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With a PhD in cognitive psychology and being a researcher at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Dr. Peter Pirolli is at the cutting edge of the Bay Area human-machine interface arena. His current mission is to deliver AI based coaching for sustained behavior change. A great listen for the Neuralink and Elon Musk fans.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Hey, guys, thanks for joining us on another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves. If you haven’t already, please remember to download the Free Owaves app on the Apple App Store. It’s the number one wellness app on the App Store. It’s fun. It’s easy to use and it will allow you to effectively plan your day. It works great as a visual planner. And please remember to tell your friends and family. Also if you’re enjoying the show, please do us a huge, huge favor and leave us a five star rating on your podcast app. As always, thanks for listening and hope you enjoy the show.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Hi, guys. Welcome to another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves today. I’ve got a very intriguing guest, Peter Pirolli, who is just phenomenal in terms of what he’s achieved and done. And so, he is an expert in computational psychology and artificial intelligence research. He’s also working in human computer interaction and human and machine cognition at the Florida Institute.
He’s based in San Francisco. He studied at top universities such as the Carnegie Mellon University, where he did a PHD in cognitive psychology, as well as being an associate professor at UC Berkeley. And so there’s a whole wide range of topics of where psychology, cognition, and artificial intelligence meet, and Peter can tell us a little bit more about his background and what he’s doing currently. So, hey, Peter, thanks for coming on the podcast.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, thank you for having me.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: It’s a pleasure. So it’d be great if you could tell the listeners about a, what you’re up to now. Especially with, you know, working at the human and machine cognition, the Florida Institute. Because that sounds very exciting. And I think a lot of people would not any idea what’s happening and how you’ll pushing the boundaries. And then also going to a bit about your background. It will interested you in kind of behavior science as well as combining that with technology.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Sure. So I am kind of a recent addition to the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, although I’ve known the folks there, in particular the director, Ken Ford, for a couple of decades now. And it’s a very interesting place, partly because it does such a variety of research. It started off being fairly focused in on studies of human cognition, human centered computation and understanding artificial intelligence.
And now it’s kind of broadened out to a number of other areas, including human health, resilience of performance and cyber security, looking at trying to understand autonomy and autonomous systems. And in a very big effort in robotics. So they have various successful robotics team.
That’s done very well in some of the DARPA robotics challenges. And they’ve taken kind of a unique approach to all of that. So I’ve followed their work for a long time, and I’m very happy to have joined that organization. And my own work is diverse. So I had a degree in cognitive psychology from Carnegie Mellon, which is a very heavy A.I. institute and has been since the dawn of artificial intelligence.
In fact, two of the most significant people in artificial intelligence, Herbert Simon and Alan Newell founded the A.I. in the 50s and at CMU, and I was fortunate to be there while they were still alive. And in my own interest, it was in psychology, but it had a very A.I. flavor to it. We were very much interested in developing computational models that could mimic and simulate what the human mind was doing. And I was very interested in complex cognitive tasks. And how could you build systems to support that?
I was very interested in building artificial intelligence systems to tutor people one on one. And it was a very successful program of research at CMU that ultimately went out into the world with some commercial entities. And since that time, I’ve been very interested in the human computer interaction space and trying to understand how we can engineer systems to better interact with people and create more usable kinds of systems.
And somewhere along the way, probably as smartphones became so pervasive, I got interested in the possibility of using them to support healthy behavior change. In particular, I guess more broadly, lifestyle change, which is I guess how we got in contact and as a scientist, I was interested in that because, you know, if you’re a psychologist, especially a scientific experimental kind of psychologist, you know.
The way you think about these things is, well, I’ve got to bring people into the lab and study them in the lab; and hopefully, that has some relevance to what goes on in the real world at some point. And with digital technology now, all of a sudden you’ve got this opportunity to actually go out into the world, collect data from real people.
If they agree you can do various kinds of experiments to try to help them either change their behavior or do something differently. And so just as a scientific opportunity, just seem like, we can actually be doing science in the real world and understanding how people click. And so from a scientific perspective, that’s why I was interested in that. And then, of course, you know, the health care crisis is upon us in terms of just how much it costs.
