Brain-mind-body training – in the blueberry forest

I am often asked for brain training tips. The most important thing to grasp is that the brain is not an isolated organ island above the neck. The physiological brain-body-mind connection is constantly in play. When well-rested I am vigilant and notice things I miss when fatigued. A human’s physiological state affects all activities. In addition, motor, and cognitive functions, as well as mental and emotional states interact. I often think of this entity as a kaleidoscope that changes form and colors in response to a wide range of a person’s internal, complexly intertwined functional states and surrounding environmental factors.

Concerning brain training, honing the brain-mind-body connection is essential. Doing different types of everyday life activities is a cheap and always at-hand-way of keeping fit and on the side, life-long learning takes place. To demonstrate this in practice I share in this blog my everyday life experiences by looking at them from the neurocognitive perspective.

A few days ago, I was in the forest picking blueberries. I predicted beforehand that the berries will be small, but sweet, due to the over one-month long summer heat wave reaching record high values of +32oC meaning 90oF (yes from the Finnish perspective air temperatures over +25oC / 77oF are defined as hot weather) without much rain. I was able to predict this because I already had in my brain’s long-term memory experience knowledge on how weather affects berry size. I also had the taste memory: small berries are often sweeter than the big ones of rainy summers.

A crude map of brain lobe areas under the skull. (Personal photo album)

Before heading into the woods, I tapped into my brain’s memory bank and activated an earlier stored mental map on the best blueberry sites in the near-by forest. With my “mind’s eyes” I was soon looking at a set of memory films of my last year’s berry picking trails. For this to happen, I had to (of course) remember that I was picking berries also last summer. With the help of this mental map, I navigated up a rather steep hill to last year’s best berry bushes. My prediction of berry size was spot on. Bushes were blue with small, sweet tasting berries, but not all yet ripe.

During navigation my brain’s parietal and occipital lobes’ neural networks taking part in visuospatial skills were getting fitness training. I also needed the activity of the frontal lobes’ neural networks as they are important for fine-tuning my behaviour in the forest and making sure that I am aware of what I am doing and where I am. This is called situational awareness. (On the photo of me I have drawn a crude site map of the different brain lobes).

Combining motor, cognitive and memory functions

Before I reached the berries, I had to try to focus on the forest floor. The terrain is rocky and lurking under moss, ferns, fallen tree branches and berry bushes there are holes that can be quite deep. Adding old fallen tree trunks and tree roots into the mixture provides a natural challenging environment for maintaining and further developing walking skills and doing balance exercises. Body bending and squatting, some leaping over tree stumps, balancing on top of stones, using arms to pull aside low-hanging branches and at the same time carrying the bucket for berries, all these activities require the ability to fine-tune and combine a wide range of different types of motor functions. They require activation of not only brain parietal lobe motor functions, but also the neighboring sensory cortex receives information via the sensory nerves of limbs and body on how I am positioned in the 3 D environment at a certain moment. The cerebellum (small brain) and brain stem also have an important role in ensuring balance and coordination of movements. Cognitive effort is needed to adjust movement accordingly to environmental, as well as task goal demands.

All senses must be in alert mode. Eyes and ears capture important features from the berry picking environment: Information of terrain features, visual scanning of bushes is needed to find the best berry picking sites.

Nature is full of sounds. The wind rustling tree leaves, symphonies of bird songs, the sound of moss squashing under the boot. This year I hear the typical crunchy sound of the forest floor indicating extreme dryness. My father taught me the meaning of the sound when I was a little girl and that fire spreads in a dry forest fast as lightning. So, while hunting for the best berry bushes I also scanned the ground for any signs of recent campfires or cigarette stumps. Luckily there were none.

The skin senses wind and its direction, tells of air humidity. Are there signs of a thunderstorm approaching? In a dry forest I consciously do some sniffing: Do I smell smoke? I use my finger pressure sensation and mouth taste buds to decide if berries are ripe for picking.

The upper arms from fingers to shoulder get a lot of good exercise. Nimble and agile fingers are needed in a wide range of everyday activities. Training dexterity of both hands during berry picking is something I always do.

Let’s not forget feet and ankles. Their sensing systems are important for identifying characteristics of walking ground and help to adjust stepping and balance. Feet are our always available transportation system, so berry picking is also a great feet-ankle drill.

Planning, decisions and picking strategy in the blueberry bushes

At the berry picking site I had to make a lot of decisions that might seem trivial, especially to the person who has some experience in berry picking. I had to decide what route to use to achieve the best harvest outcome. Again, I used knowledge I’d stored in my long-term memory: I first have a look at the bushes to learn which way the branches bow. As the berries are heavy for the little twigs, I bend down and look under the nodding twigs to see the berries in more detail. Keeping this picking strategy in mind, I already had my blue trousers on as squatting, sometimes even sitting, as well as crawling in the bushes is my picking style. It gives the best berry harvest and prevents back pain. Quite a buzz in the crisscrossing neural networks transferring information from one brain area to another is needed for carrying out a wide variety of different body, leg, and arm positions. In this working mode I concretely observe how my hand-eye-leg co-ordination skills improve. As the hours go by the speed with which berries drop into my bucket quickens.

In the berry bushes. (Photo Michael Müller, Family album)

This summer, I had to do a lot of berry hunting in the bushes to find berries that despite the lack of rain were big enough for picking. I am still optimistic that we will get some rain and it is smart to wait a few more weeks for bigger blueberries. So, I added information on promising forest sites to check in a week or so into my long-term memory, thus upgrading it.

I had to do a lot of arms flinging and hand slapping to keep mosquitoes from biting me. This meant dividing my visual and auditory attention to the insects following me. They were a distraction affecting my real-time cognitive performance. I was reminded of this with a concrete example: I was already heading back to the summer cottage and had weird crawling sensations on my back. My interpretation was, that I was perspiring heavily due to exercise in hot weather and sweat was dripping down my back.

At the cottage my husband said: “Kiti, your back is full of ants. You have probably been either sitting on or near an ant nest!” I had not seen any nest. Considering the army of ants on my back side it had to be in plain sight. I had “glued” my attentional resources to blueberries and missed the ant nest. This inability to perceive something relevant in the surroundings is called inattentional blindness. I also forgot to consider information I already had: the forest has many impressive examples of ants as home builders.

As I wait for the blueberries to further ripen and hopefully also grow bigger, I have been taking leisure walks in the forest. This also provides a lot of opportunities to train the brain-mind-body connected activities. I also let my attention wander in the forest and my eyes and ears capture a lot of activities going on. Again, this summer I have spotted a mother duck and eight chicks walking with waddling steps in the bushes eating blueberries. It might be my old friend from last year with her new chick litter as the ducks are using the same route as last summer. Seeing the ducks again this summer was a happy moment. It is also joyful to hear newly hatched hungry chicks twittering in nests and I enjoy watching woodpeckers busily drilling holes on tree trunks while hunting for tree larvae goodies.

Those of you who know Finnish (or rely on a translator app): I recently wrote in my Tiede-lehti Tiedekokki (Science Cook) blog on how Cooking Vegetable Soup trains Brain-Mind-Body. Have a read!

Posted in brain, cognition, emotion, English, hand, Health, Joy, Learning, memory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AJATELLA!

Vuonna 2013 Tieteen päivien aiheena oli Kriisi – uhka ja alku. Silloin pidin esityksen Mieli informaation pyörityksessä – tieto ahdistaa ja vapauttaa. Tätä aihetta olen viimeisen vuoden aikana päivittäin pohtinut maailman kärvistellessä koronaviruspandemian aiheuttaman kriisin keskellä. Verkossa toteutettujen, vuoden 2021 Tieteen päivien aiheena oli Hyvä ja paha tieto. Ajan hermoon osuva otsikko, mietin, kun seuraan ihmisten reaktioita COVID-19 uutisiin.

Kuva: Michael Müller

Jo vuonna 2013 ristiriitaista informaatiota vyöryi ihmisten silmien ja korvien ohi jatkuvalla syötöllä. Nopeus, jolla informaatio kulkee ympäri maapallon sen kuin kasvaa. Siitä pitävät huolen aina vain tehokkaammat tietoverkot. Niinpä kyky ajatella – käsitellä ja analysoida tietoa – on mielestäni tärkein taito, jota ihminen tarvitsee nyt ja tulevaisuudessa.

Informaation joukossa on tieteellisesti tutkittua tietoa, tiedon kaapuun verhottua näennäistietoa, mielipiteitä ja uskomuksia. Salaliittoteoriat leviävät kuin rikkaruohot digi-informaation viidakoissa. Se, mikä yhdelle on täyttä totta, on toiselle kiero yritys manipuloida ja pelotella ihmisiä uskomaan uskomattomalta kuulostavia tieteistarinoita.

Otsikko ilman huomiokoukkua hukkuu informaation digivirtaan

Viesti ei voi olla neutraali, on väite, jonka olen usein kuullut. Uutisotsikossa pitää olla koukku. Tunnustan: Mietin itsekin, mikä blogiotsikko houkuttelisi informaatioliemissä marinoituja lukijoita klikkaamaan juuri minun blogini auki luettavaksi. Miten teen tieteestä kiinnostavaa jo otsikkotasolla? Klikkikisa käy kuumana.

Koronapandemia, lääketiede, ilmastonmuutos, ympäristöön, teknologian kehitykseen ja talouteen liittyvät asiat ovat hyviä esimerkkejä monimutkaisista aiheista, joista löytyy jatkuvasti uusia näkökulmia uutisiksi. Informaatiovirran äärellä ihmisillä on varaa valita, mitä mediaa seurata ja mihin uskoa.

Klikki-matka uutisotsikoissa voi pistää ajatukset pahimmillaan umpisolmuun. Samankaltaisten uutisotsikoitten takaa voi löytyä hyvinkin erilaista tietoa. Eräs syy tähän on se, että jutun laatija on jo tehnyt valintoja sen suhteen, minkälainen uutispala tietystä informaatiosta tiettyyn mediaan tuotetaan. Toinen ihminen olisi laatinut erilaisen jutun samoista aineksista.

