• Anthony Paolitto, Ph.D.

 

Fallen hero Dr. Major John PryorFallen hero Dr. Major John Pryor

 

December 25, 2008. Christmas Day to many on the planet, a day celebrated by billions as representative of salvation come into the world. To many others it might simply provide a venue for multiple celebrations, presents from Santa, elaborate feasts, and family time. To most, at the least, it is a day off.

 

Fortunately, not everyone is home deciding which presents need to be returned the next day. Many are on call or actively working. Hospitals are operating, airports are open, first-responders are as reliable as ever, and the NBA has a game on CBS.

 

More fortunately, our freedoms are still being protected -- unbeknownst, unaware and unnoticed by most of us. We still needed to be protected from the bad guys, and, I’m sure I will catch some flack from some for referring to terrorists as “bad guys.” Whatever. Operation Iraq Freedom represented a U.S. led coalition of forces that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. And, even more fortunately, the U.S. military had a number of very exceptional men and women there committed to doing just that.

 

One of those men was Major John J. Pryor of Moorestown, NJ with the 1st Medical Detachment, Forward Surgical Team. Major Pryor, a trauma surgeon with the United States Army Reserve Medical Corp was on his second tour of duty, having deployed in Mosul, Iraq just 19 days earlier. He was a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient. In “civilian life” Dr. Pryor was Trauma Program Director and Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and School of Medicine. More importantly, to him, he was a husband and father to a daughter and two sons.

 

Unfortunately, Major Pryor, 42, was killed that Christmas Day.

 

Shrapnel from a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) from over 1,000 yards away struck him, killing him instantly. I am privy to more of the information than was available in the media about this because the person walking next to Major Pryor on the way to a Christmas meal was my wife’s brother, who had just left him to retrieve a camera fifteen seconds earlier. Fortunately, my brother-in-law was unharmed. Most unfortunately, there are too many other fine men and women like Dr. Pryor who met --and continue to meet -- similar fates.

 

Fortunately, technology evolves in a myriad of positive directions. Artificial Intelligence continues to enrich us with the advent of life saving technology and devices that will someday, sooner or later, give us solutions -- yes, even cures -- to the most historic of diseases. Can similar sentiments be envisioned on how we perceive our national defense -- or, better put, deterrence? In the example of Major Pryor, wouldn't it have been desirable if terrorist combatants (who by the way don’t play by the rules) would have never even been able to launch that fatal RPG, along with countless others, in the first place? Better for Major Pryor, better for his family, better for the soldiers he could have saved on the battlefield, and better for the countless others he would have saved in his civilian trauma ER had he survived.

 

Project Maven is a U.S. Department of Defense project which, in most simple language, uses machine learning to distinguish people and objects captured in video from drones. It is an algorithmic - image - analysis driven program utilizing AI to interpret video images utilizing facial recognition technology, which can be used -- for example -- to accurately identify and target enemy combatants aiming RPG's from long distances. Translation: if the technology had existed in 2008 and had been deployed it would have identified and taken out the enemy combatant that fired the RPG that killed Major Pryor before the weapon ever had a chance to be launched.

 

Some companies (incredulously in my eyes) balk at working on this kind of technology. (One -- a very big one everyone has heard of -- even ended their contract with the Department of Defense after employees successfully petitioned them to pull out because it involved “warfare technology.” None of the employees I assume were related to Dr. Pryor, or could have benefitted from his medical contributions). One company however, that assumed both the moral and patriotic mantle to protect our troops is Clarifai, an AI visual recognition startup. As Clarifai’s CEO and founder Matt Zeiler so succinctly put it regarding their decision to engage with the Department of Defense and Project Maven: “After careful consideration, we determined that the goal for our contribution to Project Maven — to save the lives of soldiers and civilians alike— is unequivocally aligned with our mission … of putting our resources toward society’s best interests, and that includes America’s security.”

 

Moral opposition to engage in projects, work place or otherwise, is certainly legitimate. Mischaracterization because of social or political opposition is not. The internet, GPS, weather radar, penicillin, jet engines, canned food and even duct tape (or is it really duck tape?) are all products derived from military endeavors. Hardly “warfare technology.” Airplanes were used to attack Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center -- should we have petitioned the Wright Brothers to stop fiddling around in their bicycle shop with their project? [I sure hope they still teach who the Wright Brothers were in schools, but probably not.] The point is, we are always going to have the “bad guys,” or some parties taking advantage of what was intended for good and using it for evil. The focus instead, needs to be on the ‘good guys’ -- the John Pryor's of this world -- those working on the protective applications of Project Maven and similar endeavors utilizing “AI for Good.” We at Cognitive Recruiting are very proud to have been a part in assisting Califai in finding some of their Real Smart People to assist on Project Maven!

 

Major/Dr. John Pryor certainly left this world a better place. We needed him longer. Think of the people he saved. Think of those he is now not able to save on his operating table. Could this have changed history? We will never know … (more on this theme in my next blog entry).

 

It is apt to finish here with a favorite quote from Albert Schweitzer that hung on Dr. Pryor's office wall which captured his spirit. It begins with "Seek always to do some good, somewhere …".

 

Please email comments to: DrP@realsmartpeople.ai

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  • Anthony Paolitto, Ph.D.

 

 

No matter how interesting your current job may be -- or how important you know (or hope) it is – do you ever wonder about the longer-term impact of what you are doing? Well then, think of these groups of scientists working nearly 50 years ago in the early 1970’s:

 

Using computing capabilities that to us today would seem as the modern equivalent of “stone knives and bearskins” (an entire roomful of overheating computers had less power than your old iPhone 3), the fruition of their work was realized with the launching of Voyager 2 in 1977.

In November, 2018, 41 years later, Voyager 2 -- still going strong – reached another milestone, crossing our solar systems heliosphere [basically the edge of our solar system and our sun’s magnetic field] some 11 billion miles away -- about 3-4 times further than Pluto! (Which, by the way, ignore the Astronomers -- every Planetary Scientist worth their salt understands it really is a planet!). Last month (November 2019) a series of papers was released reporting upon what Voyager 2 observed at the boundary of the solar wind’s bubble and beyond. All five of Voyagers sensors are still in working order, submitting data to scientists such as solar ions, cosmic rays and plasma density in interstellar space.

 

Extra points for recognizing the gratuitous Star Trek reference. hashtag#nasa hashtag#Voyager2 hashtag#StarTrek hashtag#impact

  • 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?

 

Please email comments to: DrP@realsmartpeople.ai

(specify if public or private)