Revisiting Whitacre’s “Cloudburst” Through the Wisdom of the Crowd

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

After the success of four editions of Whitacre’s worldwide virtual choir and all the media coverage of the event, one might ask: what’s new with one more reading about the virtual choir this time? Maybe the answer is the onstage participation via Skype of 32 performers from different countries as part of an ongoing live performance with all the synchronization headaches it involves.

Indeed, any Voice over the Internet Protocol (VoIP) is typically considered a priority traffic to guarantee real-time communication. Although, technological advances have significantly improved the effectiveness of queuing mechanisms to ensure such priority. But there are still delays and latencies inherent to the physical world where two-way communication systems dwell.

What really drew my attention, as a cognitive psychologist, is the latency issue in this performance that the composer highlighted during his TED talk by saying, “we’ve pushed the technology as far as it can go, but there’s still less than a second of latency. But in musical terms, that’s a lifetime. We deal in milliseconds. So what I’ve done is, I’ve adapted ‘Cloudburst’ so that it embraces the latency and the performers sing into the latency instead of trying to be exactly together.” In this respect, Whitacre embarked on a quite risky artistic adventure. Ultimately, the success was achieved and the question is how this was made possible?

Based on his unique orchestra conducting experience over the four increasingly complex opuses of the virtual choir, Whitacre harnessed somehow the essence of something beyond the technical musical details, something that I prefer to call ‘the artistic wisdom of the crowd.’ — Yousri Marzouki

Based on his unique orchestra conducting experience over the four increasingly complex opuses of the virtual choir, Whitacre harnessed somehow the essence of something beyond the technical musical details, something that I prefer to call “the artistic wisdom of the crowd,” an expression borrowed from James Surowiecki’s famous book title. Eventually, the artist was more likely to put his trust on this wisdom in order to handle a very narrow margin for asynchronicity glitches. Thus, I’ve tried to glean insights from the psychology of the crowds in an attempt to understand such innovative approach.

There are plenty of examples to illustrate the crowd wisdom. Let’s go back to a recent experiment conducted in 2011 by mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy as part of his television programme on BBC Four. He took a jar full of beans, and asked different participants to guess how many beans were in the jar. The individual answers significantly deviated from the reality but after averaging all the recorded guesses he ended up with a value very close to the real number of beans. Apart from the statistical underpinning of this example, the experiment tells us about the irrelevance, the derisiveness, and the randomness of individual behaviors that once put together give rise to astonishing collective behaviors. In the same vein, even by calculating such average on the latencies of all the 32 singers, there is still room for unpredictable lags that the composer, besides his skill, overcame by putting a big trust on the artistic wisdom of this crowd.

Now think about the many co-actors interacting at the same time and giving each other feedback. When we couple that with the catalyst effect of social media technology, then such peer interactions can be significantly magnified and the resulting collective behavior is definitely more spectacular than the one reported in the beans-in-the-jar scenario. The “sinking into the latency” was based on Whitacre’s creative hunch, but it nicely captured the idea of Symbiotic Intelligence, a concept forged by Norman L. Johnson, aimed to analyze the way new knowledge can be created without premeditation when people use information on the network. Symbiotic intelligence reflects the combination of smart networks and human interactions. Consequently, an unanticipated emergent behavior gives rise to new capabilities to collectively solve problems. It has been shown in many studies that humans are akin to melting into the rules of social networks regardless of their prior dissenting individual views. The artistic crowd has seemingly enough flexibility to handle such drift and to get back on track toward a harmonic behavior as evidenced by Whitacre’s “Cloudburst” performance.

Sid Mohasseb, the Chief Executive Officer for WiseWindow, described such collective intelligence in his TEDx talk as the result of the collision of two worlds: the virtual world and the physical world. He said that, “collective intelligence will drive actions. To date, by large, actions were taken, reactions were measured. That dynamics will change; reactions and desires will be measured first before actions are taken.” The technological advances that brought together these two worlds crossed the virtual barrier and enabled collaborative (artistic) projects across the globe. Additionally, they boost our capacity to reach a greater level of performance by allowing us to come together for common goals. In this regard, “Cloudburst” is simply a compelling picture of McLuhan’s “global village“, a shrinking big world made possible by technological extensions of human consciousness.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today’s most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend’s ideas to contribute as a writer.

