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.


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.

Posted in Ajattelu, Hymy, Ihminen, Mieli, Suomeksi, Tarina | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tietoisuus mielessä – ihmisen ja koneen tietoisuuden tasoista

Mitä kaikkea on tietoisuus? Kattavaa teoriaa tietoisuudesta ei ole. Kyse on monimutkaisesta asiasta. Aihetta käsitellään Tiedelehti Sciencen lokakuun 2017 erikoisnumerossa – Challenges in Neuroscience – neurotieteen haasteet. Ihmisen tietoisuutta koskevassa artikkelissa käsitellään tietoisuuden eri tasoja ja tutkimuksen aukkoja. Tekoälyä koskevassa jutussa pohditaan kysymystä, voisivatko koneet olla tietoisia ja miten. Kyseisen artikkelin kuvituksessa on ihmisen näköinen robotti etusormi pystyssä. Minä tulkitsen kuvassa olevan joko neuvojaan, ratkaisua tai mielipiteitään esittävän robotin. Minkälaisesta vuorovaikutuksesta on kyse? Jutteleeko se ihmisen kanssa vai antaako toimintakäskyjä jollekin laitteelle tai oliolle, johon on upotettuna tekoälyä?

Se että robotti on kuvassa sormi ojossa, on mielenkiintoista. Nykykäsityksen mukaan vain ihmiset ovat sormella osoittelevia olentoja. Halutaanko tällä yksityiskohdalla viestiä sitä, että robotit alkavat lisääntyvästi muistuttaa ihmisiä. Robotin kasvojen ilmeettömyys synnyttää mielikuvan ylimielisestä ja tunteettomasta tyypistä.

Olla tietoinen tai tiedoton

Suomen kielessä viittaus tietoon tai tietämiseen löytyy lukuisista sanoista, jotka eri tavoin kuvaavat tilaa, missä ihminen kulloinkin on. Tiedoton ihminen voi olla tajuton. Hän ei tajua tai tiedosta ympäristöään siten kuin ihminen yleensä tekee. Ympärillä olevat ihmiset huomaavat, että jotain on vialla. Tästä eroaa tietoisuus, joka liittyy eri tavoin tietämiseen. Ihminen voi olla tietämätön omista motiiveistaan. Tietämättömyyttä on myös vääristynyt tilannekuva. Politiikassa moni väittää olevansa tietoinen siitä, miten maa makaa ja todistelee toisinajattelijoiden heikkoa ymmärrystä siitä, mikä Suomelle ja maapallolle on hyväksi. Ilmassa on epätietoisuutta siitä, kenellä on oikea tilannekuva.

Tietoisuuden katkokset

Ohimenevät poissaolo-tyyppiset epilepsiakohtaukset voivat aiheuttaa ”pimeän hetken”. Kun aivot aisteineen ovat hetkeksi kytkettyinä irti ympäristöstä, päivän tapahtumien kuvauksessa on yllättäviä muistiaukkoja. Ihminen ei muista tehneensä jotain vaikka muut ihmiset kiven kovaa väittävät toisin. Kontaktin menetys ympäristöön voi paljastua muille henkilön epäjohdonmukaisesta käytöksestä. Hän on sekaisin. Kun ihminen ei ole tietoinen ongelmasta, hän ihmettelee hämillään, miksi on välillä ”ihan pihalla”? Oireiden syy on ympäristötietoisuuden hetkellinen katoaminen. Neurologina tiedän, että ongelman jäljille pääseminen on usein aikamoista salapoliisityötä Koska potilas ei ole tietoinen siitä, että ”filmi katkeaa” välillä, hän ei osaa kertoa oireesta.

Tajuttoman ihmisten tiedottomuuden tila voi vaihdella. Ihon nipistely, kylkiin tökkiminen tai poskien läpsyttely voi nostaa tajunnan tasoa. Tajuttomuuden tilasta heränneet ihmiset kertovat olleensa ajoin sumuisessa tajunnan välitilassa. Sumun läpi kantautui ympäristöstä aina välillä erilaisia ääniä. Joskus selvää puhetta. Tajuttomalle henkilölle kannattaa siis puhua, vaikka tuntuukin siltä, että tämä ei mitään kuule. Varomattomia sanoja kuten arvelujaan sairauden ennusteesta ei kannata tajuttoman vuoteen äärellä lausua.

Nukkuva ihminen ei reagoi ympäristöön, vaikka ei ole tajuton. Jotta ihminen pystyy nukkumaan, pitää aistit ja aivokuori kytkeä osittain pois päältä. Eihän siitä mitään tulisi, jos ihminen reagoi 24/7 ulkoisiin aistiärsykkeisiin eli on tietoisesti kontaktissa ympäristöön. Toisaalta sekään ei ole hengissä selviämisen kannalta hyvä, jos mikään ympäristön ärsyke ei herätä, kun hengenvaara uhkaa. Evoluutio on muokannut aivoja niin, että syvässä unessakaan aistit eivät ole täysin irti kytkettyinä ympäristöstä. Herkkäunisuus on harmillista, mutta ihmislauma tarvitsee näin virittyneitä, herkästi ympäristön tapahtumiin reagoivia yksilöitä. Heidän avullaan lauma säilyttää tilannetietoisuuden ja kyvyn reagoida ajoissa yllättäviin, ulkoisiin tapahtumiin.

