TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Income inequality isn’t beyond our control. Smart policymaking could increase the efficiency of the U.S. economy AND narrow the income gap.

By Jason Furman in the Milken Institute Review

2. A “Paris Club” making and enforcing rules for managing Europe’s economic woes could offer stability for the long term.

By Robert Kahn at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Fresh, community-based food offered at convenience stores and gas stations could change the way people in Detroit eat.

By Chris Hardman in Civil Eats

4. Reader as publisher? How crowdfunding journalism changes the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.

By Catalina Albeanu in Journalism.co.uk

5. Balancing privacy concerns is key to a future where learners are empowered to use data and truly take control of their networks and their futures.

By Catherine M. Casserly in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. In journalism, the ideological middle is fast becoming a myth. Journalists need a point of view if they wish to stay relevant.

By Jay Rosen in the Conversation

2. Shrinking public health resources and the fragmented health delivery system in the U.S. are the real problems with our response to Ebola.

By J. Stephen Morrison in Health Affairs

3. African-American girls are suspended from school at six times the rate of white girls, and this disproportionate punishment has a lasting impact.

By Lucia Graves in National Journal

4. Our war on ISIS is strengthening Iran’s hand in the region — and nudging closed the door on an independent Iraq.

By Paul D. Shinkman in U.S. News and World Report

5. Discovery-focused learning — think of the maker movement and home hacking — can save American education.

By David Edwards in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Elon Musk Warns Artificial Intelligence Is Like ‘Summoning the Demon’

The "biggest existential threat" to mankind

Elon Musk warned in no uncertain terms recently that the invention of artificially intelligent machines could pose the “biggest existential threat” to mankind.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, spoke with unusual force about the perils of a technology that could quickly spin out of its inventors’ control during an MIT symposium on Friday, the Washington Post reports. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” he said.

“In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out,” he added.

Musk called for an international regulatory framework to oversee advances in the technology. He has previously likened artificial intelligence to nukes on Twitter.

[Washington Post]

TIME Innovation

Google VP Breaks Record for Highest Skydive

Google Aims To Boost Video, Banner Ad Business In China
Robert Alan Eustace, Google Inc.'s senior vice president for engineering, speaks at the Google Innovation Forum in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. Nelson Ching—Bloomberg / Getty Images

“It was a wild, wild ride”

A senior vice president for Google cut himself loose from a balloon and parachuted 135,908 feet to earth on Friday, setting a new world record in skydiving.

Alan Eustace, 57, broke the previous record holder’s jump by more than 7,000 feet, the New York Times reports. It took roughly 2 hours for Eustace to make the ascent into the stratosphere and only 15 minutes to plummet back to earth. He made the jump wearing a spacesuit specially designed to withstand extreme altitudes and speeds topping 800 miles-per-hour. Witnesses on the ground reported hearing a sonic boom.

“It was beautiful,” Eustace said after the jump. “You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”

[NYT]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Iran’s insidious control of Hezbollah and Russia’s operations inside Ukraine call for a new U.S. strategy to counter unconventional warfare.

By Robert A. Newson in Defense One

2. Criminalizing organ donor compensation endangers lives and fuels an unregulated black market.

By Sigrid Fry-Revere and David Donadio in the New Republic

3. Utility rights-of-way — think power lines and pipelines — can become flourishing wildlife habitats.

By Richard Conniff in Yale Environment 360

4. A unique combination of government support and a strong entrepreneur culture has made D.C. a hub for startups.

By Dena Levitz in 1776 DC

5. For the nations of the South Caucasus, the fate of Ukraine means choosing between Russia and the west comes at a high price.

By Maxim Suchkov in Carnegie Moscow Center Eurasia Outlook

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How Can We Spur Innovation at Work — And in Ourselves?

Pair of dice
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

In order to innovate in a way that is both practical and effective you need to make “little bets.”

What’s a little bet?

A small experiment that tests a theory. It’s just big enough to give you the answer you need but not so big that it wastes too much precious time, money or resources.

Rather than going all-in on the first idea you have and risk losing everything, a little bet allows you to break out of your comfort zone and try something new knowing that if it doesn’t work out you can quickly recover and try something else.

Little Bets

The best book on the subject is the aptly titled Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. Peter Sims explains why it’s such a strong concept:

Little Bets is based on the proposition that we can use a lot of little bets and certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes. At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable. They begin as creative possibilities that get iterated and refined over time, and they are particularly valuable when trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or attend to open-ended problems. When we can’t know what’s going to happen, little bets help us learn about the factors that can’t be understood beforehand. The important thing to remember is that while prodigies are exceptionally rare, anyone can use little bets to unlock creative ideas.

It’s an excellent book but what really struck me was when I saw this same underlying principle popping up again and again in different arenas.