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The NSA’s Telephone Meta-Data Program: Part III

In my last post, I explored the pros and cons of the NSA’s bulk telephony meta-data program. As I reported, after considering all the competing interests and perspectives, the Review Group concluded that, in light of the availability of other means by which the government could achieve its legitimate objectives, there was “no sufficient justification to allow the government itself to collect and store bulk telephony meta-data.” The Review Group therefore recommended that the meta-data program, as currently constituted, “should be terminated as soon as reasonably practicable.”

At the same time, though, the Review Group found that access to telephony meta-data can be useful to the government in its effort to identify terrorists operating inside the United States. The challenge was to figure out how best to preserve the legitimate value of the program while at the same time reducing its risks personal privacy and individual freedom.

To strike a better balance, the Review Group recommends several important changes in the program as it currently exists.

First, and perhaps most important, the Review Group recommends that the government should not be permitted to store the telephony meta-data. The Review Group reasoned that taking the meta-data out of the hands of government would substantially reduce the potential for government abuse. The Review Group therefore recommends that the telephony meta-data should be held by private entities. That is, the meta-data should be held either by the various telephone service providers themselves or, upon a showing that that solution would make effective use of the meta-data impossible, by a private organization created specifically for that purpose. This approach would both prevent the government from having direct access to the database and ensure that an independent set of eyes could monitor the government’s access to the information.

Second, the Review Group recommends an important change in the way the government can access the database. Under the current program, NSA analysts themselves determine whether there is a sufficient justification for the government to query the database. The Review Group recommends that that should no longer be possible. Rather, the government should be required to obtain a judicial order before it is allowed to query the database. This requirement would place yet another set of eyes on the government’s access to the meta-data and, more important, require a neutral and detached federal judge, rather than an NSA analyst, to decide in each instance whether the government has reasonable grounds to believe that a particular telephone number is in fact associated with terrorist activity.

Third, the Review Group recommends that the telephony meta-data should be held by the private entities for no longer than two years. This recommendation sharply restricts the size and scale of the database, which is currently held by the government for a period of five years.

Fourth, the Review Group recommends that any judicial order authorizing the government to query the database must, like a subpoena, be “reasonable in focus, scope, and breadth,” thus ensuring that the scope of the government’s access to the database must in each instance be “reasonable,” as determined in advance by a federal judge.

Fifth, the Review Group recommends that “legislation should be enacted requiring that detailed information” about the section 215 telephony meta-data program “should be made available on a regular basis to Congress and the American people to the greatest extent possible, consistent with the need to protect classified information.” Indeed, “there should be a strong presumption of transparency to enable the American people and their elected representatives independently to assess the merits of the program for themselves.”

Sixth, and more generally, the Review Group recommends that “the decision to keep secret from the American people programs of the magnitude of the section 215 bulk telephony meta-data program should be made only after careful deliberation at high levels of government and only with due consideration of and respect for the strong presumption of transparency that is central to democratic governance.” “A program of this magnitude,” the Review Group recommends, “should be kept secret from the American people only if (a) the program serves a compelling governmental interest and (b) the efficacy of the program would be substantially impaired if our enemies were to know of its existence.”

Our conclusion was that, with these recommendations in place, the government can legitimately make use of the telephony meta-data in its critically important effort to keep our nation safe, while at the same time respecting America’s core commitment to the values of privacy, individual freedom, and democratic self-governance.

Predictably, some people charge that the Review Group’s recommendations strip the Intelligence Community of the capacity to protect our nation, whereas others charge that our recommendations do not adequately protect our freedoms. For the most part, though, our recommendations seem to have been welcomed as important and reasonable measures designed to recalibrate the balance between security and liberty.

I am particularly concerned about those who resist these recommendations from the national security perspective, because they are the ones who seek most ardently to preserve the status quo. Their concern is that, if adopted, these recommendations will make it more difficult for the Intelligence Community to prevent terrorist attacks.

In our judgment — and it is important to emphasize that the Review Group includes two members who are deeply steeped in the operations of the Intelligence Community — Richard Clarke, a former member of the National Security Council, and Michael Morell, a former Deputy and Acting Director of the CIA — these reforms leave ample room for the government to keep us safe.

Moreover, it is important to emphasize that trade-offs are both necessary and proper in this, and every, realm of life. Although we must protect the national security, there are many things we do not do even though they might help achieve that goal. We do not search homes without probable cause; we do not torture individuals to get information; we do not prevent the press from publishing government secrets, to cite just three of many possible examples.