And my understanding is that a very large percentage of those costs can be ameliorated if we could just help people live healthier lifestyles. And, you know, I’ve seen various estimates, you know, 500 billion to a trillion dollars per year could be addressed if we could just help people change their behaviors to be healthier. And so that seems like an enormously interesting problem to go after because it has the clinical approaches to this, even if they’re really good, just don’t have the kind of pervasiveness and intensity that you need to help people change their lives.
So, you know, in some of the domains that I’m looking at, you know, if you want to lose weight and start exercising more, you might join a program or you could spend some money on a personal trainer, I guess. But typically, a weight loss program might get through your hospital or whatever.
You might see somebody once a week, and you talk for an hour with a group of other people; and then you go off, and you try to do these things in your everyday life and, you know, life gets in the way. So here, you know, with digital technology, you can actually be doing kind of, you know, over the shoulder coaching and more direct assessment and personalization than you could ever do before. And you could do it in a way that scaled.
You’re not restricted by the fact that there’s only a limited number of clinicians or experts who all require lots of training and all the rest of that. So that’s was my interest. And fortunately, I’ve been able to get funding from various enlightened institutions, like NIH and NSF, and been able to pursue this in a way that that has kind of built upon my interest in psychology and computational modeling.
And to do it in a way where we were starting to be able to build models that have high fidelity to what we know about the human brain and neuropsychology, and how the brain machine works. And to use those models to try to understand the impact of the very specific interventions that we’re doing over the phone, and then use those models to understand what’s happening. And hopefully that’ll start to help us understand how to personalize things and optimize those interactions in a way that supports people. So sorry, that was a long winded explanation, but that’s where I am.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: No, I mean, that was very interesting. You had me on every word there because you touched upon some really interesting points there and a wide range of points. So first I’ll pick up on the fact that you said about coaching and behavioral change, though, you talked about how through technology we have more touch points, right? Because you spend longer with your phone than you do with a personal trainer or a nutritionist or a doctor and then a limited resource, whereas this can be scalable. So do you think?
So obviously you’re working in that perfect space to understand the human brain, neuroscience, psychology. You understand behavior and then you understand computation, tech, how data can be used and how machines can be developed in order to emulate or get close to human cognition or kind of how the human acts. So do you think a machine could replace a human or an A.I. model could replace a human, in the future, for coaching more specifically? Or do you think there’s an augmentation?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, I think, first of all, you know, if you’re talking about really expert coaches or coaches who have a lot of experience, it’s very difficult to say that you would have the ability to replace them completely. I mean, so just to go to one extreme, if you’re talking about kind of elite coaches, you know, the kind of people who work with NFL teams and things like that.
They have such a degree of knowledge and experience, and the ability to look people in the eyes to do the kind of coaching that I think would just be at least well beyond the foreseeable future in A.I. But the flip side is, you know, there’s a lot of stuff that you can do with most of the people for most of the problems that they face.
That could be done at scale without the full level of expertise that you would require for that kind of thing. And that’s where there’s like a real opportunity for disruption. So and I use that term in the way that it’s been classically used when people talk about disruptive technology. So, you know, the classic definition of disruptive technology isn’t just you’re shaking things up.
It’s that there may be kind of entrenched, very high quality solutions to something that are already out there. But you may be able to come in with something that’s much more scalable and cost effective that deals with 80 to 90 percent of the issues and things that need to be done. And that allows you to help a lot of people. And from there, you can start to go after the kind of higher level functional stuff that you need.
And so there’s lots of examples of this in the technology world. And I think that’s where the real opportunity is for these things that are digital platforms, that there’s large aspects of the day to day monitoring and help that can be done at scale with sophisticated A.I. technology. And I think that’s where the opportunity is.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So do you foresee a future where we’re walking around and maybe a smartwatch or a smart device or even going to a smart fringe or a home device, like an Alexa or Google home, is giving us real time information on what health activity to adopt next or what optimum for us and we then have a choice? Do you think that works for most people? Because obviously you’re an expert in psychology. Do you think we need something personable to be telling us, or do we just need that information at the right point to trigger that behavior?
Dr. Peter Pirolli : Well, I mean, anytime I talk about having agents kind of intervening and helping all of us out, of course, the first thing people say was, you know, I don’t want to be annoyed with all that crap happens. Yeah, but I think that’s part of the research and part of how the technology has to work.
I mean, it has to be done in a way that, as you said, it’s happening at the right moment and at the right time, and in doing so in a way that it’s effective. So it can’t just be a barrage of hints and reminders and information that you’re just going to shut off either mentally or go into your notifications and turn this stuff off. So that’s part of the nuance of what it means to personalize.
