is made to react automatically in a way that is more than an intuition because it invites and engages people into internal and often also external action. Fortunately we are also profoundly moved by perceived positive intentions: seeing or experiencing that someone wants to help, love, support, save or just to conduct simple good acts for us.

Making intentions visible

Intention is a psychologically energizing force. Animals have it as many dog owners know; dogs are marvelous in perceiving your intentions – and to react accordingly – and sometimes even better than many humans are.  I remember a story from the book by the Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz about his parrot that could recognize who would be the next one from the seminar participants to leave the session and it would approach the person even before he/she had announced the intention to leave. The parrot observed the person’s intention.

Because of the predictive value of intention knowledge we have, not unlike Lorenz’s parrot, developed a number of ways to perceive, observe, and recognize the intentions of other people, the opposite sex, our opponents, partners, and competitors. However, intention perception and knowledge processes do not occur at individual level only, it has a significant role at corporate and national level as well. In organizations intention perception (creating and perceiving intentions of the organization itself or recognizing the intentions of other organizations in the environment) is an essential part of the mission-vision-strategy triangle.

A few steps back: knowledge that escapes us

Contrary to the common knowledge optimism, significant knowledge escapes us faster than ever before – not in the absolute sense but relative to what there is and will be for us to know. This paradoxical but creative knowledge explosion is an indirect consequence of the Big Data phenomenon that has taken many by surprise: the increase in the amount of data in the world accelerates faster than the increase in the processing power of all computers that mankind has or will have available. Some factors even amplify the Big Data gap so that Moore’s law is dwarfed by this race, even if it would hold for the next 50 years. Some claim again that it is already breaking http://techland.time.com/2012/05/01/the-collapse-of-moores-law-physicist-says-its-already-happening/. A pervasive challenge will be how to best compute meaningful knowledge from the mountains and clouds of fresh data.

A surprising corollary to the data explosion is that all potential meanings underlying the observable data escape even faster because of the increasingly demanding inverse problems. Apparently similar things and behaviors happen in numbers but because of totally different reasons. If some thinks that by mapping all available data efficiently we will approach the time of revealing all meanings or as it has been said, we live the time of  ‘the end of theory’ (cf. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory/) , they better think twice.

Classic and relativistic worlds of knowledge

Modern ict technology is fast revealing the challenges of knowledge complexity and our concepts of ‘knowledge’ will profoundly change from something to be discovered or constructed  to something that evolves, self-organizes with the help of the knowledge technologies and continuously escapes us by transforms itself. Interestingly, this is nothing new in natural sciences: in quantum physics and cosmology it has been a natural and recognized development.

With all this I mind I was surprised to view the short video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmQl6VGvX-c&feature=share from Google that demonstrated static conceptualizing of knowledge and a straightforward understanding of what is relevant to people and what it could be in future. To use an analogy, they appeared to represent what I see as ‘classic knowledge world’ as opposed to the ‘relativistic knowledge world’ that I promote here.

In the relativistic view the basic assumption is that we live in an expanding knowledge space where the limits of the observable knowledge world become defined by the relationship between the available computational capacity and the speed of knowledge space expansion. To me this appears as an equally complex a problem as the geometrical space-time problem in the general theory of relativity.

Relativistic (but wild) imagination

Why not borrow (and use the analogy for a thought experiment) the concept and role of the maximum speed of light in physics: it prevents us from seeing as far into the universe as we would like to. Similarly, we can imagine a maximum data processing speed and capacity that we have available for accessing the evolving and expanding data universe. Because of this profound speed obstacle we are bound to use our imagination and mathematical models to model and comprehend our universes of stars and knowledge.

But the situation in knowledge processing is not as hopeless as it is in cosmology where we will have serious problems in trying to make direct connection with the distant data sources (far-away-stars, galaxies and universes).  Even though the data sources in our present knowledge world escape fast we can try to minimize the gap between us the escaping wave fronts of knowledge.

Why is knowledge escaping us?

I suggest two main hypotheses concerning the causes of the accelerating knowledge escape:

Firstly, the number of data sources in the world (and in the expanding universe) increases faster than we can improve the available data processing power. This challenge cannot be matched by the best present or near future data processing paradigms (more intelligent and learning data mining tools, massively collective processing arrangements, parallel and distributed computing).  Cf. http://www.weforum.org/reports/big-data-big-impact-new-possibilities-international-development

Secondly, the content quality of the data at the source does not improve fast enough to narrow the Big Data gap by more efficient computing systems and algorithms. This hypothesis is based on the observation of the type of data sources that increase fastest today, due to e.g. dumb use of wide bandwidth, increasing amounts of real-time data, sensor applications and even the coming of the Internet of Things. At present, the standard solutions to the problem of bad quality source data are to increase processing power, to apply better pattern recognition schemes, rely on statistics and learning systems, data triangulation and by collecting suitable contextual data to relax the solution frame.

A delicious example of the nature of this problem is the data processing in the search for the Higgs particle.  It is not possible to tag the data at the source (the particles) and actually (if I understand it correctly) the recording result is not a direct but indirect (subtractive) observation of the assumed particle traces.  But of course, any subtraction result can be produced by an infinite number of observation values – unless there is the one and only correct theory of the world available for the interpretation.

There are other views to the explosion of computational power and Big Data. Some call this “The end of a theory” claiming that more efficient data processing will do it.  There is a hidden snag in this belief, however  (cf. Marissa Mayer from Google, at parc “The Physics of Data” http://www.slideshare.net/PARCInc/innovation-at-google-the-physics-of-data and ….

The most influential technological solutions seem to rely on the idea that we can have access to the increasingly better supplementary data to help solve the inverse problems of the received data. As a practical example from everyday life, imagine a company that wants to serve you optimally and hence, it wants to know your location, what is physically close to you and what is your behavioral history.  What the company actually would like to know is to recognize your intentions and what you need right now and then to use this knowledge in their business as best they can.

Unfortunately, the “human inverse problem” makes this difficult:  you visit the same place for different reasons and in general, different individuals visiting the same place display their behaviors for their own reasons and more often than not it is not possible to deduce these intentions, preferences, likings and decisions from the superficial behavior or history data.

We all know the huge variability of human behavior as a reaction to the same environmental situation. Hence, it is easy to understand why it is so difficult to compute the reasons to these behaviors; it is computationally a several magnitudes more complex a problem than the game of chess.

Why not assign relevant meaning at the data source, as early as possible?