Fysiologinen tila vaikuttaa tietoisuuteen

Jotta ihminen voisi olla ylipäätään tietoinen ympäristöstään, hänellä pitää olla siihen fysiologiset valmiudet. Valpas ihminen huomaa enemmän kuin väsähtänyt univelkainen, joka nukahtelee mikrouneen kesken kaiken. Sairaus voi heikentää fysiologisia valmiuksia. Minulla itsellänikin on tällaisesta välitilasta kokemus: Kun rajun vatsakalvontulehduksen aiheuttanut ohutsuolen reikä oli suljettu, vatsaonteloon valunut suolen sisus imetty pois, ontelo huuhdeltu, koko suolisto sentti sentiltä tarkastettu, suoli takaisin aseteltu ja vatsan alueen leikkaushaavat ommeltu, toipumisen alkupäivinä kipulääkehuuruinen tajuntani vei minut välillä kaikenlaisille omituisille unenomaisille retkille mm. lakumaahan väistelemään jättikokoisia parsinneuloja. Muistan, kuinka isoa neulaa väistellessä pinnistin välillä ulos sumusta tilaan, jossa hetkellisesti tiedostin: ”Tämä ei ole totta”. Siitä, mitä toimenpiteitä minulle tehtiin, olen vain muilta ihmisiltä saaman tiedon varassa, koska olin (onneksi) hoidon aikana nukutettuna, tiedottomassa, tilassa.

Elämän ja kuoleman kysymys

Ihmisen hengissä selviämisen kannalta on ollut tärkeätä, että ihminen reagoi välittömästi poikkeavaan ääneen, ottamalla jalat alle. Tässä riittää havahtuminen ääneen. Tietoisuus siitä, mikä äänen aiheuttaa, edellyttää näköhavaintoa siitä ja näköinformaation tutkailua. Tähän väärällä hetkellä käytetyt sekunnit voivat olla elämän ja kuoleman kysymys. Joskus pinnallinen tietoisuus ympäristöstä riittää. Tietoisuuden tasoa voi kasvattaa myöhemmin kurkkimalla piilopaikasta ympäristöä. Kun ääntelijä ilmestyy näkökenttään ihminen voi antaa äänelle tarkemman merkityksen: ystävä vai vihollinen.

Silmälasit ovat edelleen eräs tärkeimmistä ihmisen tietoisuuteenkin vaikuttaneista keksinnöistä. Likinäköisen sumuinen ympäristö kirkastui yllättävästi, kun hän sai rillit nenällensä. Samaa voi sanoa kuulolaitteista. Toisaalta sokea tai kuuro ihminen, voi olla kuulevaa ja näkevää tietoisempi ympäristön tuoksuista tai jalkapohjaan askeltaessa syntyvästä värinästä, koska nämä aistit virittyvät kompensoimaan aistivajausta.

Tietoisuuden tasot ja tulkinnat: Huomaamme mitä haluamme huomata

Tutkimus on varsin monipuolisesti selvittänyt erilaisten fysiologisten tilojen vaikutuksia tietoisuuteen. Tietoisuudella on kuitenkin myös hankalammin tutkittavia ulottuvuuksia. Minkälainen käsitys, tietoisuus, ihmiselle syntyy ympäristöstä, jossa hän on? Minkä merkityksen ihminen antaa ympäristöstä kerätylle tiedolle? Tämä riippuu paitsi siitä, mitä tietoa ihminen on ympäristöstä napannut, myös siitä, miten hän on tiedon tulkinnut. Kaiken kukkuraksi eri ihmiset antavat samallekin havaitulle asialle eri merkityksiä, tulkintoja. Ihmiset myös pelkäävät, innostuvat ja harmistuvat eri asioista, mikä vaikuttaa – usein tiedostamattomalla tasolla – tulkintoihin.

Elämme erilaisissa tietoisuuden kuplissa. Ihmisellä on valikoiva kuulo sekä taipumus nähdä asiat sellaisten silmälasien läpi, jotka suodattavat pois informaatiota, joka ei tue omia uskomuksia tai käsityksiä maailman menosta. Tietoisuuteen vaikuttavat ennakko-odotukset. Mitä oletamme näkevämme tai kuulevamme. Välillä emme ole valmiita tajuamaan tai hyväksymään asioitten tilaa. ”Hän ei tajua, mistä on kysymys”. Voi olla myös niin, että ihminen on hyvinkin tietoinen siitä, mistä on kysymys tai missä mennään, mutta ympärillä on ihmisiä, jotka yrittävät, eri syistä, vakuutella, että ihminen on ajatuksineen ja käsityksineen väärässä.

