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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Confessions of a Creative Brain

A monitor for video communication should not be rectangular, it should be oval. Of course, there is a simpler, less cool, but equally effective design. You can find it if you read this post.
A developed brain regularly generates ideas outside of the direct interests of the host.

That only happens into a human brain, because other animals have no ideas (and they have no idea about that). For other animals their brain is a black box that receives signals and generates reactions. Those animals are not aware of the processes happening in their brains.

Humans is the only animal that can (after a certain training) be aware of the processes happening in their brains. 

No  one is ever born with a developed brain. But everyone is born with potentially developed brain. Who eventually gets it developed (and often is called smart) depends on how much of a good luck one has.

In us, humans, most of the processes happening in our brain, happen without our knowledge about them (exactly like in all other animals). Unless we deliberately think about something, we are not aware of what our brain is working on. Deliberate thinking is an exclusively human practice (e.g. The Deliberate Thinking v. Digging a Trench & The Importance of Early Exposure to Thinking). As any human practice, it can be trained to different levels of proficiency. As every human practice, it has its own side-effects. One of such side-effects is ideas that come seemingly from nowhere. There are many stories about people who came up with some important or unusual idea in their sleep. There are books on the role of an insight in science or business.

Every idea, every insight is the result of some processes happening in our brain without our knowledge, but then brought to us as a given statement – do this! Often, when this happens we feel excitement – eureka! I got it! A brain uses this emotion to tell us – pay attention to this statement, it’s important. It feels like a click – something clicked in our mind, and a switch was flipped from the state of confusion and frustration into a state of revelation and euphoria (that is why - like any other thing bringing the sense of pleasure - this feeling can lead to an addition, to the desire to have it again and again, and to a depression if that stopped happening).

A note for all educators: this is what all student value the most – not fun, not a relation to everyday life, not a grade – but the feeling of excitement that comes together with “I got it! I did it!”. If your students do not have that feeling – quit the job. Want to be a better teacher? Learn from the best.

Imagine that you were cooking in your sleep. You wake up, and you see a dish, taste it - yummy! But you have no knowledge about how did it get here, no recollection of making it, and yet it tastes great! This is what an insight is.

And exactly like in this example with cooking, an insight needs ingredients. Babies do not have insights because their brain has no information enough to cook up something very new (plus, they are not intelligent enough yet to express themselves in words). Their memory is not filled yet with sufficient amount of facts (or even fake facts). When people grow up, their memory gets filled with more and more facts (or fakes, perceived as facts).  

An insight – any insight; every insight – is always based on a new combination of the information pieces (“atoms” of our knowledge) already (i.e. previously) existing in a memory.  

An insight also can be about information missing at this time – this is what I need to figure out!” But that insight is also based on the information pieces (“atoms” of our knowledge) already existing in the memory. That is why (just an example, an illustration) asking an anesthesiologist what does he/she think about a string theory metric tensor is useless (need further explanation? write a comment or send an email). Missing information - as an empty space in the network of existing connections - can only be recognized as such only because of the previously existing connections! When there is only nothing, there is not missing. Missing automatically means the existence of other things - the existence of something.

A note for all educators: that is why only highly experienced teachers can prepare activities and successfully guide students when the task requires from them (students) inventing/discovering something they did not know before. And that is why making students to work in a group forcing them into solving a problem before they have learned all the information necessary for solving that problem is also useless; waste of time and effort; and the source of frustration – with the teacher, with the teaching process, with the school, and with themselves (a little bit more on group thinking in this post).

When we deliberately think about something, trying to solve a problem, trying to figure out something about something, we set in motion some processes in our brain that continue to happen even when we take a break from our thinking. We stopped thinking about that thing, our brain did not. We do not think about it anymore, but our brain does – without telling us about it. And then, when our brain makes some new connections that makes sense for it (based on some internal criteria, like the proximity to what we expected during our period of deliberate thinking), it lets us know about the result. Click! An insight!

But a similar situation may happen also outside of the focus of our immediate interests. We have hobbies. We listen to radio, watch TV shows, read books. All that information accumulates and eventually may result in an insight that is not related to any deliberate thinking within our professional field.

This is what I call a side-effect of a functioning of a developed brain (developed in terms of a large library of facts, and also in terms of the ability to manipulate with relatively large numbers of mental items/elements).

During my professional life, I have collected many of such side-effects. Many of the posts on this blog are such side-effects. Sometimes, when I am stuck in a traffic, or swim in a pool, my mind is blank, but my brain is working and brings me an idea. Like a bubble under water, it moves to the surface of my consciousness, and grows to the size that does not fit in the brain anymore. When that happens, I start writing.

