Day: March 18, 2020

How to Reduce Digital Distractions: Advice From Medieval Monks

 
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Photo by guenterguni / Getty Images.

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

That was in the late 420s. If John Cassian had seen a smartphone, he’d have forecasted our cognitive crisis in a heartbeat.

But, instead, his mind lay elsewhere. Cassian was writing at a time when Christian monastic communities were beginning to boom in Europe and the Mediterranean. A century earlier, ascetics had mostly lived in isolation. And the new enthusiasm for communal enterprises resulted in a new enthusiasm for monastic planning. These innovative social spaces were assumed to function most optimally when monks had guidelines about how to do their jobs.

Their job, more than anything else, was to focus on divine communication: to read, to pray and sing, and to work to understand God, in order to improve the health of their souls and the souls of the people who supported them. For these monks, the meditating mind wasn’t supposed to be at ease. It was supposed to be energised. Their favourite words for describing concentration stemmed from the Latin tenere, to hold tight to something. The ideal was a mens intentus, a mind that was always and actively reaching out to its target. And doing that successfully meant taking the weaknesses of their bodies and brains seriously, and to work hard at making them behave.

Some of these strategies were tough. Renunciation, for instance. Monks and nuns were supposed to give up the things that most people loved – families, properties, businesses, day-to-day drama – not only to erode their sense of individual entitlement but also to ensure that they wouldn’t be preoccupied by that stuff in their professional lives of prayer. When the mind wanders, the monastic theorists observed, it usually veers off into recent events. Cut back your commitments to serious stuff, and you’ll have fewer thoughts competing for your attention.

Restraint had to work on a physiological level, too. There were many theories in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages about the connection between the mind and body. Most Christians agreed that the body was a needy creature whose bottomless appetite for food, sex and comfort held back the mind from what mattered most. That didn’t mean that the body must be rejected, only that it needed tough love. For all monks and nuns, since the very start of monasticism in the 4th century, this meant a moderate diet and no sex. Many of them also added regular manual labour to the regimen. They found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming or weaving.

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There were also solutions that might strike people today as strange, which depended on imaginary pictures. Part of monastic education involved learning how to form cartoonish cognitive figures, to help sharpen one’s mnemonic and meditative skills. The mind loves stimuli such as colour, gore, sex, violence, noise and wild gesticulations. The challenge was to accept its delights and preferences, in order to take advantage of them. Authors and artists might do some of the legwork here, by writing vivid narratives or sculpting grotesque figures that embodied the ideas they wanted to communicate. But if a nun wanted to really learn something she’d read or heard, she would do this work herself, by rendering the material as a series of bizarre animations in her mind. The weirder the mnemonic devices the better – strangeness would make them easier to retrieve, and more captivating to think with when she ‘returned’ to look them over.

Say that you wanted to learn the sequence of the zodiac. Thomas Bradwardine (a 14th-century university master, theologian and advisor to Edward III of England) suggests that you imagine a gleaming white ram with golden horns, kicking a bright red bull in the testicles. While the bull bleeds profusely, imagine that there’s a woman in front of it, giving birth to twins, in a gory labour that seems to split her up to her chest. As her twins burst forth, they’re playing with an awful red crab, which is pinching them and making them cry. And so on.

A more advanced method for concentrating was to build elaborate mental structures in the course of reading and thinking. Nuns, monks, preachers and the people they educated were always encouraged to visualise the material they were processing. A branchy tree or a finely feathered angel – or in the case of Hugh of St Victor (who wrote a vivid little guide to this strategy in the 12th century), a multilevel ark in the heart of the cosmos – could become the template for dividing complex material into an ordered system. The images might closely correspond to the substance of an idea. Hugh, for example, imagined a column rising out of his ark that stood for the tree of life in paradise, which as it ascended linked the earth on the ark to the generations past, and on to the vault of the heavens. Or instead, the images might only be organisational placeholders, where a tree representing a text or topic (say, ‘Natural Law’) could have eight branches and eight fruits on each branch, representing 64 different ideas clustered into eight larger concepts.

The point wasn’t to paint these pictures on parchment. It was to give the mind something to draw, to indulge its appetite for aesthetically interesting forms while sorting its ideas into some logical structure. I teach medieval cognitive techniques to college freshmen, and this last one is by far their favourite. Constructing complex mental apparatuses gives them a way to organise – and, in the process, analyse – material they need to learn for other classes. The process also keeps their minds occupied with something that feels palpable and riveting. Concentration and critical thinking, in this mode, feel less like a slog and more like a game.

But caveat cogitator: the problem of concentration is recursive. Any strategy for sidestepping distraction calls for strategies on sidestepping distraction. When Cassian made one of his simplest recommendations – repeat a psalm over and over, to keep your brain reined in – he knew what he was going to hear next. ‘How can we stay fixated on that verse?’ the monks would ask. Distraction is an old problem, and so is the fantasy that it can be dodged once and for all. There were just as many exciting things to think about 1,600 years ago as there are now. Sometimes it boggled the mind.