Ihmisen aikaisemmat kokemukset vaikuttavat siihen, millä tasolla ja tavalla hän voi olla tietoinen ympäristöstään. Viidakossa ensimmäisiä kertoja kulkeva ihminen ei ilman kokeneen viidakossa liikkujan opastusta huomaa varottavia vaarallisia tilanteita. Leikkaussalissa päivittäin työskentelevä on monipuolisesti perillä siitä, mihin kaikkea teknologiaa tarvitaan. Opiskelijalta, joka ryhmäopetuksessa vain piipahtaa salissa, jää suurin osa informaatiosta huomaamatta ja ymmärtämättä.

Tutkimus on myös osoittanut, että ihminen kerää ympäristöstään aistinvaraisesti tietoa myös ei-tietoisella tasolla. Emme aina ole tietoisia siitä, mitä olemme nähneet, kuulleet tai haistaneet. Nämä tiedostamattomat havainnot voivat kuitenkin vaikuttaa päätöksiin.


Yksi tärkeä tietoisuuden muoto on kyky olla tietoinen omista motiiveista ja tunteista sekä niiden vaikutuksesta tapaan, jolla käyttäydymme. Tietoisuus itseä, oman mielen ja kehon tilaa kohtaan voi vaatia intensiivisessä elämänmenossa opettelua. Kyky ymmärtää oman kehon toimintaa, tajuta, milloin pitää levätä, on myös tietoisuuden näkökulmasta tärkeätä.

Tiedostava ihminen? Mitä tällä tarkoitetaan. Tiedostava suhteessa mihin ja mistä näkökulmasta? Tiedostaako tupakoiva ihminen tupakoinnin terveysriskit? Jos vastaus on kyllä, miksi hän silti tupakoi? Ottaako ihminen tietoisen riskin, vähät välittää terveydestä, koska nikotiini tuottaa sauhutellessa nautinnon?

Tekoäly ja koneiden tietoisuus

Koneille tietoisuus, joka pohjautuu ympäristön aistimiseen, on hyvin mahdollinen, kunhan aistittavien ärsykkeiden merkitykset on opetettu koneelle. Tämä muistuttaa ihmisen aistinvaraista tiedon keräämistä, mutta on monin verroin tehokkaampaa. Ns. konenäköä ja hahmon tunnistusta on jo pitkään hyödynnetty esimerkiksi automaatiossa. Entä kone, joka on pois päältä tai on ”nukkuu” moodissa? Se kaiketi voi olla eräänlaisessa välitilassa, kun ”nukkuu” moodissa olevaan laitteeseen on ohjelmoitu tila, jossa anturit edelleen tarkkailevat ja tarvittaessa herättävät laitteen reagoimaan.

Kuka määrittelee neuvoja jakavan hoitaja-robotin tietoisuuden tason? Voiko hoitaja-robotti omata tilannetajun eli -tietoisuuden? Voisiko se kyetä luotettavasti arvioimaan yksittäisen ihmisen kykyä olla tietoinen terveyteen liittyvistä kysymyksistä ja tämän pohjalta säätää tapaa, millä kommunikoida sopivalla tasolla erilaisten ihmisten kanssa. Itsestäänselvyyksien ja yli ymmärryksen menevän viestimisen välistä pitäisi löytää oikea taso, jolla vaikuttaa. Voisiko tekoälyn ja tekotunteiden varassa toimiva robotti olla ihmistä parempi viestijä?

Ihmisen kohdalla pahaksi osoittautuneesta toimintatavasta poisoppiminen on vaikeata, ellei ole ensin tullut tietoiseksi siitä, mikä omassa käytöksessä ei ole fiksua. Huonoista tavoista irti pääseminen vaatii tietoista ponnistelua. Voisiko kouluttaja-robotti auttaa tsemppaamaan, kun ihminen tekee elämäntapoihinsa remonttia? Voisiko se toimia ohjaajana, kun ihminen opettelee uutta tapaa tehdä asioita?

Minkälainen tietoisuus koneilla olisi ihmisen kannalta järkevää? Haluammeko tiedostavia, tekoälyn varassa toimivia järjestelmiä? Ja millä tavalla tiedostavia? Jos tulevaisuudessa istun robotti-auton kyydissä, haluan sen olevan tietoinen ajokelistä ja pystyvän muodostamaan oikean tilannekuvan liikenteestä. Kaatosateessa ajetaan 100 km/t sijaan 30 km/t. Voisin antaa sille käskyjä puhumalla. En halua keskustella sen kanssa; keskittyköön ajamiseen. Pesukone voisi olla tietoinen pestävän pyykin ominaisuuksista ja kykenevä itsenäisesti ratkaisemaan pesemiseen liittyvät ongelmat, unelmoin. Se voisi siirtää kuivat pyykit silittäjä-robotille. Vaate, joka älyää silittää itsensä, olisi vielä parempi.