Internet of Behaviors (IB) amends from the value of intention knowledge and has the power to make intentions visible. The questions I ask here are ”What can we gain from knowing the intentions?” ”What could be done to help recognize relevant intentions?”, and ”How could technology help?”.

The problem of recognizing intentions can be turned upside down and we can think about a simple but valuable solution: to acquire knowledge of the aims, goals and intentions of the people (or of artificial systems, robots) of whose behavior we are interested in. This is not typically done but it can be accomplished by for example, by intelligent tagging of the meaning of the human data and any of its components as early as possible at the source.

The later in the data creation or in the sense-making chain the meaning is introduced to it the more knowledge value drips away from codes. The data becomes irrecoverably biased and the computational problem gets increasingly difficult. It appears quite difficult to imagine how to create self-correcting codes that would recover the lost knowledge of the complex intentions and meanings that can also be dynamic in nature.

The present computation schemes use more processing power for recovering the source meanings that have already been lost from the beginning. Of course, often a typical situation is such that it is not possible to get to the meanings early, but often it is. Perhaps the worst obstacle is that there really are no relevant data structures, or even programming languages (thanks to Paul Suni,  I saw this inspiring talk by Rich Hickey http://www.infoq.com/presentations/Are-We-There-Yet-Rich-Hickey) to express the meaning of sensible human data, especially when it concerns natural behaviors or characteristics (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/quantifying-your-self-need-a-data-structure/).

The complexity of the inverse problem of recovering the meaning of the data at its source is increased by the computations applied to it after its coding at the source.

It is a most ambitious computational problem to try to uncover the intention of a behaving system, be it natural or artificial in nature.

The walking pilgrim with an intention: We would like to know why a pilgrim walking his Camino chooses his own specific trail.  Because it is an open problem it is not a general case of the traveling sales man problem: we want to know why he has produced the specific movement patterns on his pilgrimage.

Typically the pilgrims on the famous Camino de Santiago all have the same goal: to reach the Cathedral de Santiago in Northern Spain. They take a long walk that can be anything from 3000 km to 50 km long. We know that the motivations behind the nearly identical movement patterns can be totally different.  Interestingly, when starting their journey they pilgrims are asked by the church clerks: “What is your motivation, religious, sports, spiritual?”

To solve the problem we could use an accurate gps system and map the pilgrim’s  location on the Camino at every point of time to obtain data that accurately describes each individual route (x, y, t). From the data recorder’s point of view, a dense sampling and rich contextual, supporting knowledge should help to reveal the motivations underlying his walking behavior. Knowing a number of constraints, like the knowledge that the pilgrim is a tourist, a priest, a sportsperson, what time of the day it is, is he hungry, or does he live near by relaxes the problem and allows the exclusion of a number of false interpretations.  In some cases, and in the average data we might arrive at reasonably useful interpretations of the walking pilgrim with an intention on his Camino. But in general this is not so.

From the pilgrim’s point of view, the walk has a number of intrinsic, evolving and fulfilling motivations. Like any healthy person, a pilgrim or not, it is highly likely that his mental and spiritual drivers are dynamic and change continuously (cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/entropy-of-the-human-soul). Every time his journey motivations change, the walk data analysis becomes irrecoverably problematic: an intentional pilgrim walking does not remain a stationary system. After all, for most pilgrims this is the spiritual idea behind the walk. It is even risky to consider him physically a stationary system and certainly it is not reasonable to make this assumption about his mental states. As a consequence, it becomes practically impossible to recover the original meaning of the (x,y,t) data without accurate and dynamic pre-knowledge of the pilgrim and his evolving intentions.

There is no computational method to solve the problem of the intentional pilgrim– unless we have relevant data available at the source.  Realizing this made me think about “The Internet of Behaviors”, (IB) and to ask the question: What if we could have valuable meaning data at the source? How and when could we record it and how could we use it? Now after some time since the thought experiment I’m convinced about the computational potential of IB.

In the traditional mapping of the pilgrim’s trail we loose knowledge content each time a computation is performed to calculate the distances, velocities, accelerations, turnings or other aspects of the behavior pattern. For example, when two dots on a map are computationally connected there is a high probability that this most simple computation cannot be mapped at all to the internal space of the pilgrim walking. In other words, the relationship between the computed movement patterns and the internal states of the pilgrim remains fuzzy.

We can use clever movement pattern characteristics like entropy, for example, to model the movement types (cf. Särkelä et al., International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 2009) but every computation introduces noise to the meanings of these movements at their source. Hence, it becomes increasingly unclear why these movements patterns have occurred.

Preserving the significant meaning at the data source may not be not a mainstream idea (I do not know what exactly has been accomplished in this field), and I’ve been repeatedly puzzled why this view has received so little interest even with the presence of clever sensing systems and other data collection innovations.  It is almost as if the computing systems were designed to accomplish just the opposite: most of the computing power is devoted to clean up data because of its bad quality at the source.  Mathematically this can be elegant (to solve difficult problems) and sometimes it is just a necessity of life because we do not know more about the data itself and its creation. But what if we could know more? What if we could know what is meaningful data – very early when data is generated?

There are well-known technical and theoretical solutions to this: Real-time operating systems declare significant events so that when an important external or internal event takes place the system program reacts to it according to the nature of this interrupt or ‘flag’. However, within the human and social sciences this kind of thinking is not mainstream and it has not been used to model human behavior and its control.


Some novel apps indicate that innovators are realizing the benefits of improving the quality of the data at the source.  See for example, http://www.thinglink.com/ that allows tagging (albeit later in the process) of images so that they could provide relevant content information to the viewers. This approach can be improved by suitable means. In the following thought experiments I’ve described some direct ways to achieve similar advantages.

To reiterate the idea of Internet of Behaviors:

IB aims at tagging the essential meanings of a specific behavior pattern at its source and as early as possible  (related to the behavior of a human, machine, organization or data processing chain, for example). By doing this IB opens a gateway to that specific behavior pattern to be used for beneficial purposes.

IB is a communication scheme according to which a large number (e.g. from a few to several thousands, see e.g. IPv6) of IP or ‘IB’ addresses can be reserved by individuals, communities, couples, teams, organizations, or interested operators who use these addresses to refer to the specific behavior patterns that they want to declare explicit and open for a trusted or public use.