Tiedon matka faktasta fiktioksi

Uutisia seuraavat ihmiset tekevät omia päätöksiä siitä, mikä tieto on tärkeätä ja mistä syystä. He jakavat muokkaamaansa tietoa eteenpäin. Tieto elää ja muuttuu tulkintojen myötä. Tietoon voi tulla mukaan tärkeitä, uusi näkökulmia. Se voi myös värittyä ja vääristyä; muuttua faktasta fiktioksi.

Ihmisen rooli tiedonkulun eri vaiheissa on keskeinen. Mielestäni jokaisen ihmisen on hyvä omata perustiedot siitä, mistä ajattelussa on kysymys. Se auttaa ymmärtämään, miksi ihmisten käsitykset asioiden tilasta voivat tiedotustilaisuuden jälkeen olla hyvin erilaisia. Viestintä ei koskaan tuota kaikille samanlaista tilannekuvaa.

Yhteinen ja erilainen todellisuus

Ajattelu on aivoissa tapahtuvaa tiedonkäsittelyä; työmuistin, tarkkaavuuden ja muistirakenteissa jo olevan tiedon yhteispeliä. Etulinjassa, vastaanottamassa aisti-informaatiota, ovat tarkkaavuus ja työmuisti, joiden toimintavarmuutta heikentää sotkuinen ”sillisalaatti” informaatioympäristö. Ihmisen on pakko valita, mihin asioihin kiinnittää huomiota ja jakaa tarkkaavuuttaan. Kyse on välttämättömästä informaation suodatuksesta, jolla taataan ajattelun sujuminen.

Ihmiset aina käsittelevät tietoa valikoiden ja tekevät siitä erilaisia johtopäätöksiä. Jaamme yhteisen todellisuuden vain osittain. Tämä johtuu siitä, että jokaisella ihmisellä on erilainen tietovaranto aivojensa muistirakenteissa. Sitä ihminen hyödyntää, tietoisesti ja tiedostamatta, kun navigoi informaatiovirrassa, jossa on aina enemmän tietoa, kuinka minkä ihminen pystyy havaitsemaan, saati sulattamaan.

Aiemmin opittu ja koettu vaikuttaa siihen, mitä havaitaan ja mikä merkitys tiedolle annetaan: faktaa, fiktiota, vanhentunutta, turhaa sälää.

Mikä on minulle tärkeätä?

Kun ihminen tekee päätöksiä siitä, mikä tieto on itselle tärkeätä, hän katsoo usein menneisyyteen ja luottaa varsin pitkälle aiemmin oppimaansa. Ihminen, joka ei muista, koska on viimeksi sairastanut nuhakuumeen, päättelee tästä, että hänen vastustuskykynsä pitää koronaviruksetkin loitolla. Häntä eivät päivittäiset koronauutiset kiinnosta. Ihminen, joka on sairastanut rajun keuhkokuumeen influenssan jälkitautina, seuraa tarkkaan uutisointia rokotuksista.

Tunnetilat vaikuttavat siihen, mitä uutisia seurataan ja kuinka reagoidaan. Ihminen, jonka työpaikka on uhattuna seuraa ahdistuneena uutisia yhteiskunnan sulkutilasta ja kasvavista työttömyysluvuista. Etätyön hehkutus sekä ärsyttää että innostaa. Uutisointi voi myös turruttaa. Jokapäiväiset koronaluvut uutislähetyksissä muuttuvat vähitellen nippelitiedon pakkosyötöksi. Taasko niitä lukuja!

Lisääkö tieto ymmärrystä vai tuskaa?

Tieto monipuolistuu ja muuttuu myös siitä syystä, että asioita on tutkittu enemmän. Koronapandemia on tehnyt näkyväksi tieteen perustehtävän, joka on pitkäjänteinen tutkimus, johon tuodaan uusia näkökulmia. Tuloksena on monipuolisempi käsitys siitä, mistä COVID-19 pandemiassa on kyse. Me emme elä mustavalkoisessa – joka tai – maailmassa, vaikka tällainen käsitys syntyy helposti, kun julkinen koronakeskustelu käydään minuuttiaikataulutetulla kysymys-vastaus-tyylillä.

Informaation jatkojalostus tietopaketeiksi on hyvä keino hillitä liiallista informaatiotulvaa. Liian tiivis tiedonvälitys eri medioissa herättää kuitenkin ihmisissä usein enemmän kysymyksiä kuin antaa vastauksia. Yhteenveto siitä, mistä tieto on peräisin ja mistä näkökulmasta tiivistelmä on laadittu, auttaa ihmisiä oivaltamaan, että viestin sisällön erot voivat johtua erilaisesta tavasta käsitellä informaatiota. Omaa mielipidettä ei kannata muodostaa yhden median uutisoinnista.

Ajattelun taidoissa keskeistä on kyky monipuolisesti käsitellä tietoa ja ymmärtää, että tiedon pohjalta voi tehdä erilaisia päätelmiä. Vaikka liiallinen informaatio haittaa tiedonkäsittelyä, ajattelun taitojen kehittämiselle informaatio on välttämätön raaka-aine. Liian virikkeettömässä ympäristössä ajattelu rapistuu.

Ajatellaan yhdessä

Yhdessä ääneen ajatteleminen on ikivanha ja edelleen paras tapa kehittää omaa ajatteluaan. Asioihin saa uusia näkökulmia. Keskustelua voi käydä kasvotusten, puhelimessa tai näyttöruudun välityksellä. Menetelmät eroavat toisistaan siinä, miten hyvin ne välittävät muuta kuin puhuttua viestiä. Kasvotusten, samassa tilassa tapahtuvassa keskustelussa äänensävyt, kasvojen ilmeet, eleet ja kehon kieli ovat vahvemmin mukana. Tässä moodissa on helpompi havaita, kuka porukassa kohteliaasti odottaa suunvuoroa, kuka ei malta kuunnella muita, kuka heittää kommentteja kieli poskessa, kuka on paikalla, mutta ajatukset ovat hänellä ihan muualla.

Yhteiskunnalle ihmisten yksilölliset aivojen tietopankit ja niiden avulla syntyvät erilaiset näkökulmat tietoon ovat rikkaus. Ajattelevat ihmiset pyörittävät, rakentavat ja kehittävät kaikkia yhteiskunnan toimintoja. Pandemian keskellä eläminen ei ole syy kaivautua omiin infopoteroihin ja laittaa yhdessä ajattelua jäihin.

Posted in Aivot, Ajattelu, Ajatus, Ihminen, Informaatio, Pandemia, Suomeksi, Teknologia, Tiede, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking screen heads

Does remote work, keeping distance to other people and communicating with a variety of digital work tools improve human productivity?

Photo by husband (family album)

Media is full of reports and stories about enthusiasts, people bursting with excitement: Finally! Something positive has come out of this awful societal lockdown time and COVID virus pandemic that refuses to shimmer down. Modes of working have been updated to the digital era. The invasion of tele-meetings and remote work has been fast, strongly boosted by the pandemic. No need to travel to the workplace to interact with other people. Many wish to continue in this working mode also in the future.

If video streaming doesn’t get hiccups, one can even talk with heads on screens with faces. It is trendy to forecast that this mode of interacting in working life has come to stay. The fight against the current COVID pandemic has made it necessary for people to avoid one another and stay cooped up at home. Humans adapt, why revert to the old?

Fast growing keep-your-distance business

The number of companies in Keep your distance from fellow man -business is rapidly growing. Services and products (to name a few) include easy-to-assemble home office furniture, renting remote office space, virtual office and other place sharing digital platforms. There is a jungle of gadgets and office work apps claimed to increase productivity for sale or to rent. Stylists give advice on how to look your best on the video screen.

Different AR/VR enhanced solutions for providing an immersive experience of natural human communication include virtual handshakes, elbow rubbing, eye contact, getting better readings of facial expressions and voice tones. Videoclips of (many still futuristic) examples are popping up like spring flowers. Some might consider them more as weeds slowly suffocating natural human interaction.

“It is so much easier to concentrate and avoid distractions from one’s work buddies”, many people happily say, and continue: “One gets so much more done”. Especially office workers can free themselves from direct interaction with other people. There are bitter voices stating that so called knowledge workers, at all levels of the workplace food chain, are privileged people for having this opportunity to distance themselves from other humans. Is this possibility really worthy of envy?

The home office cocoon is a shield against human interruptions. Many consider people at work, who want to have an informal discussion, the culprits of productivity problems. Does one really get more things done alone or is it an illusion of increased productivity? What if the person reaching out had a solution to a mutual problem or a good idea worth pursuing? Could the interruption actually have saved time put into the work task?

Curb your enthusiasm – in speed-teaming-mode things progress in slow mode

In Finnish we have a saying “jäitä hattuun”. Direct translation is, “Put some ice into your hat”. Curb your enthusiasm before you go overboard with effusive praise of just talking with screens or faces on screens. Why am I, a Digi-enthusiast being the devil’s advocate?

In Charlie Chaplin’s classic film Modern Times (1936) machine drives man. In my mind I can easily imagine myself in a rather similar state by simply replacing all the industrial machine gadgets with different types of information technology screens and interfaces. I can relate to having a sense of rushing around. I try to keep up with switching from one platform to another, from one remote meeting to another. Cognitively and mentally, I need to shift from one topic to another on the run. The need to dig up from my memory names, faces and roles of people that tune into the next meeting is also challenging. Mix-ups occur. Someone is missing from the call; another thinks the topic of the meeting is something different. So, time is spent getting everyone on the map. In speed-teaming-mode things tend to progress in slow mode.

Data trash highjacking human attention

I have mixed feelings about the (probably) not-so-distant future in which virtual glasses are sitting on my nose bridge or I wear a helmet providing experiences of augmented and/or virtual reality to meetings and discussions with other people. In my mind’s eye I see hands appearing, signaling that people in the meeting are queuing for their turn to speak up. I can also imagine a situation where several people are trying to have a say at the same time. I am straining to make sense out of a cacophony of human voices. Perhaps some words, emoticons or objects are popping up and floating in the scenery. They are soon replaced by new ones. What will all of this do to my ability to concentrate, actually be present in a way that ensures I am seeing and hearing important things? How to ensure that data trash (appearing by mistake, due to a hiccup in the system) that has no value to the ongoing discussions doesn’t highjack attendees’ attention and disrupt their train of thought? A cluttered meeting space jeopardizes thinking, planning and working productively together.