Kuka tai mikä älyää?

Miten toteuttaa toimiva teko- ja inhimillisen älyn yhteistyö? Miten työtehtävien automaation myötä ihminen säilyttää tilannetajun, on tietoinen siitä, missä mennään? Missä määrin automaatiojärjestelmään on syytä rakentaa älykkyyttä? Millä tietoisuuden tasolla järjestelmän on kyettävä itsemonitorointiin? Riittääkö, että systeemi hoksaa, milloin tapahtui virhe? Onko sen tajuttava virheen syy ja kyettävä se korjaamaan? Tietoisuuden jakaminen ihmisen ja koneen välillä on erityisen tärkeä turvallisuuskriittisissä tehtävissä, joissa ihmisen pitää yhtäkkiä hypätä puikkoihin. Ilman tilannetajua, on vaikeata hoksata, miksi järjestelmä hälyttää poikkeamasta ja sitten korjata tilanne. Miten päättää, mitä tietoa ongelman älyämiseen tarvitaan? Entä jos sitä ei ole älytty ohjelmoida tekoälyn käyttöön?

Kysymykseen: ”Mille tietoisuuden tasolle kone voisi päästä”? lisään kaksi tärkeätä kirjainta: ”Mille tietoisuuden tasolle koneen voisi päästää?”. Minä haluan pitää näpeissäni käyttämieni laitteiden tietoisuuden asteen. Käyttäjänä minun on siis parasta olla mukaan älylaitteiden ja -järjestelmien kehitystyössä. Minä en erityisemmin innostu mahdollisimman paljon ihmistä muistuttavista roboteista. Sen sijaan tekoälyn upottaminen erilaisiin laitteisiin on jo monin tavoin helpottanut elämääni. Mielestäni erilaisten laitteiden älykkyyden asteen ja älyn luonteen kehittäminen on paljon tärkeämpää kuin yrittää tuottaa robotteihin inhimillisyyttä. Vai onko vain kyse siitä, että näihin ”ajatteleviin” laitteisiin olen ehtinyt tottua, ihmismäisiin robotteihin en?

Posted in Aivot, Ajattelu, Äly, Ihminen, Informaatio, Järki, Robotti, Suomeksi, Teknologia, Tekoäly, Tiede, Tietoisuus, Tulevaisuus, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sleepless World – What biorhythmic tunes does the orchestra of clock genes play in your body?

Polar night season ended officially in the whole of Finland on January 18th. It was the period during which the sun stayed below the horizon in northern Lapland for nearly two months. Also, in southern Finland, as winter approached, the hours the sun climbed over the horizon steadily decreased. In Mid-December daylight-time had dropped to 6-hours.

On March 20th we reached another important day-light milestone when the day and night are equally long (equinox). Now here in the North days are getting longer and nights shorter. Many people enjoy the energy boosts of increasing daylight.

Our sleep-wake cycle is affected by natural light. I belong to those people whose total night sleep time is on average more than one hour longer during winter time. In the summer I tend to wake up at sunrise, which near midsummer is really early!

As the sun gradually climbs higher and higher over the horizon during daytime my thoughts are on Spring. I see with my mental eyes how white wood anemones seem to pop up overnight to form a beautiful flower mattress in our nearby forest. With birch tree leaves just budding, the white flowers enjoy the sun; their flowers wide open like stars. As a little girl I remember playing in a green sea of flower stars. In the evening the flower petals close and start nodding. “It’s like they also go to sleep”, I used to think with a five-year-old’s logic. Science has shown that also flowers sleep

Circadian rhythms of different living organisms have been studied for decades. Research by Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young has provided an important key for unravelling the biological mystery of what makes organisms tick in a certain rhythm, approximately (but not exactly) of 24 hours. Their pioneer work, awarded with the Nobel prize in Medicine and Physiology in 2017, was carried out between 1984 – 1998. This research gave light to the molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. My old acquaintance ­ the banana fly ­ helped in finding relevant pieces of the biological puzzle related to e.g. the sleep-wake cycle.

Every time the banana flies emerge from my compost, I remember the important role this tiny insect has played in science. In addition to helping in identifying clock genes important for different biorhythms, much earlier studies on the banana flies’ different wing and eye forms were significant milestones in genetics. I personally first read about these studies in the early 1970’s (in my high school Biology text book). I was also inspired by microscope pictures showing chromosomes obtained from the salivary glands of the fly.

With continuing research, a multitude of clock genes have been discovered in the different organs and tissues of the human body. A complex neural and humoral signaling system is affecting the different biorhythms of humans and their interplay. This is synchronized by a region in the midbrain (the suprachiasmatic nucleus SCN) just above the area where the optic neural tracts partly cross before they continue further through the central areas of the brain and finally fan to the visual brain areas situated in the back (occipital area) of the brain. Click this link for a cool animation on the optic nerves.