Jamie Kreiner is associate professor of history at the University of Georgia. She is the author of The Social Life of Hagiography in the Merovingian Kingdom (2014) and her latest book, Legions of Pigs in the Early Medieval West, is forthcoming in 2020. She lives in Athens, GA.

 

Using Machine Learning and AI for Productivity In The Workplace

For the majority of us, AI is something only seen in sci-fi films. However, in the last few years, it’s ended up being much more accessible to us, specifically in business.

With technological innovation advancing at breakneck speed, there are now a variety of ways that AI can be utilized to enhance your productivity. Improving procedures such as recruitment, administration, and information analysis, smart software can be an indispensable asset as far as running a business goes.

Will AI substitute human workers?

In short, no — it does have limitations.

While it might be a concern, what we’re in fact seeing today is the opportunity to improve efficiency. It’s a chance to better manage a workforce. Essentially, it allows you to get a better grip of the daily operations of your business.

If anything, it’s making business a lot more human by offering breathing space and reducing stress. It enhances the mental health and well-being of your workforce as a result.

Just 23% of organizations are believed to have incorporated AI into their processes according to Forbes. But, come the next 5 years, the AI market is anticipated to grow by 50%. Despite organization size, it can be used. There are a number of ways that you can use AI for productivity.

How can Artificial Intelligence benefit you?

Using AI for recruitment

ai productivity

One crucial area of your business where AI can be implemented is the recruitment procedure. When your company is ready to employ, you need to be able to produce the best pool of candidates as rapidly as possible.

Utilizing recruitment firms for pre-screening isn’t unusual. However, it can be expensive. Also, it’s unlikely to use the exact same thorough, personalized analysis that an AI program would.

Recruitment agents are profit-driven, too. They are likely to tip the scale in their favor when the time comes to present a candidate to you. This isn’t something AI does.

Tools such as Pymetrics use a series of “ethical AI games” to evaluate a candidate’s cognitive and emotional characteristics. It can also match the outcome against existing workers who perform well. This gives you a customized image of where a candidate may fit within your business.

By putting these steps in motion, it’s said that it can take 75% less time to employ somebody and boost retention rates by as much as 50%.

Give AI the long, uninteresting tasks

There are specific jobs that nobody likes doing, but need doing regardless. This is where AI can be of real benefit in terms of productivity.

While some may worry this is where they’ll lose their job to a machine, it’s anticipated that there will actually be net positive job growth into the 2030s. This is when the labor force transitions into higher skilled roles.

Reasons to use AI for certain functions

Speed of execution – AI systems can make countless decisions all at once, unlike a human.

Less biased – It’s hard not to cast some sort of judgement or prejudice as a human. This isn’t a trait AI is capable of, therefore any decision it makes is totally fact-based.

No saturation point – AI will never ever stress out or need breaks, meaning the overall time taken to perform a task is substantially decreased.

Accuracy – No human indicates there’s no human error.

Boredom – Often, errors occur through boredom, it can be hard to stay focused on a long, complicated task. This isn’t the case for a smart machine.

What tasks might you turn over to AI?

We’re not in any way suggesting you make team members surplus to requirements in favour of AI. Hoowever, there are roles that can definitely take advantage of harmonizing their efforts.

Here are four job roles where AI can help lighten the load:

Data Analyzing

With a need to collect and evaluate huge quantities of data to find patterns and opportunities, many companies will turn to a Data Analyst to help them stay ahead of the game. With the development of social networks and eCommerce as a whole, there’s been a 344% increase in demand for information researchers since the early 2010s. However, with a typical wage of $130,000, that’s not always going to be within every business’ budget.

AI tools such as Deloitte’s LaborWise can provide managers with analytics to recognize high-cost locations, roadblocks and even supply information about which departments are overworked or understaffed.

Demand Forecasting

Using artificial intelligence tools, you can evaluate mathematical models relevant to your organization. They can help forecast changes in demand, avoid supply interruptions, and properly prepare for when a new item launches. According to consultancy company McKinsey, this can minimize supply chain errors through miscalculations by approximately 50%.

See Also: Can AI Streamline Your Supply Chain And Save Your Business?

Administration

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Once again, we’re not suggesting AI can replace all human elements of the role. However, it can definitely make things easier.

Here are a few tools that can be specifically useful for simplifying your administration processes:

X.ai – Connecting all of your calendars, the AI algorithms will instantly coordinate the best times to arrange meetings, whether internally or when meeting with clients.

Otter.ai – Almost like an AI PA system that takes minutes, Otter can develop rich notes from meetings, interviews and other crucial voice conversations– ensuring absolutely nothing is missed out on and all points are covered.

Spoke – Essentially an HR service desk, it can respond to questions about basically anything HR-related, including requests for annual leave and internal processes. If it can’t help, it will direct the query to a suitable person within the group.