I mean, you have to have enough of a model or an algorithm that knows, you know, if I say this one thing right now, they’re just going to turn me off. If I say it at a different point in time or in a slightly different way or that, you know, at a moment, that is an opportunity to do this. It’s going to be much more highly effective.
So that’s part of the game here is you’ve got to figure that stuff out. And again, to use the commercial world, some somehow a lot of these big companies seem to know how to do a lot of that, like knowing exactly where or when to place an ad and where such that all of a sudden you’re off buying it.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You’re right. I mean, the number of times Amazon seems to come up with things I was literally about to look for. But they’ve already done that.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. So I’d like to do that without being so frightening.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: We need more of a friendly, approachable, seamless way. But as you say also, with cognitive fatigue, I mean, we’re so information overloaded these days that we do need more seamless interactions and kind of less screen time. But some type of vibration or some type of, you know, with augmented reality where we can kind of superimpose the artificial world onto the real world, which can help us kind of guide us in the right way or motivate us in some way.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. So all of those are huge opportunities. I don’t know that I can say much about how we might use augmented reality other than to say, I mean, it just seems like such a cool idea.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Right, which brings me on to – so you talked about working with all kinds of athletes, elite performers, and Navy Seals. You tell me more about that and your work in and the kind of focus was on things that you’ve done all. What do you think’s important that pushes people to the next level?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah, I have to say that I’m just starting to work in that area. So I can’t really give you a whole lot of insight because I’m just starting there. But there’s a number of people at IMHC, Dawn Kernagis, Joe Gomes, Ken Ford, himself, works a lot in this area. And the issue is, you know, and I guess NASA is another group that we’re kind of interested in because space is a really big operator. So you’ve got people who are, you know, under stress often.
They’re operating in extreme environments that are going to have an impact on their performance capabilities and especially their overall resilience. And, you know, especially with things like war fighters and Special Forces guys and NASA astronauts, you know, they’re, you know, at high altitude or in space being bombarded. A lot of what the research is about is trying to understand kind of the metabolics of it all and, you know, understanding what nutritional approaches give you some kind of neural protection.
How, you know, neuromuscular, metabolic are changing? What kinds of esters or supplements can have an impact on this? If you’ve just swam five miles in frigid weather and now you’ve got onto a beach, you’ve got to be completely at your highest level of performance, what’s the combination of things that need to do?
So a lot of the research around this is trying to understand the metabolics of all of this and the interventions from the molecular level all the way up. Like, what are the genetic markers of stress, and what can we do to change that? So anyway, it’s that the kind of thing that many people at IHMC interested in.
And, you know, part of the thinking is that these are the things that if you study them in the elite performers, that’s going to have some carryover to the general population. So, you know, the sorts of things that that are going to affect us all as we age are again, a lot of the same kind of stress responses and metabolic changes that are going to get studied in elite performers.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You’re right. And then that makes it translatable to the general public at a later stage, because a lot of cutting edge supplement, techniques, technologies are always used in places like the Navy Seals or the Army, and then it takes quite a few years for it to trickle more downstream. So it’s quite exciting being able to work at that.
You know, the cutting edge of technology and performance. But you bring that nuance of psychology and neuroscience and human behavior where I think more people are turning their eyes towards, because if we’re saying now we live in a world where technology is accelerating so quickly and a lot of our human capabilities are being surpassed by technology. The one thing which is unique to us and not machines would be how we make decisions and our behavior.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. And I guess one thing that’s kind of interesting to me was I have had some opportunity to talk to some of these Special Forces people and especially their trainers. And of course, there’s a huge physical component. I mean, these guys go through just amazing programs of training that subject them to all kinds of what might be called abuse in their regular workforce. But, you know, one thing they said is just, you know, you can often train people to do these things- to stay up for days and be cold and, you know, not have had a drink of water for 24 hours.
And so they can do all that stuff physically. And yet they said, you know, one of the things that really separates a lot of the elite performers from the rest of the pack is this kind of psychological resilience and being able to overcome those things. And I think there’s a large part of that that translates to a lot of things that we do in our own attempts to change our behaviors.
And in addressing so, I don’t know very much about addiction, but I mean, they always talk about, you know, facing your fears and things like that. And even more mundane things like, oh you know, you may make a decision that, you know, you need to lose weight and then start becoming more physically active.
