Falling In Love With Artificial Intelligence

“I don’t think we think unless it is about me.” – Kurt Cobain

More than twenty years ago I wrote my first few lines of computer code using a language called BASIC. At university I studied Computer Science. After few years working in the IT industry, I did not enjoy working began exploring potential common grounds between psychology and technology.

Between 2004 and 2006 I conducted research surveys about online dating behaviour and this laid the foundation for the work I have been doing ever since. My own love affair with technology included those whom I hate to love (Web), as well as those whom I love to hate (Microsoft Windows) and those whom I hate unenthusiastically.

In time, my work brought me to the conclusion that we have become obsessed with ourselves in a way I had never imagined would be possible. Smartphones and “selfies” are now de rigueur all over the world from Cape Town to China. The “smart” in smartphones implies the early stages of artificial intelligence (AI) because the devices remember, learn and anticipate our behaviour. Siri on iPhone is the first attempt at AI for the masses.

What is the obsession with ourselves that drives us? What could be the drive that stimulates the increasing role of technology in our self-identity? We no longer look into the mirror to see our reflection, we look into our screens for validation: “iThink therefore iAm”

With the rise of the Internet we are falling in love with ourselves mediated through cyberspace. The machines we have created, the smartphones, the “androids”, are the real plug-in drug not television because they respond to our whims. Whereas television streams images into your mind, with your smartphones, you stream your life to the world like The Truman Show.

Joaquin Phoenix in movie Her (2013)After watching the movie Her (2013), I disagree with most reviews that it’s an exploration of a fundamental question “what is love?” We may as well ask are you in-love with with your favourite celebrity? This is fantasy, maybe even obsession, as in most cases we will never meet them.

We do not fall in love with another person, only with how they make us feel. We don’t even need to be with the them to fall in love – in fact it works better when we’re not. Put another way, we fall in love when we are remembering or imagining how they make us feel about ourselves. It’s always about the reflection principles.

Now, when we’re lonely it’s probably because we don’t like what we see in the reflection.

Someone once referred to falling in-love as the ultimate form of self-hypnosis. We have all become addicted to our emotions. The emotions is what gives us the experience, the stimulus to form our responses accordingly. It’s always about us, not them, at the deepest levels. It’s not a stretch say this is the road to narcissism.

There is a plethora of self-help literature that teaches you to love yourself first. I relied on this extensively during my life coaching sessions. My starting point was always: how can we expect other people to love us if we do not love ourselves first?

AI implies a computer system, which learns from us about us, and about its environment. It has been portrayed as dangerous or negative in films series like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” movies. But now we’re seeing a change in direction to a more personal experience with AI after Simone (Al Pacino) and Her (2013).

In sadness, there is loss, there is loneliness but never is there narcissism as we’ve come to know it on social media. Selfies – photos people take by themselves, of themselves – are encouraged. The experience is singular, alone, by yourself and for yourself. The audience, your followers and fans are the key to your validation, only when they click LIKE on your experiences, does it seem to become real.

So modern experience is limited and almost invalid until they are validated by others. This may be why it’s possible to fall in love with AI, because of the built-in validation or reflection. The feedback about yourself and who you are, and that you exist, maybe that you matter after all. So with AI, a human being is no longer needed to validate us.

Somewhere in the past it was acceptable, even taught that we don’t need anyone else to validate our existence. AI promises the perfect response to our stimulus. Allow me to conclude with a common Chinese saying adapted for AI, “Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it and it may be more what you asked for.”


How Edward Snowden Did Not Change Privacy

Edward SnowdenThere is so much that’s been said after Edward Snowden published his exposure on the CIA and American government spying on citizens, not only in USA but also worldwide. The best thing we have learned about this, is how blaze the governments of the world really are about your privacy.

Privacy is valuable not only for the individual but also the family or the community. As another privacy blogger said recently, it’s not about keeping secrets, that’s what governments do, it’s about disclosure. You must have some control over how much or how little information you are willing to share.