In Business

In Eric Ries’ acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup he makes it clear that little bets, or “experiments”, are critical to moving a business forward in a safe fashion:

…if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

He tells the story of how Nick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos, tested his theory that selling shoes on the web would work.

Swinmurn could have started the company, raised venture capital, aligned partners and then found out if it was a terrible idea. Instead he went to local shoe stores and took pictures:

His hypothesis was that customers were ready and willing to buy shoes online. To test it, he began by asking local shoe stores if he could take pictures of their inventory. In exchange for permission to take the pictures, he would post the pictures online and come back to buy the shoes at full price if a customer bought them online.

Zappos began with a tiny, simple product. it was designed to answer one question above all: is there really sufficient demand for a superior online shopping experience for shoes?

And, obviously, it worked.

The Arts

So little bets make sense for formal things like businesses but can they help someone in a more creative arena?

The more creative an artist is the more likely they are to use this method:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

In a study of thirty-five artists, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi found that the most creative in their sample were more open to experimentation and to reformulating their ideas for projects than their less creative counterparts.

Howard Gardner studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud and Stravinsky and found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing and feedback:

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).

Chris Rock makes “little bets” in order to improve his comedy:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

For a full routine, Rock tries hundreds (if not thousands) of preliminary ideas, out of which only a handful will make the final cut… By the time Rock reaches a big show— say an HBO special or an appearance on David Letterman— his jokes, opening, transitions, and closing have all been tested and retested rigorously. Developing an hour-long act takes even top comedians from six months to a year.

Everyday Life

What about for normal people with normal lives? It works for the rest of us too.

In Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You he recommends little bets for someone trying to develop their skills and create a career:

The important thing about little bets is that they’re bite-sized. You try one. It takes a few months at most. It either succeeds or fails, but either way you get important feedback to guide your next steps. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of choosing a bold plan and making one big bet on its success.

As Dan Pink explains in his excellent career guide The Adventures of Johnny Bunko:

There is no plan.

Life is too complicated to be able to predict the future. All-in bets on your career are too risky. You need to make little bets and experiment.

Keep in mind that feedback is critical. If you want to test a theory or master a subject you need solid feedback and you need it fast. This is what the best mentors provide. So have some system in place that will tell you whether or not the little bet is meeting your goal.

Picking a “Little Bet”

Okay, so which bets do you make? How do you use them to get where you want to go?

Peter Sims lays out a straightforward process for coming up with little bets and how to best execute them to learn and get results.

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

  • Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly to learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems, and build up to creative ideas, like Beethoven did in order to discover new musical styles and forms.
  • Play: A playful, improvisational, and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched, and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.
  • Immerse: Take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights, in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires, and absorb how things work from the ground up.
  • Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them, just as the Google founders did when they realized that their library search algorithm could address a much larger problem.
  • Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.
  • Iterate: Repeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on, as Chris Rock does to perfect his act.

What’s a little bet you can try today?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 23

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A “13th year” of public education combines the supportive environment of high school with the first year of community college — and more students are staying enrolled.

By Rebecca Schuman in Slate

2. Imagine drones as solar-powered and mobile cell towers delivering connectivity to underserved areas.

By Adele Peters in Co.Exist

3. Large employers offering employees at-home solar power at a deep discount could help scale and create demand for this critical renewable resource.

By Diane Cardwell in the New York Times

4. If “democracy” is intended to work for everyone, not just the political class in America, it’s clearly failing.

By Clive Crook in Bloomberg View

5. With each success, new community partnerships exercise greater strength, building civic confidence to solve persistent regional problems.

By Monique Miles in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

This Technology Could Change the Way Deaf People Live

A new device being produced to ship in fall 2015 could be the first compact, real-time interpreter for deaf people who cannot speak. Courtesy of MotionSavvy

A San Francisco company is crowdfunding a project to make sign-to-word communication the most seamless it's ever been

Ryan Hait-Campbell says his San Francisco company’s invention is really about jobs. Deaf people like himself, explains the MotionSavvy CEO, are too often shunted into positions that don’t require talking to anyone—washing dishes, fishing or other solitary vocations that often have low wages, little opportunity for advancement and no need for an employer to hire an interpreter. One study found that only 58% of working-age Americans with a severe hearing impairment have a job at all.

MotionSavvy’s first product, though still in prototype stage, could revolutionize the prospects of millions who are deaf or hard of hearing. Called Uni, the device clasps around a PC tablet and uses MotionSavvy software to act as an interpreter between a signer (who can’t speak) and speaker (who can’t understand sign language) in very-close-to-real-time.

Two cameras read and project images of a deaf person’s gestures into a 3D virtual space. Uni’s software interprets those movements into English words that are spoken for them in a Siri-like voice. Then, when a speaker responds in words, the program uses voice recognition to display those sounds as text.