Well, there’s certain psychological- but there’s lots of psychological aspects to that, including just being motivated, but also, you know, kind of fear responses, right? If you don’t have a lot of self-efficacy about being able to tackle new things and, you know, the idea of taking on a challenge like, you know, starting to run more or walk more or eating better.
If you don’t kind of overcome that, then you can just switch off the messaging that you take in. So you just don’t want to hear any more information about it. You don’t want to hear any more about, you need to lose weight, you want to think about the fact that she may not get to see your grandchildren.
And so the psychological component and answer being able to take on challenges that, you know, are probably a little bit out of your comfort zone. That probably has a lot of commonality with these guys who are elite performers. They’ve learned how to overcome their fears and the things that are challenging.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So as you touched on, engagement is the key component because you could have the best workout, nutrition tips, that information could be there or the enablers. But until you crack that behavioral equation and get people to engage. Nothing’s going to happen. And that’s interesting how the top performers seem to be doing that quite perfectly or having a strong mindset. So what makes a good coach? What is it from a behavioral aspect that you think makes, from a psychology perspective, makes certain coaches stand out and makes people engage with certain people more than others?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, that’s a very good question. I mean, just anecdotally, I know having talked to a number of people who are in the fitness and nutrition consulting spaces, I think they would all agree that simply providing people with information is not the solution that most people that come in know what they need to do and can often rattle off, you know, the nutritional content of everything that they’re eating.
That’s not the issue. They have to master all of the information and the content, but a large part of what they’re doing is really in the psychological space and trying to I mean, even the simple tactic of tuning the goals and the strategies for addressing those goals to the particulars of how that person operates.
You know, that simple psychological strategy in and of itself seems to be kind of a big component of what they’re doing. So, you know, breaking down big steps into smaller steps, giving people lots of success at the simple steps so that they build up the self-efficacy to take on the bigger challenges.
I think, you know, there’s a certain amount for coaches to read their clients and to be able to, you know, obviously motivate them and to be able to do these psychological interventions, whether they know it or not, where they’re sort of breaking things down into the components that they get you to where you need to be.
So, you know, understanding how to get people motivated, breaking tasks down into small enough stuff, emotional support. I think throughout all of these things is enormous. So, you know, the people will often disclose that, you know, that they’re having some particular problem.
You know, they just there’s no way that they can tackle some goal. Well, being able to just simply acknowledge that emotion is happening and to be able to give the assurance that lots of other people have been there and made it through that. And I’m going to show you how to do that.
Those are all psychological tricks. I mean, it’s not informational stuff. I should say tricks. I mean, they’re methods, right? And I think a lot of good coaches have a lot of those methods. I’m sure if you looked at the elite athlete, for example, a lot of what they’re doing are, you know, incredibly aware of their own their own bodies and what needs to be done.
And, you know, they have these incredible high performance coaches who can tell them what they need to do for rehab and stuff. And I’m sure that 90 percent of it is just getting them motivated and kind of in the right psychological space to do what needs to be done.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Do you think that mood tracking could be something that we could do in the future using techniques such as machine learning and A.I.?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, I mean, there’s a certain amount of that’s kind of done in fairly cheap ways, right? Just simple, what are called ecological momentary assessment, where you the simplest version of this is the smiley face stuff that you can do, right? But I think there’s probably a big opportunity in the space of monitoring either speech or other sensor data that would probably be really good indicators of mood.
So, you know, there’s a certain amount of research that’s going on in the speech area trying to detect things like neurological problems in advance of Alzheimer’s and PTSD and things like that. And I’m sure there’s people that are out there that can do kind of machine learning of ambient data that you’re collecting off of smart smartphone that can probably indicate things like depression.