So in this world obsessed with smartphones and social media, it’s almost impossible that you can expect privacy to become important. It also does not help after the fact, after you’ve experienced identity theft or a fraud linked to your online persona or Internet bank account.

Some of the best reporting on Edward Snowden comes from investigative journalist, Jon Rappoport. There are too many questions about his relationships with the NSA and CIA, the organisations he claims to expose. Travelling through China and Malaysia the last few months I the extent of the dependency on our smart devices. People just cannot live lives without them.

On a daily basis I am thinking more and more, Edward Snowden raised alarm bells in the media but the people are careless or carefree. They continue to buy more smart phones, download more apps, share more photos, and post streams of personal information. The media had a field day, just like Julian Assange, and look what happened to him.

It’s certainly an addiction I am dealing with to the extent I close my Facebook for short periods of time. When I get back into the profile, the rush  of messages, comments, photos come towards me like taking LSD. Edward Snowden you have not changed privacy, you have not made our world a better place, you do not deserve any accolades. Until you and I take responsibility for our personal privacy, we will never be free from what Jon Rappoport calls The Matrix.



Top 10 Signs of Smartphone Addiction

20 Years after I first got online I find chronic dependency is a bigger problem than online addiction. Before broadband and smartphones in particular, Internet was limited to your office or your home. Now it’s in your pocket, and it’s always-on!

In 2012 my HTC smart phone was stolen in a guest house, and I recall the withdrawal symptoms vividly. After a few months I replaced it because the apps were so “useful” I could not live without them. In September 2013 I moved to China with a phone and wanted to try and live without one. Within a week I realised it was going to be extremely difficult and purchased a cheap Chinese branded smart phone, Fadar.

Top 10 Signs of Smartphone Addiction

  1. Phantom Vibration Syndrome: Walking around with your smartphone in your pocket, your bag or elsewhere virtually ensures you will be checking it frequently. You imagine your handset vibrating and don’t want to miss the call or text message the moment it comes in. This is especially severe when you move between silent, meeting and normal mode.
  2. Battery Low:  You have your favourite gadget with you but you’re powerless to use it. Maybe you left your charger at home, maybe you’re travelling and won’t return home for a few hours longer than anticipated. Either way you cannot use a dead phone, so you keep rubbing it like it’s Aladdin’s lamp, wishing for the genie to emerge and grant you a new wish.
  3. Which Apps? – A journalist recently claimed to have over 200 apps installed on his phone. Having so many applications on your phone can certainly fill up your screen in the same way your Laptop’s desktop fills up with icons. The app stores are exploding with free and paid apps, and there’s seems no limit the variety.
  4. Sleeping with Smartphones: Many people fall asleep chatting on the phones or listening to music. I’ve always used my phones as alarm clocks. In recent times my sleeping pattern have become more erratic as a I depend on my Smartphone to relax after a stressful day.
  5. Smile You’re on Candid Camera: Smartphones are replacing digital cameras, in the same way digital cameras replaced the previous film-based cameras. Use of Instagram and photo sharing websites confirms the importance of good smartphone cameras. It’s really hard to beat the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy smartphones for superior Megapixels. Now I wonder, do they still ban people from using smartphones in your local gym?
  6. Predictive Text: People are typing faster than ever before. However, children developed their own short hand by developing what we used to call sms language or MXit words. Predictive text is my salvation because I still prefer to use full words and proper English where possible.
  7. Forget Me Not: When you forget your Smartphone at home and you go back to collect it in peak hour traffic. Many people have experienced this strong opposition to spending an entire day without their smartphones. They will rather make the sacrifice of wasting 1-2 hours in traffic to go back home and get their most valuable piece of technology in the world.
  8. Not enough memory: As you install more and more apps on your phone, you also save more music, videos and photos, you are bound to run into the limitations of 8-16-32GB on your SDcard. More and more people are moving towards the cloud for their saving grace – no pun intended.
  9. Voice message not voice mail: Since I started using Wechat I started I find myself receiving and sending short audio messages. Even though this was available on Whatsapp, I hardly used it. When I used MXit in the past it was something cute but not used very often. People are making less voice calls, leaving fewer and fewer voice mails, but voice messages are on the increase.
  10. No Signal: This is no longer as big a problem as it used to be. Even in the most remote areas you can get a signal. Someone told me that even in on Mt Everest you can get some kind of signal because a cell tower was installed in 2010.