Circadian vision

The optic nerve or vision nerve is a high capacity input broadband bunch of nerve fibers. It streams external information sensed by the neural cells in the retina of the eye to be further handled in the brain. Humans also have specific photoreceptors in the eye retina that can detect even minute changes in natural light. This information is streamed to the midbrain SCN where it is further processed. Our circadian vision provides the information on the changing light of day and night to the SCN. This synchronises our internal biological clocks with the natural day-night rhythm in which we are living.

In addition to the circadian rhythm driving our sleep-wake cycles, all our different body organs and physiological processes have their own biological clock rhythms. They are not exactly the same as the sleep-wake cycle. The bimolecular processes orchestrating the pacing, timing and synchronising of these different biological clocks are so complicated, it boggles the mind. The central conductor ensuring that the orchestra of our different bodily clocks play in reasonable biorhythmic harmony is the mid-brain’s SCN structure.

The rhythms of life

As internet crisscrosses more and more densely our globe, people are increasingly exposed to a non-stop stream of different types of data flowing in the tightly woven digital networks. Someone somewhere is always awake. The number of people that are awake at odd hours and against their personal sleep-wake rhythm is steadily increasing. In this 24/7 open global world people face the risk of developing Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disruption (SCRD). While many different factors play a part in the development of different illnesses, the negative effect of SCRD to health should be taken seriously in this era of globalisation and digitisation.

In addition to frequent flying back and forth over time zones and doing shift work, also societal jet lag mixes up biorhythms. This develops when people working in global settings hold teleconferences early in the morning, late in the evening and in the wee hours of the night. If one is not careful it is also all too easy to get tangled into the clutches of the always awake internet bursting with stimuli. Exposure to constant bombardment of different types of information results in mental and cognitive overload and a physiological high-gear state. In this overdrive mode a person becomes sleepless due to inability to calm down needed to fall asleep. Prolonged societal jetlag and SCRD means serious business to one’s performance and also, in the long run, to health.

Some of you may have seen the film Lost in Translation. An aging movie star is sleepless in Tokyo and clearly also suffers from jet lag. The jet-lagged zombie-like numb feeling in which one is in slow mode, dragging one’s feet, lacking mental sharpness and gumption, is a familiar feeling to those who have fly-hopped over several time zones. On arrival (and several days onwards) one is still very much in the mode of a totally different time zone than the one in which one has ended up. The traveler’s individual biorhythms have become uncoupled from the day-night cycle that they are used to. The normal circadian network of the body has fallen apart. In their 2014 research paper The rhythms of life: what your body clock means to you, Foster and Kreitzman present a good metaphor on what happens to a frequent flyer: “Your stomach ends up over Peking, your liver is somewhere in Delhi, while your heart is still in San Francisco.” And where might your brain be? For those interested in lectures, click this link on Foster’s speech.

For our bodies, travelling by ship over the Atlantic would allow our biological clocks to be gently re-tuned by the time we reach the other shore. Strain on our body’s biorhythms is caused by being repeatedly exposed to circumstances in which there is a mismatch between the external societal time and our biological clocks. This strain also occurs when we are in a different day-night mode than the environment around us. The strain first expresses itself with different types of bodily symptoms. They include sleeping problems, sweating, heart palpitations – even arrhythmia bursts, stomach pain, anxiety, irritation, dizziness, emotional instability, decreased physical and cognitive performance. 

The curse of summer and winter time

In 1895 Georg Hudson, an insect researcher and astronomer, proposed the idea of moving clocks one hour ahead as Spring arrives in order to gain more daylight at the end of day. This procedure to produce daylight saving is more commonly known as summer time. In the fall the time is changed back to standard time (“winter time”) that follows more closely natural sunrise times. Gradually many countries adopted this maneuver.

We all see how this “clock-boot” affects our society. All types of schedules and time-stamps have to be updated. But do we realize what even this one-hour change means to us humans? Our inner biological clocks never tick in exact seconds and don’t adjust with a “snap of the fingers” into a new mode. That’s biology. For me personally, it takes about a week to adjust to this jumping from winter to summer time and back. The EU has now decided to stop this stupidity. Individual EU member countries have to decide which time they will adhere to. In Finland the question which to choose, summer or winter time, resulted in heated debates in social media.

Do you know your chronotype?

Are you a chirpy morning bird or a night owl? A recent research paper (Wittenbrink et al 2018) describes a circadian clock blood test: The biomarkers of a single blood sample can provide information on whether you are an evening or morning person. My thoughts on the near future: A Chrono-Tinder in which people could provide info also on their natural chronotype. Are you looking for a person full of pep in the morning or one who enjoys late evening activities? Maybe we will in the future have a dating application that connects people with matching chronotypes. Maybe finding a suitable life-style that works for both would in some cases then be easier.

How to improve sleep quality in a sleepless world and avoid prolonged SCRD?

How to implement research into practice? I am often asked about quick fix tips for improving sleep. There is no one solution or piece of advice – magic wand ­ with which to make things right. My suggestion to solving problems is to first identify them and then rise to the challenges of the digitized 24/7 open world. Take matters into your own hands and redesign the ways of living and doing things. Changing habits doesn’t come easy. So, I vote for taking small steps towards identified goals of habit change.