I am thrilled about many advances different technologies have made. I still remember how, in the 1990’s, I had to climb to the top of a hill near our summer place to get a reasonable signal in order to email short documents with my first smartphones attached to my heavy, 1st generation movable PC. Now I can choose from work/home office PCs, a mini-pocket office and many other mobile device alternatives. I find myself sometimes talking to my watch. I have also been in an embarrassing situation while giving a talk at an event: Though I had put my handy on silent mode, my computer, tablet and watch started beeping an incoming call during the presentation.

The important human factor

During my career extending over forty years I have participated and/or been the leader of work projects small and large. Gaining understanding on factors affecting human performance and behavior has always been a part of my work. I have had the privilege to experience working cultures in hospitals, universities, research institutes, small and big companies. Working modes have ranged from face-to-face, ad hoc discussions and meetings tightly timed and scheduled, to the more traditional phone calls or talking at odd hours via my computer or phone screen with people scattered around the globe. This has given me the opportunity to observe first-hand in what type of settings people are at their creative best.

Here are my learnings:
The budding ideas that eventually lead to actual research or other types of development projects were nearly always first spoken aloud in unofficial gatherings where people happened to meet. Creativity by demand pales in comparison. The seeds of ideas started to grow into actual projects, more often than seldom, from the chance meeting of a few people. Gathering around a printer, nowadays a multifunction machine, has always been a really good place to talk and exchange ideas. A printer in an open space attracted people.

The icebreaker was often the man-machine communication problem, a repeating cause of shared frustration. My struggle with the stubborn un-cooperative “multi-skill” printing machine captured the attention of passers-by. Soon a small group of people was helping me to figure out what was wrong this time. While at it, we often exchanged news on what type of projects each of us worked on. Nearly always areas of interesting and fruitful co-operation possibilities were identified. Also, the first idea seeds of new projects were planted into our minds in these chance encounters. Waiting for the multifunction machine to comply brought forth also the opportunity for talent head hunting and expanding human networks.

Embrace afternoon “let’s have a chat” -breaks

Recreation days have been important for getting to know one’s work buddies a little better. With food and some drinks talking flowed freely on a wide range of topics, from family, hobbies, every-day things, societal issues to work. All topics can lead to ideas with connections to work. One of my best and most successful projects was outlined on a paper napkin in a bar on a ship! Having lunch together at work not only feeds the body but also the mind. This and that -talk is invigorating and mind-tickling. Ideas pop up, come and go. Some mature into actions. Tightly scheduled and minute-to-minute orchestrated meetings, overpacked with topics, do not leave space for ideas and creativity to bloom.

An audio-video remote meeting with a variable amount of face pictures of attendees on the screen is a pale substitute for a same place and time meeting of the minds. In group meetings people in front of their own screens try to figure out who is actually speaking and how do I myself participate. Will raising the little hand on my screen alert the person trying to keep the meeting going? Too often one hears: “Sorry, I had something to comment/add a while ago, but now the discussion has already moved on.” I find myself thinking that the comment or idea that was now missed may have been an important one.

How many have tuned in but are actually doing something else? “Sorry, my time is up, I have to join another e-meeting. Let’s continue with email, take this offline, share documents on team’s meeting site…. When do you guys have time for the next session? Send a calendar invitation.” The calendars of people are usually full booked for weeks. So, the momentum to create is lost.

A sure way to kill group creativity

Pitching and discussing new ideas or sharing thoughts on how to build a project or solve a problem are activities in which the quality of group thinking suffers from time restriction. The remote working mode and screen jumping from team meeting to another is an effective way to kill creativity. In my experience with a one-hour time slot you just get started; if you are lucky and people have worked with each other earlier. If the goal is to bring together people that might have an interest in the topic and complementary know how, the who I am, what I have done and why I think I have been invited to attend part is often a time gobbler tampering discussion on the actual topic. Just when people have warmed up and their minds are reaching the mode where thoughts on how an idea could be realized start to emerge the meeting ends. What a punch in the face of creativity. It would have been important to share one’s thoughts with others right away. But time is up. Quite a belly landing!

Ideas seldom mature further solely within one’s own mind. Spontaneous discussions are invaluable. Emotions transferred via a screen are filtered into lukewarm ones. Especially those that inspire, like enthusiasm, an important driving force needed to create something new. On the other hand, skepticism may overrule in the faces-on-screen -discussion mode.

Where is the TBD room?

When listening to hype talk on the bliss of remote work and human interaction largely via telecommunication, I often think of an experience from my first week at Nokia in November 2014: I was learning the ropes and getting to know my work mates. In the open office space, at my workstation, I was surfing the intranet meeting room directory. I was hunting for the room TBD. I found many interesting info pages. I quickly scanned the titles and punched TBD into the search box. Pages on working culture and how things are done gave zero hits for TBD. Meeting time was fast approaching.

Especially when trying to solve a problem, I am in the habit of talking to myself. This time I voiced my dilemma aloud: “How do I find the info on the location of this TBD room? It most definitely at Nokia is not short for Traumatic Brain Disease (that first came into my neurologist’s mind). “Oh, that means To Be Determined”, informed the person at the neighboring workstation. “Who are you meeting?”. After hearing the name, he continued: “He is sitting just over there, why don’t you go over there and ask him?” I did. “Hi, good to see you, let’s take an ad hoc room or go to the coffee area, where you can meet other people also”.

Pick the right working mode

Remote work works when I have, at hand, a task that requires my full attention and concentration. A good example is writing or digesting information that I later will implement into practice and make available to others. However, the content of the document I am writing always improves through discussions with other people. Here a tele-meeting works. Otherwise, I have always enjoyed and embraced chance (ad hoc) meetings. They have spiced up my days. Spending time at the coffee area or at other shared spaces people visit from time to time has been the best way to connect with old acquaintances and new ones. Let’s face it: communicating via screens filters away many important ingredients of human interaction.

It is ludicrous, comical and whimsical to call a digital meeting of faces-on-screens a campfire of human interaction. Although, an analog to fire can be found: Digital tools, as fire, are good servants, but shouldn’t be given the upper hand (boss role). Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that in the future productivity, work performance quality and creativity can be guaranteed or even (significantly) improved by mainly using digital work tools. The wisdom lies in picking the right mode of human interaction from the palette of communication solutions.

Posted in cognition, communication, Creativity, English, future, human, Team, Virtual Reality, Working culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Emotion radar?

Augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have found their way to everyday life. The idea that the future of humans in the AR and VR tech space includes multiple opportunities to enhance (augment) performance and provide new ways for experiencing and interacting with the world appeals to many. Will this be the next stage of “body and sensing smart”?

Current health and wellbeing markets are quite a jungle of wearable, self-monitoring gadgets. Research databases have an exhausting number of publications on how the human autonomic and central nervous system physiology are affected by a wide range of internal human factors such as vigilance, alertness, stress, emotions and external environmental elements like temperature, noise and visual stimuli (to name a few). Already in 1960 Science published an article on how visual stimuli affect eye pupil size which is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The pupil has since been claimed to be a direct window to the human mind and emotions.

Will seeing emotions of other humans really help?

I find myself repeatedly pondering a question I was asked to address in one of my brain research lectures in the early 2000: Would you like to actually see another person’s emotional state? I was asked to imagine having a kaleidoscope that is able to translate into colors changes in human physiology caused by different emotions. With this “emotion-scope” I could actually see people emitting these emotions.

Emotion kaleidoscope – changing eye color and hovering clouds

Now, nearly twenty years later, as AR and VR have arrived, my imagination has created into my mind’s eye a scene in which I encounter humans whose eyes change color depending on emotions they are experiencing at a certain time point. As an alternative, I go around wearing emotion–radar–glasses that make it possible for me to see a color halo around a person that is caused by a change in electrodermal activity of the skin initiated by emotions. I also “see” a person with a “black” cloud above the head denoting bad temper and another with a rosy one hovering above the head of a joyful person. These two people with very different clouds are part of a team discussing a work topic. A bunch of clouds of varying size and color are floating above the humans. How should I, the person who put forth the need to start doing things differently, handle this palette of emotions. Is it really helpful information to have?

From sprouting device wires to wireless health tech wearables

The question of an emotion radar was first put to me in the early days of the Brainwork Research Lab at The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health where I was working as a research professor. Nearly twenty years ago, a study setup combining physiologic and cognitive measurements required that the person participating was strapped to a chair. Numerous wires were sprouting out from sensors placed on different body areas and connected to data gathering boxes. Not a very comfortable study setting even for an eager volunteer to endure.

The era of wireless, more user-friendly technologies was around the corner and it didn’t take all that many years before wearables claiming to measure a wide range of factors affecting human physiology, performance and behavior appeared in the health tech market.

The Brain-Mind-Body connection

The emotional, feeling brain soon became a media favorite. It has been well documented in a multitude of studies that the amygdala ­ a brain area anatomically resembling an almond and located deep in the middle parts of the brain ­ is an important key player in detecting and storing experienced emotions. Thinking of a past event can reactivate emotions one experienced in the past. People that were present at the same event remember different things from it and also their memory emotional imprints from it differ. A team outing can emotionally be experienced as great fun or a pain in the neck and a wide range of other emotions.

Emotions trigger bodily responses and affect autonomic nervous system physiology. This “body-data” is forwarded to the amygdala. So physiologic devices that measure e.g., heart rate, breathing and sweat have been linked to emotions. They were fast claimed to provide objective data on a person’s feelings.

Mirroring emotions

Frontal lobes contain neural structures (e.g., mirror cells) that enable us mentally to relate to other people. We can understand that the state of mind or life situation of another person participating in a mutual conversation or activity may be different from our own. The cognitive skill to finetune one’s way of speaking by being able to imagine different emotional responses to words spoken is a social skill that in this SOME age is too often under-used.