IB is analogous to the Internet of Things, with the difference that IB refers to behaviors that have been pre-defined, defined on-the-go, or otherwise specifically declared by someone. In other words, it carries human knowledge of what is the meaning and significance of the addressed behavior pattern. Unlike in the Internet of Things the addressed behaviors need not be exact in nature or fixed. IB relies on the intelligence and knowledge of the operators (individuals, social entities, organizations…) to denote meaningful behavior patterns, either actively or by a suitable technical scheme. We all know the social value of such knowledge.

However, the owners of the addresses (individuals, communities, designers, engineers, artists, journalists) know, believe or expect that it is somehow beneficial to identify and express their specific behaviors for which they have reserved the addresses. When these behaviors occur the IB opens access to the data and processes relevant at the occurrence of that specific behavior.

IB scheme is dynamic in the sense that unless the specific behavior occurs, the address is not available. It is a pattern recognition scheme with the specific property that the recognition is based on simple (voluntary) indication by one or more individuals, by a sensor system, a recognition sw, or by any imaginable human or technical means.

What could be achieved with the IB scheme?  A lot.

A few days ago I was listening to a podcast interview (from Carnegie Council http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/resources/multimedia/20120716/index.html of Mark Nelson and Margarita Quihuis from Stanford Peace Innovation Lab http://www.stanford.edu/group/captology/cgi-bin/peaceinnovation/?page_id=35 . Margarita mentioned the facebook experiment that they were involved with where it is possible to follow ‘likes’ over conflict boundaries, for example how many people are showing this behavior at any moment (cf. http://peace.facebook.com/?ref=ts). But this is just the beginning: what if we could join the specific behavioral situations where these positive engagements occur? What could we then accomplish?

If we know enough of any specific behavioral situation, be it a human or a machine, it is possible to compute relevant knowledge from this data. With IB there are benefits:

1. When there is not enough contextual data to deduce the meaning of behavior Bn of an actor in a specific situation (“I’m in the library preparing the manuscript X”), then the indication of the actor state S by IBthat the actor itself (ideally) provides helps achieving correct information about Bn without complex computations.

2. The intentions of an actor are difficult to deduce by any computational means in natural life situations. IB can be an indication of these intentions and help effective computing of the meaning of the observed behavior.

3. Knowing the intention of an actor provides a valuable means for proactive or even predictive analysis of the future events and behaviors. When there is a large number of actors this becomes especially valuable.

4. People are not very good at tuning and managing a number of applications to monitor relevant behaviors of other people or devices. But they are very knowledgeable even to the smallest detail in indicating their own behaviors, and even their own thoughts or feelings if allowed to do that in a simple and secure way.

Example apps that could fly

Let’s assume that a child has a mobile system attached to his school ubi-bag. Every time the bag moves from his home or from the school it opens an IB address (only) to the parents who now have an IB address to the school trip. How they want to use this knowledge is a matter of habits, needs, ethics, and imagination.

A journalist working in the middle of a conflict area can indicate his or her intentions to collect material of certain type of incidences. By opening his IB he can get real-time support, materials and even protection and guidance from trusted parties like other journalists.

Imagine that every time to you read a specific issue of a magazine you could indicate it with your mp or the magazine itself would know that you have it in your hands.  The publisher would then know that you are “engaged with magazine X” or even in more detail what is the article you are reading or the specific material in the magazine that you are searching for. The IB address that you have declared for this behavior (or the publisher has arranged it in a clever and even commercially viable way) lets the publisher offer any service to you that is related to this reading, be it any journalistic content or adverts. Only imagination is the limit to the potential and commercial ways to arrange for this new type of mediaspace to be shared with the publisher.

What if everyone coming to an airport would open his information about the travel intentions and on-going activities to the travel offices? By knowing the intentions and on-going travel activities of their customers the airports could be better prepared – in advance – to use their limited resources, help them in receiving special guests or people with problems and simply to improve their overall service relevance.  The real gain would be the advanced knowledge, an expected-behavior map, that is, a better recognition of the customer data at its source. There is no magic knowing the check-in gates but the ways and intentions that the travelers have in getting to them can carry valuable and even totally novel knowledge for the service providers – and to the travelers themselves. Present net-services are rather clumsy.

Imagine that you are studying how in your organization innovations are created. It is difficult to predict exactly where and how this happens, but before the study, on the basis of interview data it is possible to guess, which people, places, circumstances and behaviors are likely to produce that kind of activities. Based on that knowledge, it is possible to span a set of IB addresses pro-actively and then collect data (location and other activity records, identifying other people involved, launching a questionnaire) only when the persons studied have indicated that such relevant episodes have happened or are about to happen.

Imagine that activists share the address of their next operation, like participation in a demonstration. When everyone participating opens the IB gate to this occasion we will have thousands of eyes, ears and recording devices to know what is really going on there. Address & code traces will be left of these activities as well so that if anyone would want it, a shared coding system could help integrate vast amounts of eye-witness and other data. Naturally, the ID protection is a most important requirement.

Imagine that it would be possible to divide any problem into sub-problems (with IB codes), just like it is done in Microtask (http://www.microtask.com/). Then, imagine further that you had access to anyone who, at any moment, happens to be engaged with solving that specific part of the problem. Imagine even further, that you would have direct access to the solutions that these people are producing or have produced. What could we accomplish with such a system? A lot, especially when we build a system according to which large problems can be compartmentalized.

Finally about band-fan management: what if your favorite band had a gateway to offer to those attending their performances? There are reasons why they might want to open it, in whatever way they see useful, also to audiences (and record markets on the other side of the globe) outside the concert halls?

… and then there is an unimaginable amount of app potential for cars, games, new media, research, and mobile phones, of course. Somewhere IB will start living.

Strings and networks, Part I: In search for the dimensions of collective life

September 19, 2012 § 5 Comments

This is the most speculative text I have written. I will introduce an idea about applying string theory from physics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory) to modeling what we traditionally call network behaviors.  In this first part I write about these thoughts and considerations and in a later part I try to be more explicit in it – if it makes sense. But because this is hugely speculative and relies on an analogy, I will learn on the way to see what is the potential value of this approach.

A note added on 15th February 2014:

Having recently worked intensively on my ms “Behavioral Theory of the Networked Firm” and now reading Alex Pentand’s book “Social physics” I have become convinced that this blog is not at all as speculative as I originally thought. Now I see how important it is to replace the commonly used concepts of links, nodes, connections, connection strength, flow of information, ideas as they are used in  current network models. Why? Well, nothing flows between people, but states of both change in interaction;  no ‘connection’ between individuals of firms, for example,  concerns only one property like ideas, information, material; life, in its essence is not multi-layered; links are not channels but forms of life (thank you Inma Vp for the life bridge comment); and some other insights because of which it is time to search for new representations and models of connected life. The string model is one potential candidate.