And so the issue would be okay, you know, can you do that in a way that’s ethical and reliable? And then do the interventions that you know, that you need to do? Because often people as they’re getting into that state, don’t want to hear from anybody.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You’re right. And that’s interesting because recently, as part of an Owaves, we were showcasing in London, a recent conference with sports and wearable technology conference. And there I came across company, Limbic A.I., And essentially using a smartwatch, a Garmin watch at the moment, because some of the companies don’t really make the API public to use heart rate to give you a positive or negative valence so you can see if the mood is positive or negative. And I found that pretty cool and quite interesting. And I guess over time, if they can gather a lot of data, they could probably start associating what makes certain people happy, which will be quite powerful.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. So I think, again, you know, I can’t offer any guarantees on this, but it seems to me that there’s probably a lot of things that you give off through your behaviors that are indicators of what kind of mood you’re in. I mean, it’s certainly the case that I think my dog can pick up on what kind of mood I’m in. So if he knows I’m in a happy mood, you know, he can probably trick me to go to the beach. And if I’m in a not so good mood, he just sort of lays in a corner and watches me until I get into a better mood.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Sounds like a smart and persuasive dog.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, Yeah. I think dogs are probably smarter than most A.Is. But it certainly an indicator that there must be these kind of ambient behavioral signals that you’re giving off, that if you could pick them up, you could do something with.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Eric Topol, who is obviously is a renowned digital health expert. It’s interesting because he says how physicians and doctors we can’t pick up cues because they’re already picking up too much information and signs. At times that we miss data points that can be captured through sensors and then analyzed through a machine learning algorithm, which gets smarter and can really help consultations and help people themselves realize things they may not be cognizant of. So that’s interesting.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. I suspect that that part of the problem there is that doctors have such a small window of time to collect data, right? So if you’ve got something that’s been monitoring the sensor data about you for some long period of time, I mean, I imagine that part of it is just almost like an anomaly detection kind of thing where you’re saying, well, for this particular person, most of the time when they’re they’ve been in a good mood, this is what the pattern of signals is.
And when they’re not, it’s something else. And because you’re collecting data that’s such a fine grained in over a long period of time, you can do that. And it would be difficult to detect. Well, we know this in everyday life. You know, it just interacting with a person over a coffee doesn’t give you kind of a full insight into what their full psychological state is.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: And what’s your opinion or research into network effects and social connections and how they may influence psychology for healthy behaviors or human interactions?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. In our own research, many of the applications that we’ve built for research purposes have a teaming component to it. So it’s not like a full online social network component. But we like to gather people into small groups that are about 5 to 10 people working on some common goals.
Everybody’s trying to improve their physical fitness or we’re working on particular nutrition goals. And one of the things that comes out of the data fairly quickly is that those social effects make up a large part of whatever effect we’re interested. So, you know, people’s adherence to the goals that they have set up for themselves varies by about 40 in relation to whether they’re on a good team or a poor team, for whatever that means.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Oh, wow.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: So we know that at least in the early studies where we looked at that, a big component of the effect is really the social effect. And I often give talks where I say at the end, it’s like, you know, this is one of the big things that we need to do research on. It’s obviously a big effect. And we just don’t know anything about it. Now, there is a little bit that we know about it. So in the world of online forums, one of my colleagues, Robert Krout, who is at CMU, has done a bunch of research. And now there’s a lot of people that have done similar kinds of research that show long term engagement is dependent in these social forums.
Long term engagement is associated with certain things. If you’re in a forum and you’re interacting in a way where you’re asking informational questions and by gosh, someone actually responds quickly and gives you some informational responses, that’s likely to keep you engaged at a slightly higher rate. If you’re in a forum and you make what I’ve called one of these emotional disclosures where you say, you know, I know everything I need to know, but by God, I can’t face another day trying to get myself out the door and going for a run. I really just can’t do it anymore.
I don’t feel like doing it anymore. And if someone steps in at that point and gives you some emotional support, then that has a much an even bigger impact on your continued engagement. And so my suspicion is that there’s something that there are various things that happen in these social groups and in online social networks where if there is a certain amount of bonding that happens, that those folks are going to have a lot of influence on you.
And so the question is, you know, how do you do this social engineering to make that happen? And so that’s why there’s like some interesting research to be done to try to figure out, you know, in some sense, how do you curate these things to be positive social experiences that have some impact? Because as we all know, social systems can go horribly wrong, too. And so, you know, you don’t want to go into some weight loss online system and suddenly be body shamed or something like that. So, yeah.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Fine line.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah. Yeah. So anyways how to do that and how to do that perhaps in a way where there is maybe some algorithmic way to help the process work better. I think those are some really big issues and frankly, not a lot of research going on.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I mean it’s quite incredible that you actually look into that because with social media generally getting quite a lot of negative attention for some of the negative. Social relationships that can be formed in people with mental health suffering. It’s a great point that if used in the right way, it can really kind of motivate people as well. So it’s like a double edged sword almost. So with that, how do you balance your life? Do you generally keep a healthy life? And obviously, Owaves is around lifestyle and circadian rhythm biology. So run us through your day. When do you wake up? When do you sleep? Do you eat? Exercise?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yes. I think I have a record of my activities probably going back into the 90s. Not a detailed log book or anything. But I make it a point of trying to keep a fairly good balance of various activities. So I surf. I do some running. I wouldn’t say that I’m a runner. And, you know, I go mountain biking and I go to the gym. And I’ve kept a pretty good log of the days that I go do those things.