It is true that it is sometimes difficult to relate to and get a “reading” of another person. The mouth may be saying one thing, but the truth of the matter stays hidden in one’s mind. A group of people can be individually in very different mind sets and emotional states. Thus, I understand that there may be eagerness to develop augmented and virtual reality-based solutions that would make human emotions visible. Still, I strongly caution against this for many reasons.

Emotion tsunami

Human emotions are triggered by a multitude of factors. A person’s mood or emotional reaction may not be a response to something occurring presently. Or the person may be thinking of something totally different that has caused the emotional state. Also, if I would have a device with which to see the emotional responses of a group of people to my behavior, I would be exposed to a variety of different emotions. I would be overwhelmed by an emotion tsunami. How to handle this situation? What type of emotions do I want to elicit and to what purpose? How do I respond to contradictory feelings? What about the intensity of the emotion and temperament differences? Some people are hot heads and others cool cucumbers come what may.

I have several times attended leadership training where people are urged to openly speak about emotions at workplaces. The take home message: Encourage people to freely express their feelings at team meetings. Ask about emotions, if needed. I confess, I have not followed this advice. I consider it to reflect insensitivity to human feelings. For many people it is difficult to speak up verbally even on concrete matters. The threshold for sharing one’s emotions is even higher.

Respect emotion privacy

Emotions are in many ways private. People should definitely have a right to this privacy. Using an emotion radar to get feedback on how people react to me is also unreliable. Providing people with emotion radars does not necessarily result in increase of empathy and understanding of others. We may also be letting a genie out of the bottle if this system is used to emotionally manipulate people. It can be a form of brain washing.

If a person grieving the loss of a loved one isn’t ready to share the sorrow, empathy is giving the person space. It should be enough to know that a person is going through a difficult time and isn’t willing to participate in group laugh yoga or other types of emotion bonding or training.

The effects of emotions on human neurophysiology also vary: Some get “fired up” easily by emotions that to some are only lukewarm physiologically. Thus, individual variety is very large. Also, the first emotional reaction to an unexpected development at work can after further thought change. So, what is the relevance of “seeing” another’s first reaction? It can in fact be harmful if it is taken as a final reaction. Often first reactions are coloured by the surprise element.

Hone your natural emotional intelligence

We humans read the emotional states of others by paying attention to facial expressions, gestures, body language, use of voice. This inherent skill can get trampled over when people go about their lives by rushing around and not taking the time to really have a look at what another person is naturally emitting. AR/VR based emotion capturing tools are not solutions with which to mend things when the skill of seeing and hearing non-verbal information is in poor shape due to under-use.

Emotional intelligence consists of several abilities: The ability to ponder and understand one’s own emotions and their origins. The ability to handle our emotions and if needed to change our ways of responding emotionally. The ability to understand that social contexts in which to show emotions vary. These abilities make it possible to relate to other peoples’ feelings.

The valuable filter of emotions

Empathy is the ability to relate to another person and understand that emotional responses to life events differ between people. A filter of emotions is a valuable thing in human interaction. We humans are entitled to emotional privacy and deciding what we want to share. Some futuristic, eager inventors, dream of systems that would enable direct emotion transfer between people without giving thought to what this might bring forth: Is it desirable that the emotion of hate can be easily transferred from one person to another? Developing augmented human solutions should not be done by wearing rosy glasses. The downsides of an appealing idea should be remembered.

Tangled emotions clouding reason

Would you personally want to share all of your emotions with others? Would you like to have a working culture where everyone is demanded to share their emotional responses to different issues arising in daily work and in addition, “truth of talk” -confirmation is done using an emotion radar? How would you feel if you would be exposed to a wide range of emotional information from a group of people? Could you tackle the overflow of emotions? What is a desired emotional response and what not? Who determines this? Would understanding between people significantly improve if everybody sees – during interaction – the changing eye colors, clouds hovering above the head or halos around the human body of everyone? I claim that the result would be a messy and tangled web of emotions and it would effectively cloud reason. Finding a good balance between listening to the heart and mind would be near impossible.

A blog in Finnish on this topic has also been published in my Tiedekokki blog in the magazine Tiede, so tune in!

Posted in Artificial Intelligence, brain, cognition, communication, emotion, English, future, human, memory, society, technology, Virtual Reality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luovat kädet ja tekemisen kipinä mielessä Foibekartanossa

Ruska oli upeimmillaan, kun lokakuussa vierailin Foibekartanossa; ikäihmisten asumis- ja palveluyhteisössä. Pidin siellä esityksen siitä, kuinka käsillä tekeminen pistää vipinää aivojen hermoverkkoihin ja virkistää mieltä. Iltapäivän mittaiseksi venynyt vierailu antoi minulle virtaa moneksi päiväksi. Piristysruiske koronaviruspandemian poikkeusaikana pisti ajatukseni laukkaamaan ja sormenpäilläni näppäilemään tämän blogin.

Foibe Akatemian esitys Aivot ja Kädet alkaa. Tilaisuuden juontaa Eero Viljakainen. (Kitin kuva-arkisto)

”Olet saavuttanut määränpään”, ilmoitti autoni navigaattorin konemainen ”ihmisääni” ponnekkaasti. Olin Peijaksen sairaalan alueella. Eihän tämä voi olla oikein, totesin ääneen itselleni ja navigaattorille. Kääntöpaikalla veivasin auton rattia. Täyskäännöksen jälkeen sadatteluani hiljaa kuunnellut navigaattori reagoi: ”Olet saavuttanut määränpään”. Jatkoin autolla etanavauhtia eteenpäin ja hoksasin lopulta pienenlaisen Foibekartano-kyltin. Sitä seuraamalla olin pian parkkipaikalla ja edessäni avautui puisto. Vielä vihreä nurmikko oli keltaisten, oranssien ja punaisten lehtien täplittämä. Lehtipuut hehkuivat ruskapuvuissaan. Kukkapenkkien kukkaloisto oli vielä osittain voimissaan. Upea maisema avautui myös Foibekartanon sisäänkäynniltä, jossa minua odottivat kasvomaskien kera toimitusjohtaja Ulla Broms, talousjohtaja Timo Leivo sekä keskustelutilaisuuden nuoteista vastaava, hyvän elämän koordinaattori Eero Viljakainen.

Korona-ajan turvavälit oli huomioitu Foibekartanon ravintola Flyygelissä. Lounaan ja iltapäiväkahvin aikana keskustelu soljui aiheesta toiseen. Erityisesti puhuimme siitä, miten ihminen voi elää vanhuuttaan monin eri tavoin. Minulle kerrottiin, että foibekartanolaisten mottona on ”kaikkea uutta voi kokeilla”. Ihmisiä virkistävät eri asiat. Hyvä arki tarkoittaa joillekin runsasta harrastamista, toisille kontakteja muihin ihmisiin. Jollekin on tärkeätä tietää, että tarjolla on monenlaista apua arkeen – silloin tällöin tai joka päivä.

Ravintola Flyygelissä korona-ajan turvavälein. Kuvassa vasemmalta oikealle: Timo Leivo, Maria Paavolainen, Ulla Broms, Eero Viljakainen ja Kiti. Pienessä kuvassa kartanokahvikuppeja; arjen ja juhlan luksusta. (Kitin kuva-arkisto)

Foibekartanon alueella asuu omissa asunnoissa noin 300 ihmistä. Osa heistä elää arkeaan ilman ulkopuolista apua. Asukas voi tarvittaessa saada apua. Kun itsenäinen pärjääminen oman kodin tutussa ympäristössä vaikeutuu, Foibekartanosta löytyy tukijoukkoja helpottamaan arkielämän sujumista. Apua voidaan lisätä asteittain. Kartanon monimuotoisista asumismuodosta yksi on ympärivuorokautinen tehostettu palveluasuminen Hyvän elämän palvelutalossa.

Koronaepidemia rajoittaa Foibeakartanon yhteisöllistä toimintaa. Normaalioloissa ravintola Flyygeliin voi tulla aamiaiselle ja lounaalle myös ihmisiä, jotka eivät Foibekartanolla asu. Flyygeli ravintolan viikoittaiset kahvikekkerit – suositut seurustelutilaisuudet – ovat tauolla. Asukkaat kaipaavat yhteistä aikaa lukuisten eri harrastusten parissa. Monia ulkotapahtumia on kuitenkin järjestetty. Toivotaan, että säät pysyvät ulkotilaisuuksille suosiollisina.

Foibe Akatemia

Vas. Mirja Lamminen tervehtii videolla. Oik. videon päässä on Raija Mattlin, maskin takana Maria Paavolainen. Studiossa kanssani on Eero Viljakainen (Kitin kuva-arkisto).

Alustukseni ja siihen liittyvä keskustelu oli osa Foibe Akatemian toimintaa. Tilaisuus järjestettiin tällä kertaa sisääntuloaulan nurkkaan pystytetyssä studiossa. Asukkaat katsoivat omista asunnoistaan suoraa videolähetystä. Videon välityksellä myös keskusteltiin. Digiaika ja sen tarjoamat tavat pitää yhteyttä ovat vahvasti mukana foibekartanolaisten arjessa.

Luentoani silmällä pitäen Mirja Lamminen oli lähettänyt minulle etukäteen sähköpostin. Hänellä oli menossa oikea tekemisen himon vaihe. Voiko korona-aika tuottaa tällaisen olotilan, hän mietti. Itse keskustelutilaisuuteen hän toi etukäteen videoidun tervehdyksensä. Hän kertoi käsityö-ja maalausharrastuksestaan. Videon kautta pääsin ihailemaan hänen kättensä tuloksia. Videossa näkyi upeita maalauksia ja villasukkia, joista jokainen pari oli erilainen. Värien ilottelua! Mirja kertoi myös pitävänsä kukkien hoidosta. Sitä voi harrastaa vaikkapa Eero Viljakaisen kanssa, joka toimi Foibe Akatemian tilaisuuden juontajana ja samalla huolehti siitä, että kaikki tekniikka pelasi.