Redesigning work and everyday life

Everyone experiences poor sleep every now and then. We humans do not have an on-off button that changes our mode from sleep to wide awake in an instant. Being aware of one’s own chronotype can help to stay in a reasonably good biorhythm. IF one listens to oneself, that is! Pausing to have a look at one’s everyday life habits might provide a key to needed change(s) that will also improve sleep. Are you in a Duracell Bunny mode? Is it time to slow down a bit? Is everything on the to-do plate necessary? Is something on the plate actually a distraction – hindrance – an important root cause causing the need to run through the day or work late to get the actually relevant things done. And thus, in the end, ending up in high-gear mode in the evening from which downshifting to relaxing just doesn’t come that easy.

Societal jet lag is a risk to societal and company success

A sleepy mind or clarity of thought?

Sleepy and overstressed minds don’t innovate, commit or engage. Research has unequivocally shown that the more one suffers from lack of sleep the poorer one is in evaluating correctly one’s performance quality. The risk of making errors and bad decisions increases with sleepiness and fatigue. Sleepy heads mis-read non-verbal signals in social settings. A person constantly lost in translation is not creative and isn’t inspired by new things.

Sleep improves problem solving and, in the morning, after a well-slept night, one can experience eureka-moments. Imagine an important negotiation situation in which the stakes are high. The representatives of company A suffer from a serious case of social jet lag while the key players of company B, sitting on the other side of the table, are well-rested with clear minds. Which company comes out of the room a winner? What’s your bet?

Research has shown that after a hectic work week, during which a person slept approximately 4-5 hours per night, decreases the person’s mental performance equivalent to being drunk with a blood alcohol level of about 0.5-1 ‰. So, a person rushing to a meeting after a long-haul flight might be negotiating an important deal in a clearly non-optimal foggy cognitive state. Do we really want our working modes to lead to this?

At work places sitting down together to discuss how work should be designed to support a balanced doing and idling way of working can be the key to better overall performance and increased productivity. Idling is not the same as being lazy. It is a pause needed to ensure optimal use of personal resources throughout the day. It can be a short coffee break with colleagues. It can be “my-time to think” our “our-time to think together”. The solution does not, however, work if the work cake is just too big to handle. So being realistic about the size of the piece from the work load cake that is humanly possible for an individual to “eat up” is important.

Are all telcos at odd hours, constant travelling over time zones and the need to be available 24/7 really necessary? Does this type of working culture increase productivity? I claim not.

All solutions that develop a working culture that lowers the risk of a total mix-up of the biological rhythms of employees support corporate wellness and prevention of illnesses. Habits are contagious. Walk your talk. If a leader or work buddy is saying that we all need to slow done and take time to rest and recover, but he/she is always hurrying around and scheduling telco meetings with people living in very different time zones, does anything change?

Rocking gently to sleep

Perrault and coworkers have just reported (2019) that rocking boosts night deep sleep (needed for recovery) and the positive effect of sleep on memory in healthy sleepers. They have also shown that gentle rocking during an afternoon nap facilitates transition from awake state to sleep by affecting brain neurophysiology.

My mental film on memories goes back to summer days when my father used to take daily naps in a hammock, gently swinging a bit between two pine trees. I have also experienced refreshing napping in a hammock. I think I’ll take out the old hammock from the closet and have ago at napping while swaying.


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Eye-witness to 45 years of advances in medicine – the importance of a doctor’s clinical eye

This is a blog about a doctor’s back and forth mental jumps around past, present and future medicine and age-old truths that still make a difference.

I have now had the opportunity to follow for 45 years first-hand the many advances medicine has taken with gradually increasing speed. I started my medical studies in 1973. At that time, in addition to conducting a thorough clinical examination of a patient, the possibilities to carry out other types of medical examinations were limited to laboratory tests, native X-rays of different body parts, sometimes enhanced with contrast media, electrophysiological recordings printed on paper, body tissue biopsies. Also, explorative surgery – opening up the patient and having a look inside – was used.

Meagre palette of clinical tests – Luxury of long-lasting patient-doctor relationships

Compared to today, we had a meagre palette of medical tests at our hands. So, it was very important to hone one’s bedside skills, develop the clinical eye: learn to listen, observe, see, hear, touch, gradually gain experience on what certain symptoms tell. The stethoscope, ophthalmo- and otoscope, reflex hammer, flashlight and tune fork were our additional clinical examination tools. I am forever grateful to the many brilliant clinicians and the patients who let medical students attend clinical rounds and learn at bedside. Consultations with other doctors, listening to nurses’ observations were common practice as were repeated discussions with the patient and family members.

