Cognitively Speaking

  • Anthony Paolitto, Ph.D.

In our previous introductory blog post (The X-Files and AI Gone Rogue) we brought attention to the more life-saving & personal, bright & hopeful, and yes, even audacious & revolutionary aspects of AI and how they inter-played with our company’s mission (contrasted with the nameless & human-less, isolating & intrusive, and mundane). Definitely our rendition of “AI (& VR) for Good.” In a recent Harvard Business Review article (November 6, 2018) authors Achor, Reece, Kellerman & Robichaux appear to add further confirmation to what those already working in the confluence of AI and life-changing medical technology already knew: “AI for good” is much more than a nifty catchphrase, it’s a way of life, and, in some manner, it also can serve as a rate of exchange.

In reporting on their study, 9 out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More-Meaningful Work,” the authors conclude that the historically assumed exchange rate of money for labor is no longer as relevant, having been replaced by an expectation of intrinsic meaning from one’s labor, even if that is at the expense of earnings. The study’s respondents indicated that they would be willing to forego, on the average, 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have more meaning in their job!

Now before all the hiring managers and CEO’s out there go ahead, and in this order: 1) click your heels in glee, and 2) almost simultaneously choreographed with number one: grab a red marker and discount all your starting and existing salaries 23% -- let me propose a couple caveats from what I couldn’t surmise from what the authors did/didn’t report in their study:

  • Who are these people? “2,285 American professionals” is about the only demographic the authors provide. How many were new graduates fresh out of school, versus seasoned professionals? When I was a college professor approximately 99.87% of every beginning first year graduate student I ever encountered would appear to echo the authors sentiments of working for less to find more meaningfulness. [Myself included when I was a student.]

  • Somewhere near the end of their second semester the percentage would drop to 58.47% as the euphoria of being in grad school wore off and they began to remember those student loans they took out. Nearing graduation we were somewhere between 27.09% to 28.47% of the students still having those sentiments, dependent upon whether there was a car payment due, an impending marriage, and/or a mortgage in their near future. Sadly, after just their first year of work -- somewhere around April 15 when they realized upwards of 30 per cent of the salary they earned was not actually all theirs to keep -- the percentage stabilized at .78125%! Altruism, happiness and meaning are wonderful, but alas, they don’t always pay the bills.

  • The authors report surveying across 26 industries and “a range of pay levels.” I would editorialize their title to “9 out of 10 People are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More-Meaningful Work -- As Long as it is Still a Whole Lot of Money.” Heck, if I’m making $1,323,000 a year, it’s not that hard a stretch to see someone foregoing 23% of that to buy a whole lot of workplace satisfaction and happiness. I’m still pocketing a cool million and some change per annum to keep things cool (we’ll just ignore the IRS for the sake of this example). Even at $250,000 a year you’re still doing really well with that self-imposed 23% "meaningfulness surcharge". But most people don’t make that, not even close. As my grad student example illustrates, it’s a lot easier to say you will give up something (like 23% of all your future earnings) when you have nothing, than when you actually have it!

  • An odd incidental finding is reported, but one that confirms the problems I sense in the sample: their “my work is highly meaningful” employees were found to have job tenures that were 7.4 months longer than those who found their work less meaningful. It appears their intent was to report this as significant. Seven point four months! That’s all? Seems like a minuscule gain in the scheme of a lifetime of work (and 23% of the future income that could have gone with it).

But I digress. Despite my questions about the authors methodology and sample (which may be sound but simply were not reported or, worse yet, were to be accepted as an act of faith) there is much that does ring true to what the authors posit, at least theoretically. Workers have increasingly come to expect, as they should, something much deeper and meaningful for their labors than just a paycheck. And, when specialized talent is involved, demand for meaning becomes more salient when the high rollers of income look at that “23%” (we’ll use that figure just for the sake of argument here) as a reasonable tradeoff for their careers and outlook on life.

Meaningful work has incredible upsides as the authors conclude: employees do work harder and stay longer in supportive work cultures. We at Cognitive Recruiting Solutions certainly recognize this; the heart of our recruiting endeavors, plain and simply put, is in finding the Real Smart People who will revolutionize the world by discovering cures and solutions that have been unattainable for millennia. We believe it is just a matter of when!

