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Originally published December 23, 2010
You all know about and probably own an iMac, iPod and/or iPad. As the initial article for my BeyeNETWORK expert channel, I’d like to present the ultimate gadget—the iThink. The iThink is based on the latest in neural net technology.
The iThink is a life-logging device. It stores everything that happens and puts it in context with what it knows already. As a device, it specializes in real-time pattern recognition, and it helps solve a wide variety of problems. Not only does the built-in camera record visual data, but also the iThink captures audio input. It has countless sensors built in, and can even interpret various smells. It knows how you feel, it knows your dreams and your desires. It connects to other devices in a variety of ways. Put it on “shuffle” and it helps you daydream and provides the most creative ideas.
The iThink manages your life, it remembers your daily routines, and tells you when it is time to eat and drink. The iThink never sleeps, and the batteries last a lifetime. Do you think it is scary to store all this data in a single device? The security and encryption system is pretty good, and the casing doesn't break as fast as an iPhone. Granted, the backup capabilities are somewhat limited.
The iThink is not a new invention. In fact, the French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) even declared he was hooked on it, couldn't live without it. He even called it the cornerstone of his existence, when he said: "iThink, therefore iAm."
Ladies and gentlemen, the gadget I am referring to is your brain. With a weight of between 1,300 to 1,400 grams, it weighs a little bit more than an iPad, but is infinitely more powerful.1 As a brain works fundamentally different than a computer, it is hard to say how much data a brain can store. Some argue it is infinite; others equate neurons with bits and come to the conclusion the brain can theoretically store close to 15 petabytes, which is more than can be held on 3 million data DVDs. Others estimate the computing speed of the brain to be 100 million MIPS (million instructions per second). And the earliest calculation of the brain's working memory, from 1956, introduces the "magical number 7"—we can remember about 7 things at the same time.
I'd like to take you on a tour where the human brain plays a central role. A tour through philosophy, which can be defined in short as the discipline of solving problems by thinking them through. This tour could last a lifetime (and it does), and the time where (would-be) philosophers would sketch grand visions is over anyway. I'd like the tour to be fun, so I'll concentrate on the following question: What would the old philosophers have said if they would have been confronted with modern themes in IT? An ideal theme indeed. It allows me to speculate wildly on a number of topics, and blame people that have been dead for hundreds of years (at least most of them). What are they going to do? Argue with me? Unlikely.
However, dear reader, I'd like you to argue with me. When reading these musings, observations, and trains of thought—some meant to be funny, at least in my vain attempt, some meant to be taken more seriously—you may disagree with me. You may feel they are hopelessly inaccurate, incomplete or even unheard of. In fact, I hope you disagree. Because then we both learn. We can look at these modern themes from multiple angles. Yours, mine, and hopefully those of many others. In a Socratic style, we can question what we see happening in business in IT, although I will not claim to have a pure Socratic style. Socrates only asked questions to people and didn't express opinion (although through his leading questions his opinion could be inferred). I will have no hesitation sharing opinion, or different points of view.
However, some small print does apply. I have no formal degree in philosophy, and I do not claim to be a philosopher. Or maybe I do. Philosophy is nothing more than the love for wisdom, which is something every professional can aspire to in his or her discipline.
Anyway, diving a bit more into philosophy was a logical step for me. Looking back, I realized I was taking a more philosophical approach to research in my book Performance Leadership. What I tried to do there was question best practices in performance management and construct a different view.
Then, the philosophical angle became more prominent in my latest book, Dealing with Dilemmas, where I came to the conclusion that strategic decision making usually involves multiple stakeholders, and often has a strong moral component. In making strategic decisions, the question of what is the right or the wrong thing to do goes way beyond profit maximization, in my view. My BeyeNETWORK expert channel simply is the continuation of my journey, and will lead to a next book that I have tentatively titled The Machiavellian CIO (... and other essays on how the old philosophers would view modern themes in business and IT). Or I may call it What would Plato Do with his iPad? Let me know what you think!
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