And, of course, every day the government — including the Intelligence Community — makes trade-offs in terms of resources. There are many things we do not do, even though they might make us marginally safer, because they cost more than we are prepared to pay. If we can make trade-offs for reasons of money, we can surely make trade-offs for reasons of privacy and freedom.

In the current situation, a new balance is warranted for at least three reasons. First, now that we have had experience with the meta-data program, we can more accurately assess its costs and benefits than when it was first adopted. With that additional information, we can now make a better — and more informed — assessment of how to balance the competing interests. Such continuing re-assessment is essential to good government.

Second, when the meta-data program was first created it was adopted in secret. There was therefore no meaningful input from those who are especially concerned with protecting privacy and individual freedom. With that perspective now added to the analysis, it is possible to strike a better balance with a fuller understanding of the competing interests. (Indeed, the absence of the privacy/civil liberties perspective in the decision making process is the subject of other important recommendations of the Review Group.)

Third, the plain and simple fact is that public trust in the Intelligence Community in general, and the NSA in particular, has suffered as a result of recent disclosures. As we emphasize in our Report, this is unfortunate, because in implementing the authorities and responsibilities given to it by the Executive, the Congress, and the courts, the NSA has in fact acted responsibly. The real question, in our judgment, is not about the actions or integrity of the NSA, but about the scope of the authorities it has been granted. In terms of understanding the current debate, this is an important distinction.

But be that as it may, there is now a serious issue of public trust. For the Intelligence Community to operate effectively in the long run, it must have the confidence of the American people. If the Intelligence Community digs in its heels and reflexively fights these reforms, it will do itself serious harm.

More than anything else at the moment, the Intelligence Community needs to win back the trust of the American people. It can do that, not by being defensive, but by acknowledging that periodic review, reexamination and recalibration are healthy and constructive in a self-governing society, and by bending over backwards to embrace reforms that will help restore the public’s trust.

In my next post, I will discuss the constitutionality of the section 215 bulk telephony meta-data program as it currently exists. This is a “hot” issue of late, because two different federal courts have reached sharply divergent conclusions on this question.

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Zappos Is Getting Rid Of All Titles And Managers

Zappos officeZappos, the Las Vegas based apparel retailer, is transitioning away from a traditional management structure to a less hierarchical, manager-free system called Holacracy, according to an article by former Business Insider senior editor Aimee Groth at Quartz

Holacracy, which originated with a former software company founder turned consultant named Brian Robertson, eliminates formal job titles, managers, and traditional hierarchy in favor of a series of overlapping “circles” where people can have several different roles.

The goal is to increase the level of accountability, since employees are held accountable by all their coworkers rather than a single manager, as well as transparency in order to quickly and publicly resolve sources of tension. That’s reflected in the name, based on the Greek word “holon,” which means “a whole that’s part of a greater whole,” according to Groth. 

There will still be leaders who “hold a bigger scope of purpose for the company,” according to John Bunch, one of the Zappos employees leading the transition.

Groth reports that at the all-hands meeting where the transition was announced, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said that for the majority of companies, “there’s the org chart on paper, and then the one that is exactly how the company operates for real, and then there’s the org chart that it would like to have in order to operate more efficiently… [With Holacracy] the idea is to process tensions so that the three org charts are pretty close together.”

Another high profile adopter of the system is Medium, the blogging service started by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. First Round Review has a great and detailed breakdown of what the process looks like in action. But while Medium employs around 50 people, Zappos has 1,500.

Medium seems to have adopted Holacracy pretty successfully, and the company’s head of people operations, Jason Stirman, told First Round Review that it is “hands down, by far the best way I know or have ever seen to structure and run a company.” However, he acknowledged to Groth that it’s not very “human-centric” and can make it difficult to get feedback and mentorship — something that could be amplified at a much larger organization. 

Still, Zappos is an explicitly people and customer-focused company, and this wouldn’t be the first unusual management technique instituted there. The company requires all hires to go through the training customer service representatives attend, spending two weeks on the phone. It also has an intentionally inconvenient office to encourage employee collisions. So they just might make it work. 