Esitykseni aikana kerroin kuulijoille siitä, kuinka ihmisen käsi on kätevä moneen asiaan. Se on aina mukana kulkeva työväline. Käsien avulla voi toteuttaa itseään monin tavoin: kutomalla, virkkaamalla, askartelemalla, hoitamalla kukkapenkkiä, jumpassa, soittoharrastuksen äärellä. Ulkona liikkuessa kädet rytmittävät kävelyä ja auttavat tasapainon hallinnassa. Sauvakävely vie monenlaisiin maisemiin. Rollaattori antaa tarvittaessa tukea liikkumiseen ja voipa sen istuimella hetken huiliakin.

Luovuudesta

Kaikenlainen käsien käyttö virittää aivojen hermoverkkoja kokonaisvaltaisesti. Kädet ovat myös hyvä apuväline, kun sanat loppuvat. Eleillä voi viestiä monenlaisia asioita. Rohkaiseva taputus toisen olkapäälle on viesti myötäelämisestä, rohkaisusta ja toisen ihmisen välittämisestä.

Esitykseni lopussa keskustelin videoyhteyden kautta Raija Mattlinin kanssa. Hän tekee koruja. Niiden äärellä puhuimme luovuudesta. Kaikki alkaa erilaisten helmien hypistelystä, Raija kertoi. Pikkuhiljaa hänellä alkaa syntyä ajatus siitä, mitä värejä ja minkälaisia helmiä koruun tulee. Kun korujen tekoon oikein uppoutuu, ajankulku unohtuu. Mieli virkistyy. Puhuimme myös siitä, että jos vain terveyttä ja voimia on, kannattaa aina nousta ylös ja ryhtyä hommiin. Näin korona-aikanakin, vaikka välillä harmittaa, kun tärkeät harrastusryhmät ovat jo pitempään olleet tauolla.

Päänuppia tuulettamassa

Vas. Maria Ulasevich näyttää kännykällä videota lapsenlapsen touhuista. Oik. Niilo Veikkolainen on Kartanopalviljongissa. (Kitin kuva-arkisto)

Juuri ennen Foibe Akatemian tilaisuuden alkua tapasin lyhyellä happihypyllä ulkona Maria Ulasevichin, joka istui rollaattorinsa päällä. Hän oli tuohtunut. Hän kertoi tulleensa asunnoltaan varta vasten paikan päälle kuuntelemaan esitystäni. Rouvalla oli huumori tallella. Hän tokaisi, että oli muistanut ottaa kaikki eri pillerinsä, mutta itkunestopilleriä ei ollut niiden joukossa. Sitä hän olisi tarvinnut, kun niin harmitti, kun ei ulko-ovesta sisälle päästetty. Pian kuitenkin juttelimme jo rakkaasta lapsenlapsesta. Kyllä oli näppärää Marian älykännykän käyttö. Näin monta videota taaperosta.

Aulasta löysin toimivan jukeboxin ja akvaarion sekä pienen viherpuutarhakeitaan. Asukkaissa ja henkilökunnassa on useita viherpeukaloita. Pöydillä oli taidokkaita kukkakimppuja. Piha-alueilla oli erilaisia kukkaistutuksia sekä pieniä puutarhaviljelmiä siellä täällä. Kartanopaviljongissa, kukkaloiston keskellä, istui Niilo Veikkolainen päivän lehteä lukemassa. Hiekkatiellä moni asukas oli päiväkävelyllä. Heistä innokkaimmat lenkkeilevät useita kertoja päivässä, kertoi Ulla Broms. Sauvakävely on suosittua. Tarvittaessa mukana kulkevat rollaattori ja parempijalkainen lenkkikaveri.

Foibekartanon aulassa bongasin (vas.) akvaarion ja sisäpuutarhan sekä (oik.) toimivan jukeboxin. (Kitin kuva-arkisto)

Iltapäiväkahvit joimme karatanokahvikupeista, jotka on saatu lahjoituksena vierailijoilta, asukkailta ja heidän läheisiltään. Foibekartanossa perinteet kohtaavat nykypäivän monin tavoin. 

Lisää tietoa Foibekartanolaisten elämästä löytyy oheisista linkeistä:

Foibekartano Ei hoivaa, vaan elämää -dokumentti https://youtu.be/EuexdfzaRrI

MTV Live – Juhannus https://www.mtvuutiset.fi/artikkeli/ikaihmiset-paasivat-juhannustansseihin-vantaalla-nain-he-muistelivat-nuoruuden-kesia-poliisit-tulivat-ja-keskeyttivat-juhlat/7847928#gs.hcra0x 

Jonnet ei muista – Miska Haakana https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6gqxFidnqE

Posted in Aivot, Ihminen, Käsi, Kutominen, Matematiikka, Mieli, Pandemia, Suomeksi, Terveys, Työ | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grasping masked emotions

A tiny coronavirus rapidly spread around the world causing havoc to the health of many infected people. The virus-pandemic quickly put societies and world economy on their knees. Unprepared, humans faced the challenge of getting a grip on the coronavirus crisis. We witness endless debates on what to do to win the fight against the virus lurking among us. We live in an info jungle where different medias fiercely compete for our attention. Exposure to a constant – one could claim – overwhelming flood of corona-related info can cause mental dizziness. It places a toll on humans’ cognitive abilities to handle the, often contradictory, information. Thinking together brings clarity of mind and reduces stress. Unfortunately, natural human communication is currently in many ways hampered.

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford has a collection of hand sculptures by the French artist Auguste Rodin (picture on the right).

I had decided not to put my verbal spoon into this boiling coronavirus soup of facts, fiction, opinions, argumentation. I rethought my blogging activity and decided to pitch in and write about neurobiological facts deeply rooted into human brains and minds and affecting our behaviour in many ways. I will tap into cognitive neuroscience research and present some important things for us all to be aware of behind our protective face masks.

Without an effective vaccine against the virus, different types of safety measures had to be activated to try and get an upper hand over the pandemic. Face masks, distancing ourselves from other people, washing hands, no hand shaking, no touching, stay at home, border control, virus testing and infection chain hunting effect our ways of living. Effects on human cognition and communication skills have, however, been in the sidelines of daily media coverage of health, societal and economic issues of covid-19.

Human interaction – the many roles of the face, mouth and hand

In Finland there is an ongoing face mask debate. Arguments on their usefulness in preventing the spread of viruses are endless. Should people be forced to use them? Do we need a penalty threat? Is a strong recommendation enough? What type of mask, how to use it, where to use it, who should use it? Should it be a use-and-discard one or washable? Should it be a surgical one, some other type of special “anti-viral” material, or will any textile do?

In the midst of the debate, we are daily repeatedly reminded about the use of face masks and also instructed “don’t touch, keep your hands to yourself”. However, the human face, mouth and hand do not just spread viruses and other infective agents. They are also key players in human behavior. We should be aware of this also. This important fact has mostly so far been forgotten.

Recently my eyes were drawn to a picture of a young child with a wide smiling mouth and cute white milk teeth. “Take a moment to look at this smile”, said the ad. “Did you smile back? We hope you did because a smile brings happiness to the one smiling and those around the smiler”. So true. Even two strangers sharing a smile can have a connection moment. Well, now smiles are often hidden behind masks.

Homunculus (left). On the right Sensory and Motor Homunculus sculptures at the Museum of Natural History, London, based on the cortical homunculi mapped by Dr. Wilder Penfield. Wilder Penfield who, while developing epilepsy neurosurgery, systematically stimulated with mild electrical current different areas of the brain’s parietal-lobes in an awake patient. The patient then described the body area in which a certain stimulus initiated a sensation or motor activity. Penfield published this groundbreaking research in 1937 together with Edwin Boldrey. Since then, with the many advances in functional imaging techniques, e.g. the brain representation areas of the human hand and fingers have been identified in much more detail (brain cartography).

Non-verbal communication is an important part of human interaction. By looking at a person’s facial expressions (for example mouth and cheek movements) it is possible to figure out if the person is happy, joking, irritated, angry, frustrated or sad. So, when the face is from the nose downwards hidden behind a facial mask, a significant part of nonverbal information is lost. Spoken words do not tell the whole truth. Eyes do not express all emotions.

Masked nuances of voice

In addition to facial expressions, the tone of voice contains a lot of information on e.g. the emotional state of the speaker. The face mask literally masks nuances and intonation of voice and speech starts to sound more mechanic and robot-like. In addition, the actual words are often muffled, making it much more difficult to hear correctly. When spoken information is missed, the human mind has the tendency to fill the info gaps with assumptions (not always correct) of what was probably said. This often leads to misinterpretation. Face masks make lipreading nearly impossible. Not only deaf people read lips. Aging-related hearing decline is a common problem and lip reading is (often even unconsciously) used to compensate impaired hearing. Even with good hearing, we are brain-wired (programmed) to look at a talking person’s mouth.

Imagine people sitting in a business meeting with face masks and negotiating a big business deal. A lot is at stake on all sides. Normally people follow attendees’ facial expressions in addition to body language and the use of hands when talking or listening to others. A person can talk in one way but think in another. So, we follow the face to figure out if a person is earnest and really means the words said. We humans are quite good at detecting mismatches in what is communicated verbally and non-verbally. A video-call also filters out important nonverbal information that in many cases can be captured in real-life meetings – without face masks.

Facial expressions are an important part of human interaction. Reading facial ques helps to fine-tune our spoken words. Emotional states vary between individuals and within an individual (you’re having a good or bad day). At work, in a project meeting, when all team buddies are using a mask it is not an easy task to figure out who is excited, who worried, who bored about the group effort at hand. Hiding students behind masks is also problematic: how to identify a troubled one? Getting a feel of what’s going on is not any easier via video, hiding behind a screen is very easy. In everyday life we normally interact with each other by constantly making use of non-verbal information faces and gestures provide.