Anyway in the last five years of using smartphones I’ve had ups and downs, thrills and shills. Post a comment with anything you’ve experienced that


FNB Smart Device and Banking Satisfaction

First National Bank FNB Smart DevicesRecently I made the last payment on my FNB Smart Device, an Apple iPad 2 purchased in 2011. It feels much longer because Apple released several iPad models since that time like the iPad Air and iPad Mini. During the time I really wanted a tablet because I  see myself as an early adopter.

Another part of me was competing with my ex-girlfriend who had her own iPad 2 for a while. Due to bad financial planning I needed cash, so instead I sold my iPad and continued to pay First National Bank (FNB) until now. Either way their Smart Device product offering is a superb offering for first time buyers of smartphones and tablets.

Few banks have pushed innovation as much as FNB has in the last 10 years. In 1997 I worked on the team to launch their online banking to the world at Internet Solution. In 2003 I was part of the team who managed their IT Security. But back in 1980s I became a customer because my mother was a staff member at a local branch in Port Elizabeth.

In reflecting upon my long history with FNB, I am cannot recommend any bank more highly for innovation and technology use.

Here’s 5 Ways FNB Helped Me

  1. Using Internet Banking since 1997 I avoided going to the branch for simple things like bank statements
  2. Mobile banking helped me to check balances without using Internet
  3. Mobile banking helped me to purchase airtime for my mobile phone
  4. Internet and mobile banking made it easy for me to send money to people without knowing their bank accounts
  5. Social media customer support has helped me avoid calling call centres in 8 out 10 times!

This bank is superior to most worldwide in it’s transparency. Even though my mother retired five years ago, we both remain loyal customers of the bank. Every now and then I find myself lecturing people on the benefits of FNB because of this life long experience. As with any big business, individuals may experience difference in service levels. However, I look at the total experience over 30 years, and given my insiders perspective as a staff member, I will remain a happy customer for the next 30 years.


Small Businesses Need A Corporate Social Responsibility Plan

If you are a small-business owner, you may think that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is something that only large corporations have to worry about. While it is true that major multinationals are putting increasing focus on this due to issues such as the escalating global focus on sustainability, CSR is not something that small companies can afford to ignore.

There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the most compelling is that as large companies implement their own CSR policies, they need their suppliers to have similar CSR initiatives in place – otherwise these multinational brands cannot claim to be socially responsible. This extends into many different areas, ranging from community engagement through to sustainability – for a broad range of insights, find out more on francescocoralloitalia.wordpress.com.

SME need corporate social responsibilityThe sooner that you start to create a CSR policy, the sooner you can start to lay a foundation to grow your business. This is not just about making it onto the approved supplier lists of big companies – although that is an important aspect. It is also about being able to attract business partners and other customers who view corporate responsibility as an essential criterion when establishing business relationships. It can also help you to attract employees who think that CSR is important – which you want to do, since these employees are typically more dedicated and diligent than those in the general labor pool. In fact, a study by the Center for Creative Leadership concluded that, “employees’ perceptions of their organizations concern for community and environment is linked to their level of organizational commitment … that is, the higher an employee rates their organization’s corporate citizenship, the more committed they are to the organization.”