Traveling Salesman with a mind

I met my friend Antti at Espoo railway station where he arrived on a local train from Helsinki. I have taken the same trip several times, but he had his own amusing story to tell from this short, 30 min journey. Formally we both had commuted from A to B, or in a graph form, A->B, but our trips had been totally different. I had started to create a new concept for ‘injecting’ content and meaning into network representations and eagerly explained the idea to my friend who immediately started thinking aloud about the differences between our personal journeys, A->B.

Over the years, we have traveled some of the same routes and our journey maps could be easily compared in the form of a network description just like in the famous travelling salesman problem (for TS, cf. http://www.tsp.gatech.edu/ or try the game to learn about it http://www.tsp.gatech.edu/games/index.html).  But how should we denote the personal meanings associated with each trip and express them in a formal representation so that we could model the essence of our travels and compare their meaning and impact?

Mathematicians solving the TS problem have not cared much for what might be going on in the travelling salesman’s mind, except of course, that the TS  might be eager to find the optimal route through all the sales points on the journey. Had the mathematicians been interested in his genuine intentions, motivations or experiences, they had ended up with a different formalism to represent the problem. We can call this the Traveling Salesman with a Mind  (TSM) problem. Perhaps even a better metaphor would be the Traveling Pilgrim problem because its basic premise would that the traveling person indeed has a mind and even a soul.

The TSM problem consists of the trip and its context data. But there is no generally accepted way to inject such meaningful data into its representation. This is surprising – we do not travel just to transport our bodies from one place to another. We even love specific forms of traveling like hiking on the mountains or sailing at sea. Some trips simply do not take place at all. Psychologists have not heard the mathematical siren calling.

Patterns of compassion

Rehman Ilyas and his team of Indian and Pakistani university students have created the “Romancing The Border (RTB) concept and app where people across the Indian-Pakistan border can send their positive, compassionate greetings over the border by using short web videos. The developers believe, like Mark Nelson and Margarita Quihuis from the Stanford Peace Innovation lab have described it, that this contributes measurably to peace between the two nations in conflict. As a result a network of visible positive actions is generated and can be monitored just like in the facebook app http://peace.facebook.com/. Quite recently I read about “the acts of kindness” map for a Mexican city (http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/09/06/mexico-hero-reports-mapping-acts-of-kindness/) putting the locations of the good acts on a city map.

How should these behaviors in India/Pakistan and Mexico be formally represented? What is the real nature of the ‘kindness acts’ and their networks? How are they connected with other matters of the world? Of course we can count the good deeds or the friendly greetings over the conflict boundaries, map them and derive various statistics, but it does not help to understand what really goes on in these positive acts, what valuable human potential they carry and what other consequences they might have. We should have access to that kind of data and realistic models to deal with it. This is a huge challenge for future human and social sciences that are being transformed due to the fast technological influences.

More generally we can ask – and I’m 100% convinced that future politicians will be exited (in good and bad) about this – what really happens in the world as a result of the miniscule individual actions like in the RTB campaign, in the Mexican city and in other similar circumstances of positive behaviors? We should know, follow and analyze that and create means and tools to see farther. New approaches and methods are required, but most of all we must set the goals of analysis at a new ambition level in modeling the human and social behavior in the real world.

The individual compassionate acts in RTB may be separate and weak-appearing incidents, below any level of statistical significance.  But why look at massive statistical truths only, when we can search for other impacts, like the significance of single social episodes? Often the statistical view at the world prevents us from seeing valuable single events and from imagining what would happen if we had thousands of them. Statisticians are late in jumping on the bandwagon of valuable acts. Many of the analysis methodologies suffer from this but they have still taught us that the ‘true phenomena’ in the world are always ‘big’. In physics they are assumed to be the smallest of the small.

In business and epidemiology the statistical view is a standard, but as Malcom Gladwell demonstrated in his book The Tipping Point we should have eyes for weak but relevant single behaviors and events. For example, there is no single statistically true answer to the question: how many people need to take up a certain type of sports before it becomes a trend? Sometimes one person can change the course of development and – to use a physics metaphor – open a new dimension of life. This is why the concept of “weak signals” seems very weak to me. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/weak-signals-or-weak-theory-of-observation/

A string world?

The term ‘string’ wakes up the skeptic in many a theoretical physicist. Despite that I have felt it inspiring to move in this speculative space, very much like the string theory in modern physics: many see it as a real possibility and some ignore it as a dream or confabulation.

The idea to apply string theory to the analysis of general networks owes to the charming “Little Book of String Theory” by Steven S. Gubser from Princeton, one of the many treasures I have found from Stanford bookstore,  http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9133.html.  It is an introduction to string theory with a friendly approach and includes lively examples that make it inspiring reading.  I will use the ‘string’ concept rather loosely here without always referring to the peculiarities of the superstring or supersymmetric string theory.

I’ve had a long-time curiosity and passion for and even studied many forms of network, e.g. artificial and realistic neural nets, collaboration and communication nets, knowledge nets, social nets, internet of things, the WWW and any possible variations I have imagined myself. I even have one gloomy experience from this fascinating field when I was the main architect for the network of psychology departments (Psykonet) in Finland. Building the net environment, trying to feed the idea that ‘the net is beneficial’ to the reluctant and local-politically tuned psychologists was too much for me. But even that theme remains in the core of the present string analysis:  understanding real networks. Only some time ago I wrote about the idea of internet of behaviors (https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/internet-of-behaviors-ib/>) which reflects the same interest.

Lifeless network representations

Being a psychologist, I’ve been puzzled by the lack of life in most of the network models and concepts I’ve seen. For example, when dealing with human relationship descriptions or organizational sociograms they typically fail to express and preserve complex human aspects like motivation, intentions, joy, excitement, beliefs, love, engagement, reluctance, and conflict. Why?

Reading the little string book suggested a striking analogy between the unsolved problems of gravitation vs. quantum mechanics and the core problems of real-world representation of human and social behavior in modern network theory. The analogy might appear like a very distant and far-from-the-real-world idea but I see it is as a very practical one and indeed worth thinking about. Not unlike in modern physics we need to learn what are the human forces that create the major global phenomena in economics and social systems but at the same time govern the individual life, mind, and motivations. The world of human and social sciences is split in this question, just like the physics of natural forces was split in dealing with gravitation and quantum forces.