Grasping things and meanings

The human hand is a versatile and fantastic tool we always have with us. The hand grasps stuff. When it is difficult to put something into words, many people take a pen and draw a picture or use gestures to help explain thoughts. Hands are used for creating things and ideas and testing do they work. The multifunctional hand has inspired both scientific research and artistic studies. The picture in this blog shows several hand sculptures made by Auguste Rodin.

At the moment co-creation and getting a hang of things is difficult for many people as hands are banned from many group activities. Hands take part in the thinking process. Questions like can you handle this, do you catch/grasp my meaning prove my point. Hand gestures contain a rich variety of non-verbal information.

In all stores and malls there are disinfection bottles scattered around the premises with signs reminding us to disinfect our hands repeatedly. I was standing at a rack of men’s shirts. A please, refrain from touching the items -sign was placed at my eye level. Well, I am the master-ironer in my family. I know from years of experience that some shirts are made of fabric that is an ironer’s nightmare while other fabrics allow the iron to slide smoothly along the shirt. In order to know which shirt is the dream fabric from the ironer’s point of view, I have to touch the shirt and handle the material. There was no disinfection bottle nearby. Luckily, I had my own bottle with me.

Does the fabric crinkle easily? Is the object light or heavy, soft or hard, slippery or crude? Is the design of an object pleasing to the touch? How about usability? Being able to touch and handle things with one’s hand provides the answer to these and many other questions not answerable by just looking at them.

A handshake is much more than hands meeting in greeting in cultures were this habit is common. Nonverbal signals are present and interpreted. Is the hand grip strong or limp? Are you given the whole hand to touch or just the fingertips? Do you sense an extra squeeze? It might be a silent message between friends/colleagues: “We will get through this together”. A tap on a fellow man’s shoulder can be a nonverbal sign of encouragement. A punch can be playful or aggressive. Not long ago, group hugs were a way to show team spirit in times of success and failure. I remember attending work wellness days in which I was personally a bit uneasy with all the group hugging. Now that it’s banned, I realise I miss the possibility to choose when to give a hug or get one as a show of support and caring.

Gloves and see-through masks

Nearly daily we see news flashes of politicians standing in a ring, at least an arm-length distance from a fellow meeting attendee. All are wearing masks. “I can’t really say anything about the current spirit in the meeting as all EU leaders have face masks”, summed an EU correspondent. Daily I witness people greeting each other by clicking elbows. I’m not a friend of the high five either, but this elbow clicking is really a stupid alternative to a handshake.

We now know that a covid-19 virus infection can cause serious health problems, even death in some individuals. While waiting for an effective vaccine it is prudent to activate a wider palette of safety measures. But the current virus-pandemic is not the last. So, let’s prepare for the next one, still to come, in advance and devise ways of interacting that don’t leave out a major part of nonverbal communication between humans.

I strongly recommend mass production of see-through masks that don’t get misted from breathing. Handshakes with gloved hands are better than elbow clicking. Most importantly, let’s be aware of the fact that the face, mouth and hand are not just transferring bugs. They play an elemental role in human interaction.

In the midst of the corona-data tsunami one’s thoughts can get quite tangled. Thought sharing brings clarity. Let’s not put up unnecessary boundaries but think of ways to improve opportunities for human contact. Further development of video aided remote communication is not enough. Let’s not be blinded by the hype around the digital giant leap forward in society gaining momentum from the coronavirus crisis. Human interaction can only partly be replaced by screen time.

Posted in brain, cognition, communication, covid-19, emotion, English, face, future, grasp, hand, human, mask, mouth, society, technology, virus-pandemic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ihmisen kasvot, suu sekä käsi tekevät muutakin kuin levittävät viruksia

Seisoin pari päivää sitten kassajonossa turvavälimerkin kohdalla. Katseeni osui iltapäivälehden lööppiin: ”Näin maskipakko voisi vaikuttaa arkeen”. Lehdessä oikeusoppineet arvioivat, mihin ihmisiä voi pakottaa ja mihin ei, mihin lait vääntyvät.

Olin vakaasti päättänyt, että en omassa blogissani kirjoita korona-aiheesta. Kassajonossa peruin päätökseni ja avaan sanaisen arkkuni. Kannan korteni kekoon tuomalla mukaan keskusteluun kognitiivista ja aivobiologista näkökulmaa, joka on jäänyt mielestäni liian vähälle huomiolle koronavirusepidemian uutisoinnissa.

Neurotieteissä on systemaattisesti tutkittu vuosikymmeniä sitä, miten ihminen asettuu aivojen päälakilohkon liike- ja tuntoaivokuorelle. Homunculus eli ”pieni ihminen aivoissa” ei vastaa mittasuhteiltaan elävää ihmistä. Ihmisen suu, kasvot ja käsi (erityisesti peukalo) ovat saaneet kokoaan huomattavasi suuremmat edustusalueet aivoissa. Tämä kuvastaa niiden merkitystä ihmiselle.

Miten käy, kun nämä tärkeät kehon osa-alueet ovat nyt vajaakäytössä? Miten tämä vaikuttaa käyttäytymiseemme, kykyymme viestiä, ymmärtää toisiamme ja ylipäätään hahmottaa inhimilliseen elämään kuuluvia asioita?

Homunculus eli “pieni ihminen aivoissa“.

Neurokirurgiassa on tärkeätä tietää, mikä eri aivoalueiden merkitys on ihmiskehon eri osien toiminnalle. 1930-luvulla kanadalainen neurokirurgi Wilder Penfield kehitti epilepsiakirurgiaa ja tässä yhteydessä tuotti ensimmäisen aivokartan, joka kuvasi aivokuoren eri osien yhteyksiä muihin ruumiinosiin. Hän selvitti nämä ärsyttämällä heikolla sähkövirralla systemaattisesti eri kohtia aivojen pintaa ja pyytämällä hereillä olevaa potilasta kertomaan, missä kohdassa kehoa ärsytys aiheutti tuntemuksen tai liikettä. Hän julkaisi Edwin Boldreyn kanssa vuonna 1937 uraauurtavan artikkelin tuloksistaan.

Katseeni osui pari päivää sitten mainokseen, jossa leikki-ikäinen lapsi katsoo kuvasta suoraan minua iloisena, maitohampaat valkoisina välkkyen. ”Katsopa hetki tätä hymyä”, kehottaa mainos. Aito hymy todella pysäyttää ihmisen. Vastaamme hymyllä. Kahden toisilleen vieraan ihmisenkin välille syntyy hetken inhimillinen kontakti. Suu voi myös viestiä surusta. Pelkät sanat eivät silloin useinkaan riitä myötäelämisessä; pitää voida koskettaa ihmistä, jolla on murheita.

Piilossa maskin takana voi myös uhota vihaansa mielenosoituksissa tai tehdä erilaisia kolttosia.

Ihmisten välisessä vuorovaikutuksessa kasvojen ilmeillä on keskeinen rooli. Suusta tulevat sanat eivät kerro koko totuutta. Jutteleeko ihminen hymyssä suin vai posket kireinä, hampaat irvessä? Ihmiset ovat taitavia erottelemaan aidon ja teennäisen naurun toisistaan. Ihmisen kasvoista päättelemme hänen tunnetilaansa, kun hän puhuu ja myös kun hän on hiljaa. Äänensävystä teemme tulkintoja siitä, onko ihminen tosissaan, vihainen, innoissaan vaiko kenties vitsailee. Maski muuttaa ääntä ja suodattaa pois tunteiden tuottamia hienovaraisempia äänensävyjä. Maskin alta mumisevaa ihmistä voi olla muutenkin vaikea ymmärtää. Väärinymmärrykset lisääntyvät.

Käden edustusalue aivoissa on vuosien saatossa selvitetty yksittäisiä sormia myöten. Käsi on ihmisen evoluutiossa ollut ja on edelleen tärkeässä roolissa. Käsittämättömän kätevä käsi kulkee aina mukana. Sillä tartutaan. Sen avulla päätellään, onko esine painava vai kevyt, pehmeä vai kova. Moni ihminen ottaa kynän käteen ja piirtää ajatuksensa paperille kuvina, kun sanat eivät kerro kaikkea. Käsi on ajattelun jatke. Moni asia kirkastuu mielessä, kun ottaa kädet avuksi. Kättelyssä veltto, ronski, napakka, lyhyt, pitkä käden puristus välittää myös tietoa ihmisestä, jonka kättä puristan – ja päinvastoin. Saatko kouraasi pelkästään toisen ihmisen sormet vaiko kunnolla koko käden? Asioista sovittaessa lyödään usein kättä päälle. Erimielisyyksistä väännetään kättä. Kielikuva kertoo omalta osaltaan käden tärkeydestä ihmisten välisessä vuorovaikutuksessa.

Vältä koskettelemasta tuotteita -kylttejä on käsidesilaitteiden lisäksi joka puolella tavaratalojen käytävillä. Seisoin miesten kauluspaitojen mallikappaletangon edessä. Olen perheeni paitojen vastaava silittäjäekspertti: Vuosikymmenien kokemuksella tiedän, minkälainen kangas on silittäjän painajainen ja minkä materiaalin päällä silitysrauta liukuu vaivattoman sulavasti. Pelkkä katsominen ei tässä tilanteessa riitä vaan materiaalia pitää hypistellä käsikopelolla. Käsidesilaitteitten sijoitusta pitäisi miettiä nykyistä tarkemmin, nyt kun niitten käyttöä joka välissä suositellaan. Ei ollut sellaista vaatetangon luona, joten kaivoi laukusta omani. Toinen vaihtoehto olisi kokeilla materiaalia käsineet kädessä, mutta silloin kämmenen tuntoaistin herkkyys kärsii.

Kaikista medioista (mielestäni) ylipursuava maskikeskustelu on nopeasti tuonut katukuvaan kaikenlaisia kasvojen alaosan peittäviä kangasmaskeja. Business on käyttänyt tilaisuuden hyväkseen. Maski naamalla kulkeva ihminen ei vain noudata viranomaisten suosituksia, vaan hän on usein myös kävelevä mainos. Maskeihin on nopeasti ilmaantunut yrityslogoja. Joillakin ihmisillä maski on uusi asuste, muuhun vaatetukseen soinnutettu.