I worked as a hospital clinician in the 1970’s and 80’s. During that time, we had the possibility to follow patients, even for years. Getting feedback on one’s work and importantly also valuable data on outcomes of illnesses and how symptoms and clinical findings developed either spontaneously or with treatments was a luxury that nowadays is just a dream for many doctors. The new knowledge that long-term follow up brings hasn’t lost its relevance. “There is no such thing as a text book patient”, is an important learning from these follow ups. The possibility to link together clinical symptoms, selected treatments and how a disease responds to the treatment and recording also adverse, unwanted effects, is the foundation for developing personalized medicine; the meaningful goal of digital health era.

When I started my specialist training in neurology in the early 1980’s, we had to make do mainly with skull X-rays. In addition, the risky pneumoencephalography (PEG), also known as “air study of the brain” was used in especially problematic cases. In this procedure cerebrospinal fluid surrounding and shielding the brain is first removed and replaced with oxygen, helium or air. Decisions to do this procedure were tough and not done lightly. Long discussions with the patient and doctors preceded decision making. It was difficult to predict the outcome of the PEG study: Will it bring clarity to a patient’s medical problem? Where the risks of adverse effects like infection or a stroke greater than the informative value of the method invented in 1919 by the American neurosurgeon Walter Dandy? PEG was luckily gradually in the 1980’s replaced with the non-invasive and much more accurate imaging CT (computed tomography) method and a bit later came MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Technical advances in medical imaging have since then brought us 3D imaging and fusion imaging that combines anatomy with function from microcellular to macro level.

Our digital era and advances in medicine – There is no average patient

In all areas of medicine a wide range of technological innovations have pushed forward understanding of diseases. Data obtained with imaging, physiological recordings, laboratory tests on metabolism, immune responses, infections, cancer biomarkers, genetics, microscopy of tissue samples combined with pharmacological treatments, operative techniques, rehabilitation, remote health care and long-term monitoring of physical, physiological, mental and cognitive performance of patients both in hospital and in everyday life have shown the huge variety of clinical characteristics of different disease states. This long list is by no means complete.

Great advances in data science have provided a wide range of new diagnostic tools to aid doctors in the interpretation of medical examination findings. As data has constantly accumulated, we now know that there is quite a lot of variability in the physical, bio-physiological, mental, cognitive and behavioral performance of humans. These dimensions are affected differently in individuals by factors such as age, health habits, life events, illnesses (chronic and those that come and go), responses to treatments and rehabilitation. Not forgetting hereditary factors, genetics.

Overlapping of findings between diseases in bio-physiological, as well as, mental and cognitive functions of an individual also changes how diseases are defined. We now know that most diseases are many faceted. Earlier long-term follow up of patients already pointed to this. Now we have the possibility to find answers to why there is no such thing as an average patient.

A few examples: There are people who have e.g. diabetes which is quite easily kept in check. In some diabetic patients, blood glucose levels swing from very low to very high. Managing this roller coaster type of situation is tricky. Where lies the problem? Is the disease itself of a severe type or is the problem perhaps related, at least in part, to health habits of the patient? Could the underlying cause be life stressors and a person doesn’t have the opportunity or energy to invest time to disease management?

Elevated blood pressure has several underlying causes. Depression is not one disease entity, but several. Causes of anxiety differ. The same holds true for memory problems. Poor sleep can be a result of money worries, a relationship gone wrong, jetlag, obstructive sleep apnea, back pain, difficulties breathing due to a heart problem or an untreated urine infection.

Data driven decisions – Making sense: clarity out of complexity

The vast amount of detailed data that can be gathered even from one person from the tips of the toes to the top of the head, from micro to macro and functional level, challenge a doctor’s ability to analyse and interpret the different findings – even with the aid of data science tools. Data provides many windows into human health. It can bring both clarity and complexity.

In this era when data drives decision, the importance of doctor-patient communication and good clinical examination skills should be remembered. Information on a person’s life, family history, health, medical history, health habits, hobbies, past and present medication, current symptoms and findings of clinical examinations are important building blocks of good clinical medicine and patient care. If this health and medical data is missing from data clouds, streams or lakes there is the risk that the basis on which the next layers of data are added is porous. Significant omissions or even erroneous data cause biases and hamper understanding of diseases.

When people skills beat data handling abilities

People skills are more important than data handling abilities when addressing non-medical issues related to a patient’s need to cope with the new reality: I am seriously ill. Is a person positive about the outcome of treatment or ready to give up hope? A patient’s mind is full of questions and worries: What is the effect of the disease on my daily life? Is the treatment offered too cumbersome to follow? Do I have to change my life style? Am I willing to do this? What does my getting sick mean for my family and work buddies? Do I dare reveal that I am sick and some changes in team work are needed?

In spite of all the technological advances that have in many ways fundamentally changed medicine, my strong opinion is that human interaction, is still often in the core of getting to the bottom of things: Taking time to listen to what a person has to say; reading between the lines and recognising hints that require leading the discussion to new areas, can unravel where lies the problem. It can be loneliness that is not captured with sophisticated medical technology.