Sometimes, I may even have an idea about a specific device that I think could be useful for some people. But I do not want to change my profession from a teacher to an inventor. And I also do not want to let my idea to die in vain. So, I offer it to someone – usually to anyone/everyone.
This is an example.
Many companies are working on the development of self-driving trucks. But they are doing that wrong. Using artificial intelligence to train any truck to drive along any possible route is not intelligent or practical. Most trucks drive along one or two specific routes. And that requires a specifically trained AI designated for one specific route – simpler, cheaper, and much more safe. But in terms of safety, in addition to driving on its own, every truck needs to have a drone capability. For each group of five-six trucks a company needs one remote “driver” who will be live observing the routs and can take over when he sees some difficulty or if an AI expects unexpected and send an alert.

As I wrote in The Biggest Fakes and Breakthroughs of The Next Decade, since 2004 I have been reaching out to hundreds of people, including venture capitalists. For them I prepared two short videos:  Free business ideas from Dr. Voroshilov: part 1”, and  “Free business ideas from Dr. Voroshilov: part 2”. My latest attempt is described in Is the Cat Worth Be Saved? or A Curious Case of a Risky Entrepreneur. That time I sent an email to MIT Media Lab and asked for a short meeting. Nothing happened. Then Mr. Ito stepped down and I decided to try my luck again. I sent an email to Prof. Pattie Maes. Her answer was – the lab does not work with people outside the lab. Even though my whole point was to try a new, pioneering, practice, as a matchmaker between people who have an idea but do not want to pursue it (e.g. yours truly), and people who can pick it up and lead to the development of a device.

In seventeen years of me living in Boston and reaching all across the U.S., I have not met any person who would be willing to take a risk to “step out their element”. This YouTube conversation between a smart-not-so-bad gay and an a very-smart-bad guy from the Billions” captures the essence of the current state of risk management” on all echelons of American enterprise. Taking a risk demands at the minimum an ability to see alternatives. Arrogance as “I'm so smart I know everything” blinds and the very foundation of risk-taking (the existence of alternatives) goes away. After not taking actual risk for a long time this ability degrades and dies out. No one wants to spend time on assessing the content of a message, everyone assesses the messenger - “if it's shiny, it must be gold”.

Investing into what you see right around a corner doesn't require a long vision (or even a long division). An investor is like a person who keeps one foot in the present (on a stable place) and uses another one to tap around to find the next stable place to put the foot on it, and then repeats the process.

In the previous quote, term “investor” describes any person who thinks about how to invest his/her time to advance his/her personal or professional life. And not one from the hundreds of people who I reached out in the last 15 years would take a risk.

Of course, the distance from an idea, even a brilliant one, to the final product, may be very long. But nothing can happen without an idea. An idea is the seed for an invention, for a new practice. That seed, of course, has to be carefully planted and nourished, and there is no guarantee it will grow up into a beautiful fruitful tree”. But i can guarantee that if there will be no idea, there will be nofruitful tree”. Period. And yet, no one wants to invest in an idea anymore. Too risky. It is much safer to look around, find a person who has already demonstrates a proven ability to deliver success” (money, publications, prestige, ...) and make that person a good offer. This is how all all American businesses currently operate - business businesses, financial businesses, venture businesses, education and science businesses. No wonder the ratio of non-American in American businesses constantly grows - it is much simpler (and cheaper) to buy already ready business-men than investing in growing up “domestic innovatros”.

Taking risk is not easy. I know that. I took a risk when I won a Green Card and decided to drop my great professional career and move to the U.S. – with no money, no English, no network. I believed in myself. But I also had a very strong incentive – if I stayed, my son would have been drafted in the Red Army. If that was not a case, I still would move, but I would be scared more.

My experience demonstrates that America does not provide anymore incentives to take risk to people who have already achieved some stable status – in science, in economics, in philanthropy, in government, in politics. I think this is one of the sources of the overall decline in American prosperity.
The idea I wanted to offer to the MIT has been brewing in me since 2009 (ten years!). I knew I would never do anything about it. But I wanted to hand it to people who could. And I failed. Twice. That is why I decided to give it away into the open.

Here it is.

A human brain is an amazing device. If a part of a brain gets damaged, it can rebuild itself in a way that new parts of a brain may compensate functions that used be performed by the damaged part (don't be lazy, google it). All it needs is (a) sensory inputs from the same sources that supplied those inputs to the damaged part (or, as a new human organ -  even from new type of sources); but (b) delivered to the healthy parts of a brain (for the purpose of citation - the Voroshilov's Principle of Brian Augmentation). 


Let’s say a person is blind. Video signals can be acquired and processed using a camera and an interface. That interface may be local, or may be wirelessly connected to a mainframe computer. In any case, that interface transform video signals and delivers them to a sensory patch attached to a large portion of a skin (e.g. on a back; but theoretically, can be anywhere, even inside of a body). The patch induces sensations in the skin via a large number of point-sensors acting on a skin at many different points. A point-sensor may use an electric signal (using variable potential difference), or a pressure-signal (using small electromagnets with a moving needle-like core). Of course,  sensors/cameras/microphones can register and transform inputs from the spectrum outside of the regular human range (e.g. ultraviolet,  ultrasonic, heat-sensor/infrared-registrant, artificial “nose”, i.e. molecular registrant). Coupled with brain-reading and brain-influencing techniques we get a complete brain-augmenting technology.