Viesti COVID19 pandemian vakavuudesta on toivottavasti mennyt väestössä perille. Kasvomaskin merkityksestä epidemian hillitsemisessä intetään ja lyödään sanan säilää päivittäin. Maaperä väittelylle on otollinen, koska asian luotettava tutkiminen on vaikeata. Jo erilaiset maskien materiaalit, niiden käyttötavat ja -tilanteet, eroavat ihmisten keskuudessa ja eri maitten välillä. Erilaisten maskien virussuojan luotettava tutkiminen vaatii materiaaliteknologian, virologian, käytettävyyden ja monen muun tieteen alan tuntemusta, kun testiasetelmia pistetään pystyyn.

EU huippukokouksessa päättäjät seisoivat piirissä sovittujen turvavälien päässä toisistaan maskit kasvoilla. Tilaisuutta paikan päällä seurannut toimittaja totesi TV:een uutislähetyksessä, että kokouksen tunnelmasta on vaikeata nyt päätellä mitään, kun osallistujat ovat piilossa maskiensa takana.

Asia, jota on tutkittu riittävästi ja monipuolisesti on kasvojen, suun ja käden tärkeä merkitys ihmisen toiminnalle. Ihmisten välisessä vuorovaikutuksessa on tällä hetkellä sanattomalle viestinnälle keskeisen tärkeä alue kasvoista piilossa. Vaikka silmiä pidetään sielun peilinä, eivät silmät maskin yläpuolella yksinään pysty välittämään kaikkia tunnetiloja. Minulla keikkuvat kakkulat lähes aina nenällä. Maskin alla rillini huurtuvat hengityksestä nopeasti ja näkymä ympäristöön on sumuinen. Mitenköhän muut ihmiset pystyvät silloin näkemään silmistäni kulloisenkin mielentilani, vaikka osaisinkin pistää lisää pilkettä silmäkulmaan tai tuottaa tarvittaessa tuimankin katseen?

Käden kosketuksella olkapäähän voi ottaa osaa suruun tai rohkaista. Puhumattakaan halauksesta, joka nyt on ihan pannassa. Kyynärpäiden yhteen kopauttaminen on minusta todella kökkö tapa tervehtiä.

Kättely käsineet kädessä kunniaan! Maskien pitäisi olla läpinäkyviä ja materiaalista, jota hengitysilma ei huurruta. Ihmisen kasvot, suu sekä käsi tekevät muutakin kuin tartuttavat viruksia kanssaihmisiin. Silmät ovat sielun peili sanonta on vain osittain totta. Tunnetilan välittämiseen tarvitaan kasvojen, käden ja myös kehon sanatonta informaatiota. Maskien maailmassa inhimillinen vuorovaikutus on monelle tällä hetkellä tavanomaista köyhempää, kun puhutun varassa ollaan. Tämän vaikutuksia ihmisten käyttäytymiseen olisi hyvä pysähtyä itse kunkin miettimään.

Posted in Aivot, Empatia, Hymy, Ihminen, Järki, Käsi, Mieli, Pandemia, Pandemia, Sairaanhoito, Suomeksi, Terveys, Tunteet, Virus | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ÄLY: Talking about intelligence and feeling the room temperature rising

Are you looking for a topic that livens up a somewhat boring get-together party? Pick three words: intelligence, human, artificial. I guarantee they are a sure choice for putting into action a discussion that can fast escalate to heated arguments.

The three-letter Finnish word – ÄLY – means intelligence. I recently wrote about ÄLY in Finnish in my Tiedekokki –Science Cook – blog that can be found at the internet site of Tiede -magazine that popularizes research. If you, my reader, know Finnish you can read about ÄLY also from this link.

Finnish is a language that is often described as compact and “economic”. Simultaneous interpreters working in EU have told me they get a headache translating from Finnish into more verbal languages such as French. In addition, Finns often also speak in a compact manner – no extra words – just straight to the point. Listening to examples from an interpreter’s work I claim that a lot of experience and communicative intelligence is needed to get the speaking rhythms and pacing stitched together when translating between a language of few and one of many words.

A short course in Finnish

ÄLY is a good example of how the Finnish language works: By adding 2-4 letters after and before ÄLY, a variety of aspects on intelligence can be addressed. ÄLY is a noun. The adjective for an intelligent person is ÄLYkäs. The verb for being able to figure something out is ÄLYtä. ÄLYtön means something doesn’t make sense; it might also point to a stupid idea. ÄLYkkö is a person considered or considering him/herself as an intellectual. The word can have a positive or negative nuance depending on how it is used. If one claims a thing or system to be intelligent one just puts ÄLY before the thing/entity.

The fact that in my native tongue, the three-letter word ÄLY can be added also in front of an imaginable number of things is pretty ingenious. Artificial Intelligence – AI ¬ is in Finnish also a compact, short word – tekoÄLY. So, we really don’t need to shorten it any more. Due to ongoing debates on intelligence, ÄLY in its different versions is one of the most used Finnish words nowadays.

What is ÄLY?

How to define ÄLY – intelligence? How does it express itself? Are animals intelligent and in what ways? Might some species even be more ÄLYkäs – intelligent than humans? What is ÄLY embedded into a wide range of different objects, industrial production lines, vehicles on the ground, sea, air? Why do we usually compare human and artificial intelligence? Why do we forget animals and their different forms on ÄLY? Just think of the navigating skills of migratory birds, pigeons that can learn to identify cancer cells from microscopy slides prepared from tissue samples or a dog’s detective nose, to name a few examples of certain forms of ÄLY.

ÄLY acts as a powerful attention capturer in the endless stream of digital headlines flowing past our eyes and ears. The three letters are easy to remember. ÄLY popping up in media lures people into clicking open the page. So, one might claim that adding ÄLY into a headline is an ÄLYkäs (intelligent) move. (You caught me raw handed: just count how many ÄLY words this blog has! Click, click, click…)

Everybody has an opinion on ÄLY. Especially AI – tekoÄLY – programmed into an increasing number of different gadgets and internet search engines ruffles the feathers of many people. TekoÄLY (AI) is invading our everyday lives and environment with giant steps. We humans will surely be run over, squashed. We will end up as slaves of know-it-all robots and information crunching algorithms. Watch out, you have been warned, say the tekoÄLY critics.

I may already be one of those poor ones who have lost their own ÄLY, because for me the word tekoÄLY – artificial intelligence – actually means some form of fake intelligence programed in different ways into a variety of systems. The systems with embedded ÄLY behave in ways that have certain elements of “intelligence”. As an example: an internet search engine algorithm is able to do user profiling from the data of keywords and clicking habits. Through profiling tekoÄLY (AI) picks up information it figures the user wants to see/hear from a huge amount of fact, fake and fiction data going around in the digital data highways, swirling in data clouds and swimming in data lakes, However, the human user in the end chooses how to handle this info. An ÄLYkäs person uses one’s own ÄLY for deciding what to do with the data and knows it is ÄLYtön (stupid) to let an algorithm do the thinking.

Technology critics site internet pages claiming that today’s humans’ intelligence quotients (IQ) are lower than that of people of the Victorian age. I took a look at the research paper (published in 2013) quoted by digital media as testimony of this worrying trend in human ÄLY. In this paper a bit slower simple reaction time of today’s people was interpreted to mean that the intelligence of digital era humans is deteriorating. Reaction time is not at all a good measure of ÄLY. Thinking first and then reacting is often a more intelligent approach compared to reacting first and getting oneself into a tricky situation, which, in hindsight could have been avoided by a slower reaction: Think first then react, if needed think some more and then react. I would not, as a referee, have accepted this study to be published in a science journal. I admit the paper’s title linking together Victorian and modern time human intelligence is a clever one – a sure click -attractor.

Wandering wondering where to go. A person hiking in the woods with only a smartphone app as a navigating system at hand might get into trouble when the screen goes blank because of exhausted battery power or when “in the middle of nowhere” you are in a signal blackspot. A person who has a traditional paper map of the area as backup and knows how to determine north, east, south, west directions is being ÄLYkäs. Leaving oneself on the mercy of technology is ÄLYtön (not smart, stupid). Also, making use of the ÄLY of a nature intelligent person one may have the good fortune to meet while wondering “where am I” when wandering around can save the day. If one is nature travelling in a foreign country having also a pocket dictionary is an ÄLYkäs thing. Relying only on a smart phone translator app is Älytön.

Humans are often very good at non-verbal communication. My grandmother is a good example. When I was a little girl, researchers from different countries working at Aalto University in the Low Temperature Lab lead by my father, Olli V. Lounasmaa, spent many summer weekends at our summer place. I still see in my mind’s eye the vivid conversations where my talkative granny spoke Finnish with a Karelian accent and our visitors English in different accents. As a five-year-old I once sat on the lap of Nobel prize winner, inventor of transistor, John Bardeen. He was having a vivid pantomime discussion with my grandmother on how to prepare the Finnish berry desert – kissel, which Bardeen nicknamed “glue”. The two got along really well and continued to discuss making Karelian meat stew. This is human intelligence in communication at its best!

Quantifying intelligence or lack of it has been studied in a more or less solid scientific way since the 19th century. The French anthropologist and medical doctor Paul Broca (after whom a frontal lobe area of the brain, relevant for language, was named) and Francis Galton an English statistician and mathematician figured that scull measurements give a metric on intelligence. They took an anthropometric approach: a bigger skull size means the owner of the skull is smarter than the one with a smaller skull. Well, growing up tends to increases a person’s intelligence and skull size. Otherwise the approach of these esteemed scientists on ÄLY was ÄLYtön, pure nonsense.

IQ stands for intelligence quotient. The first tests, commissioned by the French Ministry of Education, where developed in 1904 – 1905 by two French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon (1873-1961). The main purpose for using the tests was to identify normally intelligent children, who were just lazy and also to evaluate if the cognitive development of a child is behind or ahead of the average skill level of similar-age children. Now we know, that there are multiple dimensions of intelligence and a child can be mathematically or verbally at a different level than in social or motor skills. We also know that test performance does not predict the further development of different forms of ÄLY. A wide range of factors such as what interests and motivates a person or a person’s opportunities to learn play an important role.