Before you embark on putting a CSR program in place, you need to make sure that you are genuinely committed to the principle. Implementing an effective CSR initiative can be a significant effort as it needs to be embedded into the essential DNA of your company. In addition, unless you can demonstrate this genuine commitment, you are not going to see the benefits of your investment – customers, partners and employees will find it easy to pick up on any insincerity.

small business social responsibilityThere are a number of things that you need to keep in mind when implementing your CSR program. First of all, you need results to be measurable, and the yardstick needs to be something that everyone recognizes. Look for an internationally recognized standard that is relevant to your business, and make sure that certification is available. This could cover any one of a number of metrics – including sustainable sourcing, carbon footprint, waste recycling or community engagement. Next, look at your company’s culture and skills, and determine how you can lead in unique ways – this will make your CSR programs stand out, as well as making it easier to implement. Remember that imposing a top down CSR program rarely works – instead, you need to get the buy in and support all of your employees. Finally, only start to reach out once your baseline is in place – this will let you demonstrate to stakeholders that you have already made progress on your own.

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Nelson Mandela, The Leader I Never Met

Nelson Mandela RIP 1918-2013A long time ago, I missed an opportunity to meet our late, great leader, Nelson Mandela. This morning I woke up in China to find out he died 🙁 Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, only one term! He was the first black South African to hold the office after the end of Apartheid.

This morning in China English news channel CCTV is totally focused on reporting on the death of Nelson Mandela. The Chinese coverage of this pivotal event in world history is a happy and sad moment. South African Anand Naidoo, is one of the news anchors for CCTV America. His personal stories adds a touch of humanity to the news coverage. Mandela first visited China in 1992 and also in in the first official state visit as president in 1999. He received an honorary Doctorate of Law from Peking University.

On that morning back in high school I was a typical teenager. I was lazy and and did not realise the huge impact this leader would continue to have on my country. His voice came over the loud speaker from a nearby school as he was on the campaign trail for our first democratic elections. The significance of this opportunity was lost on me at the time, and I repeat this story very often when sharing my own story as a South African. With my mother I later voted in the first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, the result of Nelson Mandela’s 27 year prison struggle in Robben Island near Cape Town.

As I’m writing on this blog, I’m at a loss for words. There are not many South Africa in Ningbo, and I’ve only met three others. However, several Chinese people and one friend from Yemen, all told me stories of their visit to my home country. These stories were all gentle reminders of the good-will I believe is derived from the post-Apartheid leadership of Nelson Mandela.

After I completed my BSc degree in Port Elizabeth, I moved to Johannesburg in 1997. One of the first books I read at this time was A Long Walk To Freedom, the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. This book was just recently turned into a movie starring Idris Elba I have yet to watch. Almost 20 years after “democracy” most South Africa are not only devastated by this loss, but also about the poor leadership we currently have in president Jacob Zuma, almost the opposite of Nelson Mandela.

Maybe the best book I ever read about Nelson Mandela is: Leading Like Madiba by Martin Kalunga-Banda. In 2009 I was very fortunate to meet the author of this book in Bloemfontein, South Africa at an ISASA National Conference.

Just before I left South Africa to China, Mandela was released from after about 3 months in hospital. I told many people I’ve met in Ningbo, Beijing and Shanghai, it was a sign, a good omen, for me to go ahead and leave South Africa. So I’m humble, grateful and very proud to remember the leader I never met.


Outsourcing Business Processes Overseas

In times gone by, businesses were confined to a labor pool close to their base of operations. In some industries more than others, the need to find suitably qualified, competent, local staff continues to pose real challenges for business and other organizations. Particularly in more specialized areas, this can prove to be a considerable challenge. At the same time, domestic labor costs are traditionally high, relative to other countries worldwide. This means that employers have to be more certain of the staff they hire, and ensure sufficient productivity to make the hire worthwhile.

Bangalore outsourcing IndiaOutsourcing has grown over the last decade or so, becoming an increasingly accessible option for small businesses. Rather than handling every business process and operation in-house, businesses of all sizes can now take advantage of lower-cost expertise internationally to get the job done. But the process of outsourcing is far from simple, and businesses will still encounter similar staff management issues with the contractors they hire.