Why not contact us if you’d like to be a part of that meaningful future?

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  • Anthony Paolitto, Ph.D.

“Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is the title of the seventh episode of the eleventh season in the second reboot of the iconic series "The X-Files" (extra points to those who know what the title represents in the real world). For those of you who have not kept up (all 23 of you), the regular run of the series ended with its 9th season in 2002 with abbreviated re-births in the last three years. Since 2002 our hero and heroine Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have gotten iPhones, stared using an Uber clone, and upgraded their 6 gig, 64 MB RAM, iBook G3’s. They’ve also taken care of all of that relationship angst they had with each other for nine years. Well … maybe. It’s still unclear, at least to me, if during the hiatus they ever married/divorced, lived together, had a baby together with at least some extra-terrestrial heritage, or have even ever been out on a date. But they are on a date this episode (I think) as Mulder picks up the check (or at least tries to), they hold hands for 1.3 seconds (sort of) and they say less than two words to each other in the restaurant (so yea, I guess it was a date!). If you haven’t seen the episode or don’t remember it too well -- and even if you weren’t a fan of the series (we are back to those 23 of you) -- I definitely recommend a look as most reviewers concur that it was one of the more entertaining watches of the series.

Here is one of the places it is available for free: 'FoXwatchXF'

Good: now that you’ve watched and we are all up to speed, most of us can agree that “AI Run Amok” could be a good subtitle. Presented in humorous fashion, the episode nevertheless presents an ever increasing evolution of automation and AI as cold & dark, nameless & human-less, isolating & -- most of all -- intrusive. Social media, driverless vehicles, voice recognition, drones and dysfunctional IoT all take their licks as they unleash their kicks on Fox and Dana [e.g., the Uber-clone driverless vehicle racing at 80 MPH -- ignoring all Scully's voice commands to stop and let her out -- while at the same time incessantly popping up social media rating requests of her still ongoing ride and aborted restaurant experience].

I loved it, and, must admit, saw much of it resonating to some degree as accurate. In the interest of full disclosure I admit that the only Alexa that will ever enter our home is my cousin’s delightful wife if she ever visits us. Or, that if I want to change the temperature in my house I will stand-up, walk over to the still working thermostat from the Eisenhower administration and change it by hand myself. Also, despite being presented with 856,477,365 click-bait ads on the internet I have never once clicked one of them, and that I use my iPhone for mostly (gasp!) making phone calls!

So why the negative depiction, especially on a blog and site so obviously dedicated to promoting AI endeavors? Contrarian perspective? Neo-Luddism? A technophobe in AI land? On the surface, perhaps …

At COGNITIVE Recruiting Solutions we have actually looked inside the human body at a beating heart: on an iPhone -- wirelessly connected to a wand with all the components of an ultrasound machine reduced down to a single chip! We’ve learned how deep learning algorithms are saving lives and enhancing the work of radiologists allowing them to diagnose cancer more quickly and accurately. We’ve witnessed AI being used to enhance MRI resolution and tissue segmentation for faster and better diagnosis of osteoarthritis and knee injuries. We’ve watched a baby in living color in its mother’s womb in 3D. Just recently, we’ve spoken with a company that provides virtual reality experiences for seniors to help re-energize their neural pathways with astonishing results in loved ones with Alzheimer’s. And, in some of these examples we’ve not only seen, but recruited the talented, Real Smart People who helped make these projects come to fruition!

At one point in the X-Files episode we see Mulder scanning the news on his iPhone and the camera focuses in on the headline Elon Musk: AI "vastly more of a threat than North Korea." I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Then I searched and found he actually did say this. Perhaps he was envisioning a scenario where everyone had one of his self-crashing cars?

Rm9sbG93ZXJz”: An entertaining, slightly prophetic (perhaps some tongue in cheek) TV episode humorously presenting AI as cold & dark, nameless & human-less, isolating & intrusive: “AI Gone Bad.” At Cognitive Recruiting we prefer to focus on the bright & hopeful, life-saving & personal, audacious & revolutionary: “AI (& VR) for Good.”

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