Strings of life – an idea

The web videos in RTB with their peace-promoting content are not only expressions of valuable connections over the problematic borders. They are symptoms of something more profound: the state of the local (quantum) world has changed, obtained a new state as a result of them. Furthermore, something has made this change possible to occur. It may be material or immaterial but we really don’t exactly know. It is a small wonder that this small event has specific meaning at all, why is it not only noise or a random episode of life? The world is not the same after the apparently miniscule change, but how is it different?

Using a string analogy from the String Theory (ST), a significant ‘string of life’ as I call this relationship between the two people sharing the video, has changed its state. This string of life with its specific state (and its base) is a material and real aspect of the connected world. By assigning a complex content to the string state this expression can be used as a functional description of a specific human behavior in the world. In this case it represents the nature of the relationship between the sender and the receiver who have peaceful motivations. Next we can ask what exactly is this state and what are its consequences?

String theory in physics suggests that the way our world exists in its connectivity can be described as a conglomeration of strings each with its own peculiar properties, or again, to borrow from ST, having its own state of ‘reverberation’. Furthermore, in the available space (whatever is its dimensonality), not everything is possible and the limitations are set by the properties of the space and the strings. Now, each of the peaceful acts of RTB ca be defined as  ‘vibes’ that represent the specific form of good. But for this the strings have to have specific properties and be grounded in a peculiar base of life. In other words – following the superstring theory and again analogically – the strings must be attached somewhere.

The friends of the physical string theory use the concept of a brane (a spatial structure having any dimensions, e.g a membrane or a cube etc.) for this purpose and they serve this specific need of the strings to be attached to something real  (if I have understood it right). Branes (or bases) are relevant aspects of the string relationship in describing the string states, just like it is relevant to the sound quality and tone of an instrument how the string is attached to its body. Without a base nothing sustainable can take place.

Vibrant string theory

The aim here is not to derive a direct ‘strings of life’ model or a theory as it is applied in modern physics. I will be working on it as a thought experiment and will blog on it later and perhaps get inspired by +/- thoughts from willing physicists.  The simple motivation here is to prepare for better functional models to describe the dynamics and limitations of the content-rich, complex and interconnected world. I want to find a way to express life in nets in a way that combines global (in analogy to the gravitational forces in physics) and local (quantum mechanical) forces of life into one representational framework.

This might sound like a confabulating amateur talking but I believe – just like theoretical physicists think about their own science – that the human social sciences need to realize the value of the theoretical endeavor and to set the ambition level high. If the physicists intend to solve the problem of matter, space, and energy in the universe why should human and social scientists be less ambitious? The aim is to understand the actors, forces, and dynamics of the behavioral space on earth.

Shortly and generalizing a lot, the aim of the string theory in physics (there are numerous versions of it) is to, e.g.:

  1. formulate the theoretical basis for new physical space-time-other dimensions geometries, and
  2. to offer a ‘string interpretation’ of the nature of the elementary particles and
  3. to find the correspondence between string states and particle properties. In other words, string theory sees particle properties as aspects of string states.

String theory leads to a larger number than 4 of world dimensions, which is not a peculiar property in human sciences: the psychological dimensionalities of man are multi-dimensional. For some reason, however, humanists have remained rather vague on how these multi-dimensional properties like intelligence and personality are actually built on real life materials like mental structures and contents, physiological processes. They are even less theoretically oriented to how human and social behaviors are determined and constrained by these spaces. Personality and intelligence studies aside, so far I don’t know of anybody who has really tried to estimate the true dimensionality of the psycho-social-cultural man and what kind of a ‘mind and behavior universe’ it spans.  An interesting question is which of these dimensions have the best explanation value when we try to model and perhaps predict what happens in the complex world of human interaction. Cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/entropy-of-the-human-soul/

Figure. Original source, permission according to Creative Commons.

Vibes, branes, strings and superstrings of life?

Not unknown to the hippies the ‘vibes’ but more precisely the state of a string links it to the content and meaning that it represents. In a mathematical sense it is a question of how to formally represent such states so that it would best allow description of local, collective, and global aspects of behavior and would open a new landscape to see their wider potential influences and contributions on human and social behavior and on the environment.

I cannot discuss here the number of string types that might be needed for this analogy exercise or how many of them would be required to cover relevant aspects of human connectivity. Furthermore, I’m a bit puzzled by the brane concept that refers to a space-time continuum that can have any number of dimensions. But following the analogy, I understand the branes as a necessary base of the strings of life without which strings would just float, in a haphazard manner, above or outside our reality with maximum entropy. In other words, the branes extend to all corners of life, like the basic constituents that make up any form of life, be it psychological, economical, or political in nature.

It could be argued that the number of strings required for any reasonable representation of human behavior is just infinite.  But if we limit the scope to relevant aspects of behavior I don’t think it is so and by looking at simple instances, like real-like toy problems, the string concept could help us think about ways to insert content into nets, to give them life.

Here are two practical cases to explain the logic of my approach. First, as an example of far-field human and social connections, it has become commonplace in global political analyses to talk about world economy divergence and the emergence of a new ‘multi-polar world’, cf.  http://www-wds.worldbank.org/servlet/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2012/04/19/000158349_20120419165314/Rendered/PDF/WPS6040.pdf

Far field human forces: Multi-polar or string world?

We can ask how should we represent these far-field or  ‘multi-polar’ phenomena (e.g. forces, processes, materials, values) in economics, trade and policies that are characterized by varying activities in different parts of the globe? Surely the multi-polarity must take place in a specific space as well. But we don’t have representational formalisms that could cover all relevant aspects of these relationships. For example, the concept of ‘multi-polarity’ is used to refer to strong economically dominating nodes with a new connectivity (like China, India, Brazil) that is different from its earlier state (USA, Soviet, Europe). However, using the ST approach we can consider this ‘multi-polarity’ as a dynamic and evolving string world, where the states of the hypothetical strings determine the elements of connectivity. In order to build a valid representation of this we must recognize the significant string systems to cover the relevant relationship information between the nodes. Then there is the question, what would be the base of life to which these strings are attached? I will return to this later.

If we can replace the ‘multi-polarity’ view – by recognizing and modeling the relevant strings in economy behaviors, acts, and relationships – with a string view of the complex world we can ask: do we gain something real by this change of representation? I believe we do, for example, by getting rid of a blind statistical model that overlooks ‘small acts’, by obtaining a dynamic model of the network behavior, by introducing complex contents and phenomena by the string model, by introducing space considerations,  and by preserving relevant data in the representation. And there is more.