Every discussion with a person either with already a known health problem or symptoms that have brought a worried person to the doctor is valuable. The worried one can be the family member of a person sitting unwillingly in the doctor’s office. Structured symptom questionnaires are not the main tool here. Actually, in today’s digital era they can be filled before-hand. A competent doctor understands that the symptoms are just part of the story. They might not even be the key with which the health problem is solved. Clever digitisation in medicine frees more time for human interaction. Years ago, a wise CTO in industrial automation, who unfortunately died in his prime years, said to me: “It is even more important to figure out what not to automate than how to automate”. I hope for this wisdom in medicine.

Sherlock Holmes of Medicine

A doctor is a Sherlock Holmes of Medicine gathering bits and pieces of information that step by step are added to the health puzzle needing solving. Some pieces of information fit together, but one should also be aware of the fact that some pieces of information can distort the picture and lead to the wrong diagnostic road. My personal experience is that the key to solving a medical problem can sometimes be unexpected. It has often been something that my patient or a family member has at some point remembered to tell. Like my patient who fast developed severe muscle weakness. The cause was a mystery for weeks. Then one day, during hospital rounds I asked him about vitamin pills. “No, I haven’t been using them. Didn´t need to as I’ve been drinking a multivitamin and iron health mixture I bought from the pharmacy.” How much have you taken per day?” I asked. “A bottle a day”, was the answer. The symptoms were due to neurotoxicity from severe overdosing of vitamins and iron.

Medical technology today enables us to see into the human body even at microstructure level. This challenges our abilities to understand what the significance of the earlier unseen findings,, now revealed, are to the health of an individual person. Are we seeing normal variability in anatomy or physiology? Can some findings of medical examinations be bio-physiological adaptations to a disease state? The relevance of clinical examinations and experience is again highlighted. It is fundamental for making sense of data where it matters most – taking care of a patient. Advances both in obtaining different types of medical data and our possibilities to gather a vast amount of data of how a patient is managing his/her everyday life should be used to the full. Today this is not yet the case.

Data sharing is an age-old practice in medicine

Building understanding of diseases on gathered and shared data is not something new. It started with detailed clinical case reports published by observant medical doctors. In 1817 an English doctor James Parkinson reported six cases with symptoms of resting tremor, abnormal gait and rigidity. Case reports alerted other doctors to keep their eyes open. New cases were rapidly identified. Actually, data recording is much older than this: Already Egyptian medical papyri describe this disease, now known as Parkinson’s. Aloysius Alzheimer published his extensive findings of a dementing disease in 1907. Since 1910 it has been known as Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctors and other caregivers must commit to sharing medical records of their patients both with each other, as well as to supporting the uploading of this information into health data banks. Building trust with one’s patients and helping them also to see the benefit of allowing their own data to be shared is needed to ensure that the large data sets contain information that represent the versatility of findings present in patients with a certain diagnose.

Data availability – A question of life and death

Taking care of privacy and data security issues is an elemental part of medical data sharing. People should not be intimidated by these issues. Advances have been made in this area also. In terms of good care, it is actually unethical to paint scary pictures on how all privacy will be lost. Patients decide: If I am travelling and fall ill, would I rather have my health data available around the world for medical experts treating me or be in a situation where this is not the case. Imagine being unconscious with a severe, life-threatening allergy to certain drugs. Due to lack of relevant information you are given a drug forbidden in your case and you are fast in even worse shape because of a severe allergic reaction. Having or not having access to a patient’s medical data can be a question of life and death.

Nowadays one cannot work as a doctor if one is afraid of technology and overwhelmed by large amounts of medical and health data. The willingness to share also the data gathered by different care providers is a must. I hope patients also understand the importance of this. Without the ability to link data to practice, a patient’s health problems and clinical symptoms, we cannot develop expertise with which to understand the relevance of medical data that, not so long ago, wasn’t even available to us. It we forget to invest in good clinical work we face the risk of getting lost in details and losing the big picture.

The biggest threat for good decisions is lack of adequate time needed for thinking. The relevance of data at hand has to be assessed ¬ also after it has been crunched and algorithm handled by computers.

Medicine has now reached the phase were research provides understanding to the truth that seasoned clinicians have known from experience: “There is no such thing as a text book patient”. In fact, data science paves the way to personalised medicine – the foundation of which is being able to identify the characteristics of an individual patient that are relevant for tailored treatment. Making sense of data should result in more tailored, effective treatments with minimised adverse effects. If barriers are built that prevent data sharing we will lose this opportunity.

Awesome technology and timeless wisdom in the service of good care

Many of you probably know Rembrandt’s famous painting of 1682 “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp“. In the early years of my career, explorative surgery ¬ “let’s go in and have a look” – was used as a diagnostic method. Now we have detailed whole body scans, soon combined with virtual reality, with which to dive into the human body to have a look around. However real-life listening, observing, communicating – human interaction is still the basis for good care. So, let’s not let awesome technology make us forget this timeless wisdom.

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