One of my New Year’s resolutions, and/or promises to my wife, is that I would take up meditation in 2017. I’ve been poking around the edges of the best way in, as there are several apps and of course the good old “go to live classes” approach.
I reflect on this coming fresh from SXSW, where I got to see EEG-calibrated meditation exercises.
I daydreamed a bit, while sitting at an ideas festival, about how long it will be before the broader financial services industry will be tuning up their brains, brain hacking, using next-generation tools.
We are already seeing quantified self enter into the realm of high brain performance functions like at some hedge funds, where traders are wired up, monitored, and sometimes even biometric-trader-dashboards are provided to investors in the fund for total transparency. Wider adoption of neuroscience in financial services is closer than you think.
At MIT, I cooked up one project, around using cognitive science to improve the brain’s intake of subject matter in a corporate learning environment. I was able to convince one of the top brain scientists in the world, John Gabrielli, along with his post doc, Kana Okano, to collaborate with a leading management consulting firm around corporate learning and brain science. Our little project, at pilot stage, was able to improve learning results by 27%. Given that this firm has a billion dollar training budget, that’s real ROI.
How long will it take for these trends to converge? How long before the knowledge worker will have not only their heart rate or step count measured, which we do today with our Apple Watch and phone apps, but actually their brainwave activity?
When I spoke to the inventor of one system, the answer was “not quite yet”. Today, the headmounted EEGs shift around too much for a consistent signal. And if you do something like put double stick tape on the leads, then you have a lead issue leading to bad (inconsistent / erratic) signal.
But the day is coming, when we could have enhanced humans, who tune high-value knowledge work through active EEG feedback. I would guess it somewhere on the order of 5 to 10 years from being a practical reality. And then, organizations that have their folks trained to use these systems will have a competitive advantage over those that do not.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings said that “mindfulness helps me be ruthless (in a total respectful way)”. The sports world for years has tuned performance of athletes with biometrics. One of my favorite moments of the past few years was getting into the pit at Ferrari during Formula 1 US Grand Prix. It was like entering a NASA control room – the racing team had a complete set of biometric monitors displayed on a series of screens synchronized with live video feeds of the race. MIT Sloan runs a sports analytics conference that is rife with athlete evaluation and even biofeedback.
When will we do the same for mathletes?
I’ve written previously about the dramatic employment loss expected in financial services due to automation – as much as 30% to 80% of current financial industry employment (depending on whose forecasts you believe).
I’ve also written on “centaurs”, human/machine hybrids that outperform both smart humans and smart AIs (centaurs outperform both AI chess players and human chess masters).
Will we see an ideological battle between AI only systems, and “augmented intelligence” human/machine hybrids?
The rise of the machines may not be such a terrible thing for financial services after all. Instead, there is a possible future where it means we can elevate human performance to heretofore unprecedented heights.
The views expressed in this column are my own, and may not reflect those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or its faculty. MIT may have commercial relationships with one or more of the companies mentioned in this article.