Near-field human forces: Customer service moments

The other example concerns near-field human interaction: customer experiences and behavior in a service situation. What is the string life in this simple exchange between the customer and the sales person, for example? There are a plethora of customer experience measures and typically they suffer from a lack of representing the real life context between the individuals – ‘the customer’ and ‘the service person’. What if we model this behavior by defining the relevant strings connecting the customer and the sales person  (cf. the RTB example), so that it formally describes their relationship and the complex phenomena that actually exists (and interact) there?

Again someone might argue that we already have measurement scales, profiles, and inventories to measure all that.  But think again: indeed such measures do reveal aspects of customer experiences but they do not connect the customer to the rest of his/her world. There is no formal methodology to do that and often various control variables are used to cover (and typically exclude) the social, economical and other relevant ‘background’ factors. In the string approach they are not ‘background’ factors but an essential part of complex human behavior. The strings of life would here be used to include the most significant aspects (meanings) of this relationship.

A difficult but vibrant topic

Interestingly, almost without exception, always when we talk about a ‘connection’ between some units, like the cities A and B in the travel example, or the peace acts over conflict boundaries, what is actually meant is the following. First, it is assumed that in such a complex situation it is possible to put aside irrelevant information (like the clothing my friend was wearing when traveling, or the personal motivations for an adventure of the just divorced traveling salesman). Second, the economy principle favors simple explanations and theories of behavior, and third, it is possible to wisely choose which phenomena are selected for independent observations. But as we all know, the world always surprises the scientists and analysts entertaining such views.

Two years ago I attended an inspiring talk by Rob Cross (http://www.robcross.org/research_books.htm) at Stanford where he described his studies on the true connectivity (sociogram data) in companies with certain type of organizational chart. It was hoped that knowing the true network among the workers could help to better understand how innovations, for example, emerge and are created socially in a company. In general, the perspective of interest in such nets can be almost anything from money and politics to knowledge sharing, entertainment and collaboration. But there is no general way to implement meaning and content into these network descriptions and that was perhaps one of the strong future guiding observations in this work as well.

It does matter how you talk and which media channel you use

Of course the persons across the border in the RTB case could have a telephone chat but that would be a different string of life with its own limited properties and impact space. In other words, it does matter how the communication is accomplished, it is not a matter of information sharing only. In a general sense, there is connecting ‘ether’ available that exists between all people, but its potential remains typically invisible or dormant unless the string state is changed properly like it happens when people talk to each other or use a specific communication channel.

The communicating parties in this example have not created the string itself but only controlled or set its state from one of ignorance or non-existence to the expression of good will in communication. More importantly, the string is not about the connection itself, but about the type of connection (positive engagement) they share.

They have changed the state of that (pre-existing but dormant) string into what has now made it visible to have an impact on the rest of the world, first locally, but with he help of technology like in RTB or facebook, also globally. The world state has thus permanently changed even though from mass statistical perspective the effect might look like (illusorily) miniscule. In the networks of these people this is a significant event and a change. It’s value can be understood if we imagine that there would be 10 millions of such string states. In that case the politicians in both countries would be seriously asking ‘what does that mean? Nobody could explain that with a model or a theory..

Injecting life into networks

Don Tapscott  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK4If-FFjW8&feature=youtu.be has a charming way to express the explosion of content in the connected world. The pivotal question remains, how could we best follow what actually happens on a large or a small scale in this connected mass of technologies, actors, and the content shared. To do that we need formal tools to help us. Had I the skills of Don Tapscott I would try to draw this same story as a string world – and perhaps learn all the problems on the way.

Future network models need to comply with the increasing demands of content production, sharing, and meaning management. We need theories that differ from the classical network analysis that is typically an idealized – and seriously biased – representation of reality. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of the computational networks models of today lack sensitivity to the complex reality and have problems in modeling significant life events like the RTB campaign and its consequences or even the simple but real traveling salesman with a mind – problems.

Content in the brain?

Take a popular example: the brain is typically described as an information processing network consisting of interconnected ‘neurons’. Forgetting the mysteries of the glial cell structures and “the other brain” http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-other-brain-cells it is generally assumed that the inner and external world has a well-defined representation in these networks. But there is a serious theoretical problem: how is the natural (inner or outer) world actually represented in our brains and how should that be done in the mathematical brain models? What material carries these representations? Even the concept of representation is problematic. Represented of what, for what, and for whom? How can we understand connected brains or millions of them? Cf. https://gotepoem.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/203/

Even the most impressive achievements using tensor analysis (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_MRI) to look inside the brain and reveal its connectivity lack this content realism.  The subjective reality and the inner personal space remain hidden. True, with advanced imaging and brain damage studies we can observe the activities in different brain centers in certain behaviors, see individual cell activities by direct recordings by new fluorescent methods, or to observe the scary pathologies resulting from minimal local brain lesions but the contents remain obscure. But the subjective spaces evade these methods.

When is a network representation realistic?

Garbage in, garbage out is the alarming truth for the most ingenious network analysis tools and algorithms. If the feature representations of the world elements as used in these networks fail so will also the models of the brain, world, and behavior fail. Of course the same problem concerns the string idea, but there the intention is to represent significant meanings and content and the space they cover – not their possible underlying features or other components – as string states. The aim is to improve data quality and relevance at the source.

In the brain example, we could suggest a number of alternative ways to represent the world: as a bottom-up (from sensory pathways to the many cortical projection areas), top-down (from higher brain centers towards lower neuron layers and up to the sensory pathways), or by an internally controlled mix and even a ubiquitous model of these. But we do not have an exact way to represent (and know if it is wise to use a structural representation at all) the external world with a relevant complexity. Standard models seem to assume that this is actually a problem of emergence or that we just need to use a specialized network model and analysis for each purpose.

What is real in a network?

Networks are not only used in neurophysiology but as descriptions of all sectors of human, biological, and social life where the theoretical and computational problems are similar and require an analysis of distributed activities. Surprisingly little attention has been given to the ‘reality check’ of the network models and tools. The first neural network models of learning and the brain were typically demonstrations – far from human empiria. The economical success stories by Google and facebook have not boosted this either while they rely on mass statistics, pattern recognition or classification, follow-ups, and mappings, for example.

