Thursday, October 13, 2005

Self-help's new name...intelligence amplification

The October Bay Area Future Salon, discussing the Age of Anxiety and the tone of the Intelligence Amplification day at the Accelerating Change 2005 conference are two indicators of the trend to invite into science what was more traditionally narrowly segmented as self-help.

One reason for this is that many approaches to AI require more than just brute computation. Layering emotion onto computation or other ideas are thought to be necessary for creating a true general intelligence. Scientists have therefore had to get more interested in how human emotion functions in order to attempt to reconstruct, catalyze or build AI. Another reason is that futurists, in a panic of possibly not living long enough to upload (that glorious but illusive future, always 20-30 years away) have reappropriated and reshaped self-help materials to help themselves live as long and healthily as possible in case of singularity delay.

There is an argument that self-help has become more science-like but it is not clear that there is actually more science (e.g.; properly conducted experiments with statistical results) in for example the poster child books of the area, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness than in self-help books. The main reason techie readers bit was that both authors are academics. The academic veneer suddenly meant it was acceptable to discuss concepts like happiness (e.g.; the number one human goal) with scientific peers.

With self-help being retitled intelligence amplification, spirituality has also started its slow road from taboo science topic to discussability. Traditional flavors of faith, atheism and new age are being upleved and Starbucksified as boomers explore and techies collaborate for collective consciousness. One example is Steve Case's Revolution, an organization which, though not overtually spiritual, has shades as it seeks to shift power to consumers, bringing more (after all, this is America) choice, control and convenience to [initially] resorts, living and health.

Whatever the reasons and excuses needed, the actions and probable mindset openings that result from incorporating self-help and spiritual ideas cannot help but be positive. There is certainly always opportunity to re-name and re-market concepts as a sign of the changing times.