Outsourcing elements of your business function can be an effective way to save costs and improve efficiency. But there are often challenges posed, especially when outsourcing overseas. For example, in tech functions, many businesses choose to outsource to highly qualified professionals worldwide. Eastern Europe, Asia and South America have traditionally been the main sources of securing international help. The first problem this raises is a language barrier, and businesses need to find pragmatic ways to overcome these issues in order to communicate and work effectively.

When working through a language barrier, it is helpful to tightly define the scope and expectations of the work concerned. English is generally considered to be the operational language for overseas arrangements. The majority of international service providers have a working knowledge of English, but it remains important to outline exactly what you are looking for. Bulleted lists or numbered points of a process are helpful so this information is easy to digest, and so you can measure performance against set criteria. This will help ensure both parties know what is expected of them, preventing disputes and ensuring the smooth provision of the services required.

Friday dressingPayments are another issue for outsourcers to think about. Foreign employees, freelancers and contractors cannot go on the payroll, and domestic transfers will not be possible for foreign-based workers. There are options to get around this, but it is important to bear in mind the costs associated with sending money through different channels. For example, international bank transfers will attract fees at the point of sending. There are other services available, like Transfast.com, that can alleviate this burden and ensure the money required to keep these processes moving can be transported cheaply and quickly.

Outsourcing overseas can be an effective way to save money for your business. While it is not an easy way out, it can be used to improve the efficiency of your operations. By outsourcing particular skilled tasks or unskilled jobs to take advantage of lower cost labor, you can save on your business overheads while achieving similar, if not better, results as before.


Blog Action Day: Human Rights in 2013

In the past I’ve written about Blog Action Day here and here. I feel guilty for not contributing from 2009 to 2012 in this very worth while cause. As a pioneer in teaching Blogging for Business seminars to both companies and private schools in South Africa, it’s my duty to promote blogging as a tool for change.


Nisha Varghese East London bloggerPerhaps the best example of blogging about human rights is my friend Nisha Varghese. She has written over 1,170 articles on her blog, mostly about children’s rights and rights for people with disability. She herself suffers from cerebral palsy but this has not stopped her from being very active online in promote chartable causes once a year. He most recent cause was to stop slavery and raised over US$ 1,000 simply through blogging and Twitter.


Human Rights are enshrined both in the South African constitution and the United Nations declaration. But what does this really mean in the Internet age? So many people still suffer for various reasons, the gap between the rich and poor continue to widen.  Prof Hans Rosling in one of his numerous TED Talks, clearly showed the correlation between population, access to the Internet, and increases in income. So I believe the right to accessing the Internet is worthy of an addition to the United Nations declaration and all constitutions which promote freedom of the individual.


In September 2013 I moved to China, and feel slightly awkward writing about human rights in this country. There is undertone of don’t look and don’t tell. Chinese Government has made the Internet widely available, and at the same time imposed tremendous filtering and control measures known as the Great Firewall of China.


In conclusion, one thing I am most sure about is that human rights do not depend on governments. If we simply act like like human beings, there will no need to enforce these rights. So I leave you with one of my favourite passages from the Tao Te Ching, the Chinese book of the Way and it’s Power – from Chapter 19 (Ron Hogan’s translation of Tao Te Ching):

[templatic_contentbox type=”normal” title=”Tao Te Ching”]

Get rid of sanctity. People will understand the truth and be happier.

Get rid of morality. People will respect each other and do what’s right.

Get rid of value and profit. People will not steal if they do not desire. [/templatic_contentbox]


Which Business Degree Is Right For You

We’ve all heard about the value of getting an MBA or a BBA. It’s a fact that business majors usually go on to have relatively large starting salaries as compared to other majors. But merely getting a business degree may seem very broad. You may not feel very interested in the idea because you might not be interested in all types of business.