In the very near future, with the maturation of network computations, the pattern recognition methods, fast progressing technologies in imaging, localization, and sensor apps will meet an overload of ‘dumb’ information to deal with. The Big Data (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data) discourse is one symptom of this crowding effect. Future networks need to deal with meaningful and massive contents, in an organized and analytical way. I believe that it is possible to avoid this crowding problem by improving the validity of the representations of reality and the quality of source data in the computations. The string approach can offer one means towards that aim.

As an example, think about any network representation that you use: the definition of nodes and the connection strengths or weights are usually directly derived from some empirical, statistical or other quantitative measures. In other words, it is assumed that the phenomenon of ‘connection’ can be modeled by signals and the strength factor (transmittance) of each connection. In real world there are indeed phenomena that are well-behaving in this respect.

As a counter example, it is possible to express the impact of person X on person Y by counting the number of contacts X initiates with Y and by suitable scaling in the whole data set. So locally, at the person-to-person connection level it might be reasonable to assume that the contacting impact can be estimated by simply counting the number of contacting instances X->Y. But of course, the contact does not take place in a vacuum but has a source, channel, and content. The question is, how should this be represented?

I invite my (potential) readers to tune in and think about networks from the ‘string perspective’ and to judge if it could lead to interesting ways of importing real-world source data, with high meaning content,  and phenomena into the computational systems that we now call ‘networks’.

What are strings and nets made of: the snet (stringnet)

Let’s push aside the idea of a classic, real-life ‘network’, the system with connected units and replace it with a string-based theoretical formulation consisting of functional strings that span over complex entities (like people, businesses, teams, real biological cells or brain centers) and that have the ability to create tangible phenomena by assuming certain states of the strings.  Furthermore, we can assume that the strings are attached to a base (brane) that sustains their life. In general we could think of the branes as the layer or medium that supports the string life. Both branes and strings are then relevant entities that together have impact on the string states.

In this representation, content is a natural part of the string system.  It is injected into the system as a state of reverberation of a string. The concept of reverberation remains here an open theoretical construct.

Traditionally the matching between a network representation and the real world includes emergence considerations or statistical contrasting between real processes and behavior and the corresponding network model performance. Because computational analysis of the traditional net models is so powerful this idealization is often beneficial. But the farther we go in trying to understand the complex real world the higher become the demands for realistic representation of the world. The risk of misrepresenting reaity increases abruptly. I don’t know of any computational method that would be generally accepted as a test of the level of complex realism of a network representation.

Avoiding the Ashby trap

Ashby’s excellent analysis of the isomorphic machines shows this well: we can build two systems with identical input/output functions, while their material basis can be totally different: one machine can be electronic and the other one mechanical but their transfer functions can be made identical by suitable selection of their materials and component parameters. (See Ashby: Introduction to Cybernetics, p 94). In this sense, the problem of realism is similar to that between classical Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics. When we go deeper in our understanding of the reality there is a risk that the overly idealized network representations will actually prevent the building of a theory of networks that would describe the relevant and realistic life. One way to avoid the Ashby trap is to inject content and meaning data, on purpose into the representation.

The  ‘string exercise’ leaves many issues open but I still see it as a valuable one. The first thing that string theory suggested to me – by getting rid of the traditional way of representing particles – was to do the same with network nodes, and connecting links. After that it becomes possible to figure out representations that can better pay respect to the complex nature of the underlying phenomena of life. Formation of the string theory of the elementary particles and forces is based on a similar consideration of the target problem: to find an alternative way to describe the particle/wave reality and the quantum mechanical forces included.

Monkey mind networks and a bit of history

The concept of classical network has quickly achieved the position as every-man’s theory but it is not ‘holy’ by any means – it has a rather weak physical grounding. Culturally I see it as a practical concept that probably dates back to the times when people became aware of the importance of family and tribe relationships: even monkey colonies have their hierarchic and jungle-functional networks although I still doubt that monkeys see their herd structures as ‘networks’; they must entertain other concepts relevant in their wild life.  There is no general formal way to represent such meaningful monkey relationships, either.

Nevertheless, the relationship conceptions of the monkeys must allow beneficial perception, collaboration, interaction and often survival in a gang fight. In other words, the monkey internal network concepts must carry significant content knowledge and meanings. We have no idea what this knowledge actually is and how it resides in their brains.

I have learned that the first influential network applications are from the late 19th century railways and road systems, and later in logistics, especially in industry and during the times of war, and finally in telecommunication. Psychologists like Jacob Moreno and Kurt Lewin, in 1930s were behind the idea of social network analysis, but mathematicians, especially Euler, had formulated topology problems already in 1730’s.  The work of D.O. Hebb 1940/50’s, among many others, and the computational power of network theory led to the idea that also brains should be analyzed as network structures.

Interestingly, still today, I don’t know of a brain theory that would, at neuron-level detail, explain any significant component of our normal everyday behavior, like having at a lunch, riding a bike, making love, following and enjoying a theatre play. Neurologists know the roles of various sensory and motor pathways and brain areas, and some have even studied the brain activities related to reading Jane Austen novels (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/september/austen-reading-fmri-090712.html) but that is about it, it is dead map data. The resolution in these studies is far-far from a single neuron or distributed neurons together function. I know that serious brain scientists have no problems in admitting this and that there is much to learn from the life of neurons as we see them today. Honest neuroscience works on these problems.

The roll-out of network theory during the last 30 years or so became possible due to the fast technological and mathematical development in network analysis but the real drivers were the social applications of networking.  Not so long ago – when I studied mathematics, at the end of 1960’s, network theory did not have too many real-world applications. This may well be one reason why there is still no general theory that integrates networks with real world phenomena in a way that would describe the nature of this connection.

The evolution of www and mobile communication was driven by the human and social power, but another alternative development pattern can be easily imagined. What if the networks had remained solely for the machine and automated industrial systems to communicate with each other, and not with humans. Had this been the case then the network theory, net apps and their UIs had become quite different. Indeed, it is possible to think about a totally different cause of actions even today when ‘the net’ is something that we all take as a granted ground truth – which it is not. It has become a dominating paradigm.

In summary and as I see it, the main forces underlying the evolution of the present type of network analysis and thinking have been the introduction of topological problem formulation in mathematics, the cultural basis of the social network concepts, the apparent similarity between artificial (e.g. McCoullgh & Pitts -neuron) and natural neurons (Ramon y Cajal), and later the learning, pattern recognition, and general mathematical properties of artificial neural nets. The next step is open.