Skype Translator – If you need a conversation translating, it can do so in near real-time. This makes interactions with any foreign market completely possible.

MobileMonkey – You can train a chatbot like MobileMonkey to respond to frequently asked questions on your website. If it can’t address the needs of the end user, the chat will be directed to a human. Using chatbots can considerably minimize the number of customer queries that come through by phone or email, and 80% of sales and marketing leaders state they already utilize chatbot software or plan to by the end of 2020.

Marketing

If there’s one area that’s really beginning to embrace artificial intelligence, it’s marketing, particularly digital. With Google’s application of machine learning algorithms such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) for SEO and Smart Bidding for paid marketing, how the industry works is now very much tailored to favour AI and automation.

Advances in AI and software intelligence is enabling businesses to personalize their products and services better. This results in a more customized approach to how they market themselves to consumers. A recent research piece by Accenture suggests that customers are reacting well to this, with 83% of consumers in the US and UK willing to trust retailers with their data in order to receive more tailored, appropriate outcomes.

This willingness from consumers is encouraging and 64% of B2B online marketers consider AI to be an important part of their sales and marketing strategy.

See Also: How Artificial Intelligence Will Dominate the Future of E-commerce

Learning with AI

Beyond the recruitment process, you can utilize AI to train staff. This can be especially beneficial when working with a number of new starters. If your organization has a particular way of managing certain jobs, AI can make sure that training is consistent and thorough. There are a few AI tools that can be used for on-site training. Here are two examples that are worth checking out:

Training tools such as Chorus can analyse sales calls as they happen, offering real-time tips to sales representatives as required. This suggests there ought to be little need to shadow a new starter and the sales representative is able to learn at their own pace and experience the training “on the job”.

A similar tool called Cogito can produce real-time suggestions while someone is making a sales call but focuses more on mindfulness and their approach. For instance, when learning something new like telesales, it’s rather easy to quicken your conversation due to nerves — this tool can remind you to take a breather and slow down.

The Future of AI

As it stands, the implementation of AI into our everyday working life seems inescapable, whether we like it or not. As a growing number of organizations welcome more innovation and automation, to try and prevent it could mean you’re left out of the game.

Those that have actually integrated AI into their workflow strategy are seeing the rewards when it comes to speed, efficiency, and precision. This is despite worries that it could indicate an end to human jobs. 

At the heart of the matter, those jobs that were traditionally lengthy, resource-intensive or laborious, are now being transformed into higher-skilled, more proficient roles.

The post Using Machine Learning and AI for Productivity In The Workplace appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Salesforce hires former banker Arundhati Bhattacharya as chairperson and CEO of India business

Salesforce, the global giant in CRM, said on Wednesday that former banker Arundhati Bhattacharya will be joining the company on April 20 as chairperson and chief executive of its India division.

The San Francisco-headquartered firm said Bhattacharya, who served as the chairperson of the state-run State Bank of India for nearly four decades and oversees financial services group SWIFT India, will be tasked with helping the global giant scale rapidly in India, one of its fastest growing overseas markets.

Arundhati will report to Ulrik Nehammer, General Manager of Salesforce in the APAC region. “Arundhati is an incredible business leader and we are delighted to welcome her to Salesforce as chairperson and CEO India,” said Gavin Patterson, President and CEO of Salesforce International, in a statement.

“India is an important growth market for Salesforce and a world-class innovation and talent hub and Arundhati’s leadership will guide our next phase of growth, customer success and investment in the region,” he said.

Salesforce offers a range of cloud services to customers in India, where it has over 1 million developers and more Trailhead users than in any other market outside of the U.S. The company, which competes with local players Zoho and Freshworks, counts Indian firms redBus, Franklin Templeton, and CEAT as some of its clients.

The company said it expects to add 3,000 jobs in India in the next three years and turn the nation into a “leading global talent and innovation hub” for the company. Sunil Jose, who joined the firm in 2017, oversaw some of the company’s India operations previously.

“I could not be more excited to join the Salesforce team to ensure we capture this tremendous opportunity and contribute to India’s development and growth story in a meaningful way,” said Bhattacharya in a statement.

According to research firm IDC, Salesforce and its ecosystem of customers and partners in India are expected to create over $67 billion in business revenues and create more than 540,000 jobs by 2024.

It’s not just you: A Facebook glitch marked authentic coronavirus news as spam

It’s not just you: A Facebook glitch marked authentic coronavirus news as spam

Social platforms and big tech companies have stepped up amid the coronavirus pandemic, moving aggressively to try and combat misinformation and put expert, reliable sources front and center for users. And people have been using Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and various other platforms to share community information, offer help, and shame their peers and parents into social distancing.

But over the past day or so, there was an unexplained spike in removals and flagging of posts relating to the coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. Users on Facebook and Twitter reported that innocuous, informative, or authentic news posts about the outbreak were being flagged as spam or removed. Read more…

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