“Learn to be a genius”

Since the first published Binet-Simon IQ test, there has been a boom of different types of IQ-tests promising to pick up geniuses. Most of the tests are not validated in any way and those that are based on intelligence research measure only a narrow skill set. It is also quite easy to improve one’s performance by doing different tests and their variations repeatedly. One can become a master in performance speed or figuring out “hidden rules”. Practice makes perfect. What this in reality shows is a person’s ability to learn. Life, for all of us is about learning. So, do these tests tell something profoundly important about a person’s intelligence level? Maybe perseverance, not giving up and believing in oneself are some of the qualities the tests capture.

A recent review in 2017 by Phillip Ackerman addresses the very known problems of IQ tests. The laboratory tests do not provide reliable results on how a person performs in daily life situations and requires different types of problem-solving skills. Also, the environment in which a person is making choices plays a big role. Hiking in the forest compared to an urban environment requires different knowledge and skills. A difficult area to measure is social intelligence – the ability to identify ques of polite or non-polite behavior and understand differences in culture-based behavior and being able to learn and adapt to different ways of communication. Behavior in different social settings requires mental flexibility. Here the human ÄLY exceeds that of e.g. robot ÄLY. A totally other issue is the fact, that a culturally stupid robot might be more easily socially tolerated than an actual human behaving in a stereotypical robot-like way.

Balancing emotional and logical ÄLY in an intelligent way

Which is more important, emotional or logical intelligence? In this ongoing ÄLY debate, emotional intelligence is currently more in the spotlight. In my opinion both the better. The ÄLY part has to do with balance and the ability to understand that the ratio of emotional and logical ÄLY is not constant but needs to be adjusted. Is this an area of ÄLY humans can master better than robots? The picture shows the “emotional, sociable” Kismet robot spending its pension days at the MIT museum. Youtube videos show how Kismet is able to express a few very rudimental facial expressions. Kismet also flaps its ears as a part of emotional expression. Maybe it picked up this from dogs?

The ability to tune into one’s own emotions and understand their origin is a form of ÄLY that I do not see robots getting a hang of. It is challenging also for humans and understanding the risks of misinterpretations is ÄLYkäs (important, smart) to remember. What about collective/shared ÄLY? Some believe collaboration of a group of intelligent human minds solves best wicked problems. Others claim that stupidity in crowds is as contagious as the flu virus resulting in ÄLYtön behavior.

A review in the 2017 October special issue of Science Magazine on big challenges in neuroscience asks “What is consciousness and could machines have it?” I predict defining consciousness will be one of the hot topics of heated discussions for coming unforeseeable years. Humans are researching how human brains function. Might tekoÄLY do a better job? Or should humans and AI entities team up?

Considering the complexity of intelligence and the known problems on how to measure different aspects of ÄLY, it is ÄLYtön (makes no sense, stupid) to get into heated arguments about who/what is more intelligent: The human, animals, robots, data crunching algorithms, tekoÄLY (AI) embedded into different types of gadgets, self-driving cars, “thinking refrigerators” or whatever.

Posted in Äly, Artificial Intelligence, communication, English, future, human, Intelligence, Learning, Robot, society, technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Yuletide brain-teaser

While days are short here in the North, there is magic in the air. I whipped up this saga of memories, today’s musings, a pinch of magic and managed to weave into it also some technology and AI!

When I was a little girl a certain Finnish Yuletide song tickled my imagination. It tells the story of elves who creep out of their hiding places to take part in the Yuletide festivities by setting up camp in a human family home. There they tiptoe in the middle of the night to dance on the tables, not forgetting available drink, food and goodies. I remember waking up during the night and trying to get a glimpse of these creatures and their tricks. I never did manage to spot them.

Nowadays a group of elves pay a yearly visit to my home and stay for nearly three weeks! They have found a great camping place that provides a clear view to the outside door, as well as staircases and – most importantly – the living room with various goodies to be found around the room on trays on tables. They may have become friends with their above neighbour, our house bat, hanging head down all year long. It probably has a lot of stories to share.

During daytime I’ve been keeping an eye on our yearly visitors but haven’t witnessed anything suspicious. Very statue-like the elves observe their surroundings.

At my current 60 + age keeping elf-wake the whole night isn’t realistic. I must confess motivation is also not the same as when a kid. Also, even small snoozing periods and microsleeps might be detected by the elves. (They might be using modern remote sensing of my vigilance state). They can use detected attention lapses as windows of opportunity to scurry around the house with their fast feet and nimble fingers. I have now used some rather modern technology to try to find out nightly elf-activities. I’ve been taking morning snapshots with my phone camera: And, yes, evidence on some elf place changes concerning their daytime viewing spots on the shelf point to nightly tippy-toeing.

I imagine that also elves are protected by the new privacy and data ownership laws. So, I am in a catch 22 situation at the moment. I should get informed consent for video recordings from these creatures I’ve never been able to meet face-to-face in order to discuss this issue. So, my evidence of nightly elf feasts is still somewhat lacking.

However, on the morning of December 30, I received stronger evidence: The elves had done night work – found a marker pen and paper – and made a good wishes card. More practice in spelling is still needed, but it is the nice thought that counts. I wonder, would an AI-based algorithm grasp the meaning of the card and could it shed more light to the problem of nightly tippy-toeing?

Once again, we’ve all experienced the special night during which we make a time jump from 2019 to 2020. Maybe in 2020 we also get the answer on AI capabilities in elf activity research.

To all my readers, I wish the very best for 2020 – which to each of us means somewhat different things.

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Joulunajan pähkinä purtavaksi

Elämme Pohjolassa vuoden pimeintä aikaa. Samalla ilmassa on taikaa. Vispasin kokoon tarinan muistoistani, mausteeksi mystiikkaa, nykypäivää, tekniikkaa ja jopa AI:tä!

Lapsena mielikuvitustani kutitti erityisesti joululaulu varpaisillaan tipsuttelevista tontuista, jotka talon väen nukkuessa ilmestyivät koloistaan ja yön pikku tunteina pistivät kodissa pystyyn kunnon juhlat. Muistan, kuinka kihelmöivän jännityksen vallassa hiivin yöllä olohuoneeseen nähdäkseni vilauksen pöydällä, erilaisten juhlaherkkujen keskellä, tanssivista tontuista. Piilossa pysyivät.

”Soihdut sammuu, kaikki väki nukkuu…” on edelleen eräs lempilauluistani. Se palauttaa mieleeni myös koulun joulujuhlat. Pienenä tonttuoppilaana hiivin etukumarassa tonttujen kiemurtelevassa jonossa. Etusormeni nousivat vuorotellen laulun rytmin tahdissa ylös alas.

Noista ajoista on jo yli 50 vuotta! Edelleen tonttujen salainen elämä kutkuttaa. Ryhmä tonttuja on valinnut kotimme joulunajan kortteeriksi. Ne asettuvat joka vuosi taloksi jouluaattona. Muutama uusi kuokkavieraskin on liittynyt joukkoon. Tontut ovat vallanneet puisilta matkamuistoilta hyllyn, josta on hyvä tarkkailla talon asukkaiden puuhia. Paikalta on erinomainen näkymä ulko-ovelle, portaisiin ja mikä tärkeintä olohuoneeseen. Samalla tähystyspaikalla roikkuu kotilepakkomme. Se seuraa pää alaspäin touhujamme läpi vuoden. Ehkäpä lepakosta ja tontuista on tullut kavereita ja lepakko viihdyttää tonttuja jutuillaan. Niitä meidän perheestä riittää!

Seuraan päivittäin sivusilmällä hyllyllä kököttäviä tonttuja. Päiväsaikaan en ole havainnut minkäänlaista liikettä. Kuin patsaina seisovat tai istuvat paikoillaan. Tässä 60 + iässä tarkkaavaisena tonttuvahtina toiminen yöaikaan ei enää niin vaan onnistu. Valppaat tontut taatusti käyttävät hyödykseen hetkelliset torkahdukseni. Tiedä vaikka niillä olisi käytössä vireyteni etämonitorointi. Sitten kun tontut havaitsevat vireystilani laskeneen ja nukahdukseni, ne käyttävät vikkeläjalkaisina ja näppäräsormisina tilaisuutta hyväkseen.

Minä ainakin olen ottanut avuksi nykyaikaisen teknologian. Aamuisin olen kännykkäkameralla ohimennen kerännyt kuvallista todistusaineistoa. Ja toden totta: Kuten kuvat kertovat, yön jälkeen on tonttujen aamuisissa tarkkailuasemissa havaittavissa pientä vaihtelua. Yöllä on siis puuhasteltu!

Koska oletan yksityisyys- ja tietosuojalakien suojaavan myös tonttuja, en ole valvontakameraa uskaltanut vielä käyttää. Tilanne on kimurantti: minun pitäisi päästä kasvokkain käymään sopimusneuvotteluja olioiden kanssa, jotka pysyvät piilossa. Yöllisten puuhien tarkka luonne on siis edelleen arvoitus.

Joulukuun 30. päivän aamuna koin yllätyksen: Tontut olivat mitä ilmeisimmin löytäneet kirjoitusvälineet ja väsänneet tervehdyksen. Kuten kuva kertoo, on kirjoitustaidossa hieman treenattavaa. Tärkeintä on kuitenkin hyvä tahto ja ajatus.

Ihminen ymmärtää viestin – mutta hoksaisiko jokin ”tekoäly”-algoritmi, mistä on kyse? Näissä mietteissä mietin samalla, kuinka yksi yö on taas muita merkittävämpi: Illalla menen nukkumaan vuonna 2019 herätäkseni vuoteen 2020! Ehkä saan tänä vuonna vastauksen myös kysymykseeni AI:iin kyvykkyydestä ymmärtää tonttuilua.

Hyvät lukijani, toivotan teille mitä parhainta vuotta 2020 – joka jokaiselle merkitsee erilaisia asioita.

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