With the right technological solution, and specifically designed training (this would be my field of expertise, especially when the experiments move from mice/cats/dogs/dolphins/monkeys to humans), a blind person will eventually develop a sensation similar to vision – of course, in a very rudimental form, but even that is better than nothing at all (do not believe? let's bet on it).

The same approach can be used to train solders or astronauts to “see” what they could not see otherwise (an actual functioning third eye to see outside of the visible spectrum or  behind them).

The same approach can be used to develop, re-develop, or enhance human hearing, sniffing.

I would expect DARPA would be interested in this project, but my past attempts to reach out to DARPA also failed. Which is not assuring, considering that DARPA supposed to lead America in taking risks.

Good luck!

Dr. Valentin Voroshilov

1. An idea that represents an expansion of already well-known practice. Scaling up an activity that is already present. An example is the GroundTruth project. There are places in America without local news – let’s install there a reporter.
2. A modification of existing practice. For example, instead of lecturing switching to a “flipped classroom” model.
3. Transferring existing practice from one technological platform to another. For example, modification of teaching using the Internet (transition from no technology to the use of technology), a combination of WWW and teaching; MOOCs (only the first MOOC was an exception and fell into the 5th category). Another example is transitioning from using coding algorithms to so-called AI.
4. Some combination of 1, 2 and 3.
5. A brand new original idea. It has no roots, no history, it does not grow from any previous project, it is basically based on an insight. Hence, there are no experts who could really assess the idea. “Experts” would divide between “this is just crazy”, and “I cannot say it will work, but I cannot say it will not”. The decision to support or not is based on a gut feeling, risk-taking ability, and a personal attitude toward the applicant(s). A project is often based on an idea of combining two already existing practices in a new non-existing yet. An example is – an online bank co-funded by Elon Musk, i.e. the combination of banking and WWW. In the current environment such projects have no chance to get a support. Thetolerance for risk-taking is zero.


Which country was able to achieve a total world domination?

The one that developed the first atomic bomb?

The one that developed the first hydrogen bomb?

The one that placed the first man in cosmos?

The one that placed the first man on the Moon?

Future over-hyped technologies like “AI” with its various applications, augmented reality, controlled fusion, space travel, or else, also will not be able to give a significant advantage to one country over others (probably, for good). But there is one technology that can do that - the technology for unlocking human creativity en masse. This technology does not yet exist, but possible. And no country is working on it, just yet. The one that starts the first will have all the advantage.
Clearly, no one at DARPA (and all other places I tried to reach out) has ever read “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones (1952!).

Note: this post is a part of the series:

China v. The U.S.: The Battle Of Strategic Thinking


NOTE: A piece of history:
Does anyone remember today this highly over-hyped project?

For more information about the project, visit
Try this link! 

Note: this page
provides links to some YouTube videos on different matters (most of my videos are my lectures, but some are on politics or whatever comes to mind).
Well, you could just scroll down to find this version of the monitor.

My two cents in the discussion about virtual education.
I wrote a lot about education, including the distant education. 
More on this page.

Here I want to point out at the useless but very active discussion how to effectively use Zoom for teaching. 

The answer is - you CANNOT effectively use Zoom for teaching. 

Zoom, Skype, WebEx, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or any other meeting software will never be good for teaching.

Of course, to understand and accept that, one needs to know what teaching is and is about.

In American culture, including the top educators, researchers and administrators teaching is not different from animal training, from training circus animals doing tricks.

BTW: one of the reasons for No sign for improving math education soon.

If teaching would have been pouring knowledge from a "knowledge storage" (a.k.a. a teacher) into an empty vessel (a.k.a a student) then Zoom would be sufficient. But teaching is not that. 


Teaching is the process of helping learners to learn. And learning is based on communication. If one-on-one communication would have been possible, then, again, Zoom would be fine. But that is not a case. Teaching requires an effective group communication. That requires a an ability to organize, manage and monitor communication between students. That requires s completely different technological instrument. 

A teacher needs to be able to see and not just all students, but the work of every (any!) student (and of course communicate with any student). And a teacher needs to be able to create and re-create collaborative groups and observe the group work and participate in that work. And this is just the bare minimum any teaching collaborative technology must do. Ideally, students should feel immersed in the same learning environment, and that means - use virtual reality. The need to do laboratory experiments brings even more demands to an effective distant teaching-and-leaning technology.

To my best knowledge, there is no company or a startup trying to develop that technology.

Hence, distant teaching sucks, and will continue to suck for years ahead.

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