Business degrees UNISALet’s say that you have a flair for working with people and that you’re good at verbal communication. In this case, maybe you’d be interested in a marketing degree, which is one of the options you have within the business major. Depending on what you’re most attracted to, there are different types of business degrees you might want to go with, from entrepreneurship to international business.

How do you decide what major is going to be the best for you? And shouldn’t you be considering the state of the market right now when deciding which is the best option? If there is a high demand for finance majors, shouldn’t this be your first choice? It’s a fact that the business arena is constantly changing and different types of majors are in demand at different times. In the 21st century, we’ve seen a great boom when it comes to business conducted over the internet and marketing that takes place on social media. So a major in e-commerce is likely to be in demand for a very long time, as this field grows and develops.

deciding-which-business-major-is-right-for-you2However, there is still room for other types of majors, and, if you tend to lean more toward entrepreneurship or marketing, there is still a huge market out there for those who’ve studied these disciplines. If you have always been a born leader, a major in entrepreneurship might be for you. If people come to you to ask for advice about what they should do next, and you like sitting down with them and offering suggestions, it’s likely that you’ve got some leadership qualities. Not all leaders are in-your-face and pushy. Some are quiet people who attract others by virtue of their competence. Even if you don’t know that you’re a leader, you shouldn’t count out a major in entrepreneurship.

If you have an innate curiosity about new products and you love talking to people and communicating, a marketing major might be the right one for you. In the age of the Internet, marketing has become a much more data-driven role, but the old skills of creativity and human insight remain just as relevant.

If you’ve always been interested in other cultures and travel, an international business major might be the right one for you. To succeed as an international business major, you need to have a head for business, but you also require a cosmopolitan personality which thrives on diversity. Government agencies and multinational firms are most likely to appreciate these qualities when combined with a degree in international business.



Early Years Exercise Key To A Healthier Life

As parents, we all have a responsibility to show our children the best example. Whether it is in how we behave, or in how we deal with the challenges of life, parents have a massive influence on their children – on both a conscious and sub-conscious level. One area in which this is of potentially life-saving importance is in health. Healthy parents tend to raise healthier children, and basic rules and examples you set now can actively prolong your child’s lifespan.

childhood exercise good healthA central component to this is exercise, and kids should be introduced to physical activity from an early age. Those who start to exercise young can develop a passion for sport and activity, in addition to becoming healthier as they grow into adult life. So how can you inspire your child to become more active, and to be more energetic with a view to improving their general fitness?

Sports are one of the easiest avenues for encouraging kids into exercise. For the youngest of kids, it may be difficult to find facilities that offer any degree of specialized training. At this stage, general fitness work, games and exercises will be used to introduce younger players to the games they may eventually choose to play competitively. Aside from the game itself, sports are great hobbies for kids, and can provide an avenue for ongoing fitness into adult life. And if you find the right sport, most kids need very little encouragement to become hooked.

From an early age, parents should take their children on walks along the beach, or into the woods. These types of outdoor experiences are highly educational, and can inspire a passion for being in the open air. This all bodes well for the fitness of your child. Those kids that have a more outdoor disposition tend to be more energetic and fitter than those that devote their formative years exclusively to video games and TV.

childhood workout exercisesRegardless of the age of your children, it rests with you to demonstrate how your child should live. There is no better way of educating a child than leading by example, and this means you need to personally practice what you preach. Entrenching exercise and physical activity as part of the family routine can help ensure children are constantly thinking about their fitness and their health. The Little Gymspan even makes it possible for younger kids to get involved. This is a good habit to establish early on, before a child begins to put on excess weight from an overly inactive lifestyle.

The exercise your children do today will have benefits that last a lifetime, no matter if they are 2 or 22 years old. Fitness is cumulative, and it is easier to stay fit than to get fit. Giving your child access to outlets for exercise and strenuous activity is healthy from a physical and emotional perspective. Participating in sport can teach vital life-lessons about discipline, achieving success and handling failure. These are all positive factors in becoming a healthy, happy adult, which is for any parent the obvious end goal.