SEE ALSO: Zappos Is Building An Intentionally Inconvenient Office In Downtown Las Vegas

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This Quote Tells You All You Need To Know About Why Digital Wallets Have Been A Total Failure

girl phone shopping

Tech companies are forever hoping to replace our wallets and purses with e-wallets or mobile payments made through our phones.

But if you’re reading this, you probably still have a leather pouch stuffed full of credit cards and cash, and you’ll be carrying it for a long time to come.

Only 11% of Americans have ever tried using a mobile wallet, according to Forrester. Mobile transactions are only 2% of all transactions. If you’re not using Google Wallet, Apple’s Passbook, Coin or Clinkle, don’t worry — no one else is either.

To tech entrepreneurs, it seems like an industry ripe for disruption: Why carry around a phone and a wallet when the phone can so easily perform the functions of both? Yet the number of companies that have failed to persuade us to ditch cash and credit cards is formidable.

The New York Times recently ran a deep-dive story on eBay’s attempts to get everyone on the mobile payments bandwagon — via PayPal, Braintree and Venmo — and it buried this quote from Sucharita Mulpuru, a vice president with Forrester Research, who specializes in e-commerce and mobile payments. It sums everything up in a nutshell:

“Digital wallets, at this point in time, are solutions looking for problems. We don’t fundamentally have friction in payments in the U.S. People who want to use cash are using cash for a reason: They prefer to or they don’t want to be traced. As for credit cards, there is not something fundamentally inconvenient about them. They’re fast, they’re reliable, our networks are good.’’

It brings to mind one of the fundamental aspects of the tech business, the difference between supplying a must-have need and a nice-to-have need: “It is possible to sell soda in the desert (nice to have), but it is much easier to sell water (must have).”

Right now, mobile payments fall into the “soda in the desert” category.

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5 Hybrid Sports Cars That Make Us Want To Do The Electric Boogie

Toss aside your thoughts of what a hybrid car should be. Beginning in 2014, automakers like Porsche, Ferrari and BMW will be putting electric motors alongside gas engines in sports cars that can tear up the track as well as save the environment (or at least hurt it less). Hybrids will no longer be confined to the driveways of Toyota Prius drivers attempting to squeeze the most mileage out of a gallon of fuel.

Performance-hybrid may sound like an oxymoron, but the racing world has proved that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Audi currently races a hybrid-electric car in the FIA World Endurance Championship (formerly the American Le Mans Series), and Formula 1 race cars have harnessed the power of electricity since 2009.

The benefit of adding electricity to a gas-powered sports car goes beyond the obvious green advantages. Electric motors offer additional power, which can translate into additional speed and potentially quicker lap times. True, these cars will likely never be the greenest machines available, since high performance inherently wreaks havoc on efficiency; but these cars give us hope that being environmentally conscious can coexist with driving fun.

Below are five sports cars we think will change the way you view hybrid cars forever.

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Here’s How You Can Actually Save Money Using Uber

2015 Mercedes-benz C-Class interior

On New Year’s Eve — tonight — people will once again start screaming about the price of taking an Uber car instead of a taxi. That’s because EVERYONE will want to get a ride home rather than drive, demand will be high, and the algorithm that Uber uses with its mobile app will create the infamous Uber “surge,” when prices can go up to eight times the normal rate.

If you do not know what you are doing with Uber, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars for a ride home even if it’s just a few miles.

I’ve been using Uber for a while now, and I’ve discovered that as long as you are careful, using Uber is often cheaper than taking a taxi and a lot cheaper than actually owning a car. In fact, for anyone who has ever wanted to live the dream of being chauffeured around by your own private driver in a black Mercedes the whole time, Uber is as close as you’re likely to get.

Here are a few Uber strategy tips to save you money:

1. Check the prices before ordering the ride — duh!

Some people forget that different types of cars have different prices. So tap one of these buttons to bring up the current rates:


2. Note that the SUV rates are high …


3. Whereas Uber X rates are low …


Some cities have Uber Taxi and Black Car, all running at different prices. So check before you ride!

4. Before you order a car, get a fare quote.

We decided to see how much it would cost to take Uber from the Business Insider HQ to the World Trade Center in New York.


5. Decide whether it’s worth it.


In fact, $20 to go three miles in Manhattan during rush hour is pretty reasonable — especially when you consider that you won’t be fighting other people on the street to get a cab, and your driver will be nice and polite and actually speak English, unlike a large portion of New York area cabbies.