Here’s what the screen looks like:

20140919172223-Animated-UI

You can also watch a short video showing how it works on the company website.

The current options a deaf person has to communicate with people who don’t understand sign language are often expensive, cumbersome and leaving the signer at the mercy of an intermediary’s interpretation. They can hire an interpreter, either in person or through video relay services like FaceTime, paying rates that could be $50 an hour. Or they can use some equivalent of writing their words on a piece of paper and handing it to someone, who then writes their response on the paper and hands it back—whether that’s on actual paper or an app.

MotionSavvy’s chief design officer Jordan Stemper—one of eight hearing impaired MotionSavvy employees besides Hait-Campbell—says that nuance is often lost through interpreters, and points out that deaf people have been in situations where none of the available options suffice. Banks, for instance, have refused to allow deaf customers to call them using relay services because of privacy concerns (and have been sued for it), meaning any banking they want to do has to be done in person.

The key piece of technology in Uni is what MotionSavvy calls its “sign builder,” a system that can record gestures (made over and over and over again to account for variation among signers) and assign them English words. Right now, Uni can understand just 300 words and the alphabet. But Hait-Campbell says that the company plans to recruit about 200 beta testers this coming spring who will both try out the device and add needed signs, putting their lexicon at over 15,000 by fall 2015, when pre-orders are set to ship. The devices will also adjust to a user’s particular movements over time through machine learning, Hait-Campbell says. And if someone wants to add a non-standard sign for slang like “ridonculous,” they can.

The beta testers will be drawn from people who pre-order Uni through MotionSavvy’s Indiegogo campaign, a crowdfunding effort started this week that will determine how many devices can be shipped in fall 2015 and whether the products remain at their $499 price point, which Hait-Campbell says has caused sticker-shock among some in the deaf community. The MotionSavvy team wants to put the device—one they hope to eventually shrink to a mobile phone case and perhaps even an app—in as many hands as possible, and may consider cheaper subscription models to do so.

“I do not consider being deaf a handicap, but in reality it is,” Hait-Campbell writes to TIME. “There’s not been any real innovation for those deaf who cannot speak . . . Most deaf people, if they have jobs, have jobs that require little communication, like grunt work jobs. And it sucks, because the potential of these people, including my friends, can take them so far.” Most deaf people he knows are living on Social Security, he says, getting by month-to-month on what might be $500 checks.

The National Association of the Deaf does not endorse products, but spokesperson Lizzie Sorkin says the group is aware of Uni and sees it as “promising technology.” She also hints at some current limitations, like the fact that sign language is often conveyed through entire body movements, not just the fingers and forearms that show up on Uni’s screen. Hait-Campbell says later versions of the product will account for a wider range of motion, including facial expressions.

The app’s development will likely be of interest to far more people than the hearing impaired. Hait-Campbell says his company has already been approached by players in other industries who are interested in the technology, like defense contractors who want their software for controlling drones through gestures, as well as home automation companies. For now, he says, MotionSavvy has tunnel vision. “We want to focus on making this the best we can for the deaf world,” he says. “There is nothing like this out there at all. The need for this is so great.”

Colin Pattison Photography— Cinematography
TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 22

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Don’t conflate a cause with its celebrity.

By Kriss Dieglmeier at the Tides Foundation

2. Handwashing and Ebola: Understanding the power of a proven public health intervention.

By Hanna Woodburn in Ebola Deeply

3. President Obama has remade the federal courts by appointing more women and non-white judges than ever before. The impact will far outlast his administration.

By Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker

4. It’s vital that new pre-K initiatives are designed to build a high-quality foundation for learning.

By Beverly Falk in Hechinger Report

5. Trafficked workers — who often enter the country legally before being exploited — power many American cities.

By Tanvi Misra in Citylab

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Watch the ‘First Real’ Hoverboard

Watch how Hendo the hoverboard works and how you can get one for yourself

The idea that a man or woman could someday glide effortlessly through the air has captured our imaginations ever since Michael J. Fox hopped on a hoverboard in 1989′s Back to the Future Part II.

Now it’s even more so, thanks to the Hendo, touted as “the world’s first REAL hoverboard,” named after inventor Greg Henderson.

Henderson said he didn’t get his inspiration from the beloved Robert Zemeckis film, but rather the Loma Prietra earthquake. Henderson told Engadget that he believes hover technology could solve a host of serious problems–perhaps to raise a building during an earthquake someday and eliminate risks for emergency workers.

The self-propelled Hendo, which is the 18th prototype and priced at $10,000, uses four disc-shaped magnets that create an electromagnetic field, generating a one-inch lift.

That means you won’t be hover to work any day soon–the Hendo can only levitate over surfaces that are a non-ferrous conductor, like copper or aluminum.

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