I was lucky to closely, albeit at different University,  but as one of the founding members of the Pattern Recognition Society of Finland, to follow the pioneering work of prof. Teuvo Kohonen first with diode networks and then, together with his teams and students,  the models of associative memory in the early 1970s that later led to self-organizing maps (SOM) and other truly innovative distributed learning concepts. These developments have proved – and are still doing it – the amazing power of network mathematics, but even they are constrained by the theory that maps reality to these networks. I believe that all network scientists applying SOM to real-life problems are painstakingly aware of the reality and interpretation problem when they analyze the learned maps and try to figure out what they tell about the reality.

As a brutal example, the road maps of New York and Moscow both represent their realities but something else is needed if the aim is to understand life in New York and in Moscow: the contents and meanings. The popular technological question today is what else do we need besides the road maps in order to uncover the life of these magnificent cities. An implicit answer – considering what is happening in the field – is that we need more content and location specific network models and integration between them. An alternative solution can be imagined: less networks but more and richer content in them, in other words, something along idea and the concepts offered by the string theory.

The situation reminds me of the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: true understanding of the real world requires high-level concepts but computational economy and accuracy demands focused measurements. The string approach is one way to at least move towards the higher-level representations without loosing the computational potential.

A friend and colleague of mine, prof. Timo Järvilehto sometimes reminded, referring to neural Darwinism and related theories: neurons do not communicate, humans do it, neurons just ‘try’ to stay alive by acting and adapting biologically in their bio-environment, in a reasonable way. Their signaling activity is a sign of this – their life is not information processing, it is cell life, the life of cell communities, or part of the states of the complex biological control systems. It is beneficial to build a theory that describes that life; communication or pattern recognition theories alone do not suffice, content and meaning must find their rightful places in these models.

Modern network maps have become popular and their colorful visual architecture diagrams are fascinating. Often such maps assume the relevance of the basic net elements and connections and they carry fuzzy content information and don’t have a way to express the actors’ (units’) intentions, interpretations, or other relevant processes or states, energy considerations can be missing, network dynamics is difficult to depict, they do not represent complex episodic processes or needs, they have numerous invisible momentums, and the context of the units and their real activities remain often obscure. To put it shortly: the present-day network maps and models lack signs of  life.

Hence, a general theory of networks in the brain, and of an economical system for that matter, must be – in its essence –  grounded in a general theory of life, not in a theory of communication. This is true for any other networks that aim to describe living, human, and/or social systems.

Impressive network work

Lazlo Barabasi’s http://www.barabasi.com/ has published beautiful work on mathematical network analysis that shows a number of ways to analyze e.g. network structure, strength, stability, growth, adaptation and ‘gravitation’ between the nodes. While these mathematical methods help to classify network types, to understand how networks evolve, and gain specific properties like connectivity, strength, and competitive fitness, they still do not explain why (from content, motivation, intent, meaning –perspective) this happens and what reallyunderlies the behavior ofthe nodes and links, what is their life and what is their exact nature. There is no general theoretical framework that would describe how content and context are related to each net considered.

The burning questions remain: how are ‘network nodes and links’ related to the real life that they are supposed to represent and how are ‘connections’ related to the real-life phenomena that form them? How do these nodes and connections grow, originally? Someone might argue that this is trivial, but I believe it is the most essential theoretical problem in trying to understand the complex systems and processes that we have learned to call network phenomenon. It is a no less ambitious problem than the study of matter and its elementary particles.

A general network theory of biological, social and human life forms should cover the elements of life in complex nets. Think about the following few questions, for example: how are nets grounded in real-life material and immaterial phenomena and how should we formalize this?  What underlies network life and energy, how are meanings generated in the nets? How is network synchronization accomplished at different scales?

Twittering strings?

Twitter messages do carry content information and their maps (cf. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2191250/Twitter-heat-map-tracks-polite-rudest-cities.html) have become attractive social information sources because they indeed follow the spread of real and relevant communication and influences in various domains from politics, to sports and activism. In order to tell more about what is going on in the underlying life they include content information, like the name of the commenting or commented political candidate or other names, key words, locations, or other relevant data. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/jul/04/us-fourth-july-twitter-beer-church#zoomed-picture

But even then, the life events don’t have a place in these maps and they have to be inferred somehow from the map data. However, the twitter maps do seem to me like the closest candidates for string theoretical modeling but as far as I know there is no general theory that combines the content, processes and data representations, and the network properties. Perhaps it already hides somewhere in mathematics that I’m not familiar with?

String view to a simple example case

Take a simple example, the Romancing The Borders web videos. We can apply the following scheme:

1. Let’s assume that there is a dormant string (link) available to actors In (from India) Pm(from Pakistan) to activate, that is, to tune the specific state of the string – something that they have not done before.  Positive action between two people is nothing new, it has been exercised and practiced over the history of mankind. As such it has its peculiar cultural nature and consequences. Hence we can assume that there is a specific class of strings that can represent this behavior. When either of the actors prepares a friendly web-video, nothing has yet happened, but when the video is sent or it is made available for someone over the border to receive it, something significant takes place and the state of the string between In and Pm changes.  It is now in the state of a ‘shared friendly connection’. A mathematical representation for this state is needed but I will not try to do it here.

2. There are a large number of ways to accomplish this friendly connection in the real world and one may argue that this kind of an approach requires an infinite number of strings and states and that there is no sense in it.  But if we are interested in this specific form of significant and intentional engagement the theoretical number of strings and their states needed can be assumed as limited as the number of behavior classes in the human positive engagement culture.

What is here relevant to the network considerations? First, the state of the string of life has changed and there is a new element in the world that now is real, tangible and that has impact on other world activities, perceptions or acts. We need a way to represent these consequences and a system to formalize them.

Let’s imagine that we have a very large mass of such string state changes, in other words, a large number of friendly connections between In (from India) and Pm(from Pakistan). The string states have specific ‘energy’, a form of  ‘kindness energy’ that was not available (although it existed in people’s minds) before these connections were made. In this case the personal kindness energies drove the use of web videos and was expressed as the specific string state change. However, the personal kindness energies could drive other activity forms (strings) as well if the space where they take place allows it. In other words, the state change of a string is a way to make tangible something that resides in people’s minds and remains dormant there unless there is a way to channel that energy to become a part of the world state.

The other side of the coin is that the string classes cover all behaviors that we as humans are capable of. In that sense there are limitations as well since not any kind of behavior is possible. Hence, the strings – if we can define them – are bound to the realities of life and that takes place through the branes.

Is there theoretical or intelligent potential in this view? I will continue the development of the concept further in part II of this blog and try to be more specific about the theoretical formulations – while I study more of the string theory basics.