6. Note that there is no need to tip an Uber driver.

Your taxi costs include a tip. With Uber, there is no tipping, according to the company’s own web site:


(Although because it’s Christmas and New Year, you might want to tip anyway.)

Once you get used to switching between Uber X and Black Car, especially for shorter trips, you’ll find that Uber is often quicker and cheaper than a traditional taxi. And, because you can track the cars on the app, Uber cars really are “on the way” when they say they’re on the way — not like some car services.

There are downsides, of course. Once surge pricing kicks in, sensible people avoid Uber and opt for public transport or a regular taxi if available. There is no such thing as a free lunch!

Or, if you want to go without owning a car completely, you could write off the occasional $100 trip as being cheap compared to the monthly cost of car payments, insurance, gas, parking, tickets and repairs. (This isn’t going to work if you live in the suburbs and have a long commute, of course.)

It only took me one experience of getting an SUV home at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night — and wincing at the $120 bill that resulted — before I became an Uber miser.

I’ve never looked back.

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5 Things You Accomplished On A Lazy Day

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–>If you’re feeling bad about spending a day being lazy, don’t! You accomplished more than you intended when you skipped the gym, didn’t catch up on any work and saved cleaning the house for Monday. That’s right, sleeping, eating junk food and watching TV all bring health benefits. Here are five of them:

1. If you took a nap, you strengthened memories and reduced inflammation and stress.

The benefits of sleep are clear. It’s while sleeping that you sharpen your mind and practice skills learned while you were awake. Sleep restores alertness: improving concentration and decreasing the chance of mistakes when you are awake. In contrast, lack of sleep has been linked to depression, anxiety, increased weight, weakened immune system and an increased risk of heart disease.

So go ahead and get some shuteye. For best results, the experts recommend keeping your nap to about 20 minutes. Any longer can leave you tossing and turning when it’s time to go to bed at night.

2. If you listened to music on your lazy day, you decreased anxiety.

In a study, listening to music before surgery lessened patients’ anxiety more than prescription medication. Music has also been linked to lower levels of cortisol, which is known to contribute to a thick midsection, so turn up the tunes and break out the skinny jeans.

3. If you ate ice cream, you strengthened bones and teeth.

When you tucked into that ice cream, you got a serving of calcium, protein, and vitamins A, D and K. Regular calcium consumption has been proven to ward off osteoporosis. Studies have linked calcium intake to reduced weight and weight gain prevention. Lack of calcium, on the other hand, causes fat cells to store fat and enlarge.

To make your ice cream indulgence even healthier, choose low-fat, soft-serve or sherbet and top your sundae with fresh fruit for antioxidants and vitamin C. Try to stop before you’ve consumed the whole container. Recommended serving size is half a cup.

4. If you caught up on your favorite comedies, you relaxed your entire body.

Laughter has been shown to relieve tension, reduce stress and relax muscles. Additionally, laughing has been linked to increased immunity and lower risk of heart disease. It really is the best medicine!

Laughter can be considered a light workout. A study at Vanderbilt University found that adults burn 1.3 calories per minute on average when laughing. It’s not as much as you would burn on a treadmill, but it’s more than you would burn sitting still. Should you choose a sad movie over The Daily Show, you can expect to burn about the same amount by crying. No word on how many calories you burn yelling at the TV while watching your team.

To make TV watching even healthier, channel surf with friends. Laughing strengthens relationships and attracts others.

5. If you called a friend, you might have lengthened your life.

Studies show good friends are good for your life. Your social network can help you recover from cancer and other major illnesses – even more than family, according to a study. Friends can also help ward off colds and cardiovascular disease. Buddies help you feel connected, boost self-confidence and help you cope with life’s setbacks. It’s been said that friends are the family we choose, and it’s nice to be chosen. Friendships teach loyalty, honesty, trust and all the other traits we value in fellow humans.

Your pals can also encourage you to live a healthier lifestyle. A little healthy competition leads to making healthier choices. Consider clipping on a pedometer and challenging your BFF. You can celebrate your success with ice cream while watching your favorite show together. Then go home and take a nap.

If you are truly lazy at heart you may have already had this argument, but just because I want to do something the easy way doesn’t mean I’m lazy. Laziness is just a different kind of Productivity

The post 5 Things You Accomplished On A Lazy Day appeared first on Lifehack.

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