Each week an O’Reilly newsletter arrives in my email inbox. I am not sure when I signed up but I am delighted I did.
This week the newsletter brought an article by Avinash Kaushik titled Responses to Negative Data (link). In it, Avinash discusses the reception of negative news and four data leadership archetypes:
I found the Curious leadership description particularly interesting. Avinash suggests that Curious Ones have two critical attributes: they demonstrate open mindedness in the face of negative data; and they look forward.
I am particularly intrigued by the feedforward aspect of curiosity in changing times. Avinash contextualised this in his opening remark: “A decade ago, data people delivered a lot less bad news because so little could be measured with any degree of confidence”.
His next sentence encouraged me to think in pedagogical and practice terms how we might support those who are learning to analyse data carefully and thoughtfully: “In 2019, we can measure the crap out of so much. Even with the limitations of tools, government regulations, and the astonishing fragmentation of everything (attention, devices, consumption sources, identities and more)”.
I am starting to imagine all sort of learning scenarios where the ‘leader’ can receive news and respond stereotypically … and the conversations we might have to share news effectively.
Paul Perkins (link) is about to submit his PhD at the University of Canberra. His title is Can a modified, low-risk form of boxing achieve significant community uptake? It is the culmination of a fascinating six-year journey for Paul and his supervisors.
This is a wonderful achievement. It is one founded on a profound friendship with Allan Hahn (link) and enriched by Paul’s thirst for knowledge. I have included pictures of Paul in India and at today’s unmeeting at the University of Canberra.
His abstract is:
Boxing has long been surrounded by debate. It has been subject to criticism on medical, legal, ethical and sociological grounds. Conversely, supporters argue that it is an excellent sport for physical fitness development, embodies egalitarianism, builds character, offers hope to depressed population sectors, has inherent aesthetic qualities and provides a cathartic outlet for emotions that otherwise could lead to anti social activities. Recent years have seen small- scale emergence of modified versions of boxing aimed at retaining positive aspects of the sport but eliminating negative aspects. The research reported in this thesis was directed at determining whether such a version could attract substantial community uptake.
A literature review was conducted to objectively evaluate arguments for and against conventional boxing and to assess the need for a modified form of the sport. A modified boxing program based on an existing model was established at a community club in Canberra, Australia, with the author of this thesis as its coach. It rapidly grew to include more than 100 regular participants. Design methodology was employed to progressively adjust program characteristics over an almost 5-year period, based on continual participant feedback. After ~2 years, several participants who had been present almost from the outset
underwent in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Interpretative phenomenological analysis of interview transcripts revealed that their sustained involvement in the program was motivated primarily by a sense of belonging to a special community and by perceptions that
coach-athlete relationships were strong, the training was purposeful, and there was a focus on safety. A follow-up study showed that the most valued coaching practices were an holistic approach to participant development, treatment of the participants as serious athletes, use of constrained games to promote skill acquisition, and an emphasis on athlete improvement rather than competition. These findings were instrumental in shaping ongoing program refinement.
At the start of the program, previously developed automated scoring technology was employed. This technology was then progressively adapted through repeated cycles of
evaluation, reflection, planning and action. It proved effective in attracting public attention to the modified boxing concept but there were issues associated with its cost and the logistics of its regular use. In addition, several technical problems affecting system accuracy and
predisposing to occasional system failure were identified. The technology was found to influence the style of boxing favoured by contestants and to reward all-out attack over skilled performance. Solutions to all these problems were conceived and partially implemented, but it was eventually decided that in the program setting that provided the basis for the research, use of the technology to judge contests between individuals was inconsistent with the shift of the program emphasis away from traditional notions of competition.
Throughout the duration of the program, specialised boxing gloves capable of markedly reducing peak impact forces were iteratively developed and refined to enhance participant safety and enjoyment. In laboratory trials, pneumatic gloves with capacity for air release and re-uptake afforded protective effects superior to those provided by conventional boxing gloves or by pneumatic gloves with sealed bladders. This remained true when target conditions in the laboratory were altered so that measured peak impact forces more closely resembled those reported to occur during boxing matches. Further research showed that the pneumatic gloves with capacity for air exchange were robust when subjected to a long series of consecutive impacts, with drift in various impact parameters less than that observed for conventional gloves. The development of the pneumatic gloves and their use in constrained games that formed part of the modified boxing program was highly regarded by the program participants.
When the Canberra modified boxing program eventually closed, the participants completed a written survey in which they recorded their impressions of it. Thematic content analysis of the feedback from 38 participants who had been involved in the program for three or more years revealed four major themes relating to the program environment, the underlying concept, the timetable and the training itself. The environment was seen as friendly,
welcoming and supportive. The concept was perceived as entailing the development of a community, not just a sport program. The timetable was considered flexible and
accommodating and the training itself was regarded as safe, fun and beneficial in multiple respects. These findings complemented and extended those obtained through interviewing a much smaller number of program participants earlier in the research process.
The Canberra modified boxing program underwent considerable dynamic change over its duration and this apparently allowed it to become highly effective in meeting the needs of its participants. The research surrounding the program demonstrated that a modified, low-risk form of boxing can achieve substantial uptake if tailored to the interests of a target population. Although there can be no guarantee that the Canberra program in its final form would be equally popular in other settings, it is likely that at least some of the knowledge acquired through the research that produced it is transferable. There may be a future for a form of modified boxing focused on safety, fitness improvement, learning of skills through constrained games, building of a sense of community among participants, and cooperation between participants instead of competition. Judicious use of advancing technologies could enhance the potential.
I have revisited Douglas Engelbart’s 1962 paper Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (link). I did so after Mark Upton shared links with me to Dan McQuillan’s Towards an anti-fascist AI (link) and Joi Ito’s (2018) Resisting Reduction manifesto (link).
Joi’s manifesto includes reference to Norbert Wiener’s 1950 The Human Use of Human Beings (link). (By coincidence, I have been researching Norbert’s work in cybernetics for a paper I have been writing about computer science in sport developments in Russia.)
Another nudge in this direction came from an alert to Ben Shneiderman’s (2019) Encounters with HCI Pioneers (link). It is Ben’s personal history of the intellectual arguments and people he encountered.
The final impetus for this post came from a Stephen Downes post today (link) that concludes “We can discuss ethics, we can refer to them – but you can’t make people ethical – at least, not in the sense that everybody is ethical in exactly the same way everyone else is ethical. And if you depend on this in order to succeed, you won’t succeed.” (Original emphasis)
I see all of these links as important prompts to explore our taken-for-grantedness views of the world. Joi points out “the paradigms that set our goals and drive the evolution of society today have set us on a dangerous course”. This would include, I think, a consideration of how the discipline Douglas envisaged aimed at understanding and harnessing “neural power” might be sufficiently reflective to pose questions about it own paradigmatic certainty.
I take this to be the essence of Dan McQuillan’s argument about artificial intelligence (AI):
AI is political. Not only because of the question of what is to be done with it, but because of the political tendecies of the technology itself. The possibilities of AI arise from the resonances between its concrete operations and the surrounding political conditions. By influencing our understanding of what is both possible and desirable it acts in the space between what is and what ought to be.
Real AI matters not because it heralds machine intelligence but because it confronts us with the unresolved injustices of our current system. An antifascist AI is a project based on solidarity, mutual aid and collective care. We don’t need autonomous machines but a technics that is part of a movement for social autonomy.
These are profound issues for us. Sport has to be part of this debate about how we might all flourish in changing times. I take Stephen’s point about different ethical views of the world that inform our practices. I am hopeful that the ‘collective care’ Dan mentions can give us a shared journey embedded in the harmony discussed by Joi.