So I try to be fairly consistent and do all of that stuff. And, you know, I wouldn’t say that I’m good at any of those things, but I enjoy them all immensely. And it seems to be kind of the right balance for both my mental state and my physical state. I think I’m pretty much at the same weight that I was probably 20 years ago as well. But, you know, each of those things is kind of a different thing. So I like I mountain biking and surfing not because they are both great physical activities, but almost more for the mental stuff.
It’s the kind of thing that you can lose yourself into. And so, you know, mountain biking is something where, you know, you really can get these, almost flow like experiences and be out there in nature. And so I love that kind of stuff. And surfing is the same kind of things. When you’re really sort of on it and you’ve really got some great waves, you know, you sort of get right into it. And both my wife and myself, you know, we eat fairly good diets.
I occasionally – I shouldn’t say occasionally, whether with some regularity I do go on a ketogenic diet and will go on that for, I want to say maybe, 6 to 12 weeks at a time. Often because I’ve gone through some particular stage of stressful work where I’ve gained a few pounds that I can’t stand it anymore. And it’s kind of a good way for me to reset both my weight and my way of eating and it. And that’s kind of it.
That’s kind of a fairly interesting diet in and of itself. I think it’s one the only diet that I know where there is a way of objectively measuring whether you’re succeeding or not. In terms of being able to do your keto analysis. And so one of the reasons why I like it is that with just a little bit of logging of your own food and measuring either through urine samples or through the blood, you can get a daily reading on how you’re doing. And so you can adjust dynamically and then stay on that kind of diet. My dog is my automated health system that knows how to get me outdoors. At least a couple times a day for just a regular old walk and stuff. So I think that’s about it.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Seems like you have a good balance of maintaining it for over a long period of time as well. Obviously, you’ve probably implemented the strategies you’ve learnt about in behavioral science as well and psychology and…
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. So you know, these things that I’m studying are things that either I recognize in my own life and regime or things that I knew about before. For most things, for example, you know, I know automatically that if there’s some challenge that I need to take on, there’s a strategy for doing it. You know breaking it down into small parts.
Making sure that you sort of get, you know, nice, simple feedback that allows you to adjust and get success right off the bat. So there is a lot of strategies that I kind of already knew about and was implementing it myself. And there’s one that I think is really undervalued that I was just talking to a colleague of mine about, which is there’s a sense in which our routines are really important.
So if you have a life that has a certain amount of routine in it, it makes it easier to implement a lot of these lifestyle changes. And that’s because you know where to insert the changes within those routines. If you live a very chaotic life, like, you know, you’re sleeping at all different times of the day and traveling a lot, it’s really hard to do lifestyle change.
You just you don’t have kind of the structure of a day in which to kind of hook the things that you need in order to support the lifestyle change. And so anyway, it’s kind of one of these things that I think a lot of people who are successful have already mastered. And it’s something that I think is kind of underappreciated in the general world of lifestyle change.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You’ve really helped Owaves that because waves is trying to make people realize to form those routines, and routines help form habits. And you kind of seamlessly to fall into those kind of, you know, healthy lifestyles, like you said. And that’s where our mission with the app is and our vision to help people form healthy routines around healthy circadian rhythms, as well.
So I’m great the synergies there. And coming to the end, I would love to ask you a few questions about the future. So firstly, do you think there will be a time or there’ll be a possibility that we’ll be able to upload our memories to a cloud or have computer chips implanted to augment our brains and kind of combine artificial intelligence with human cognition?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yeah, I mean, the first one is that the idea of uploading your mind. You know, I certainly remember reading the William Gibson books just going like, that is gonna be so cool when we can do it. So in principle, you know, I would like to think that’s a possibility.
I mean, if you believe that the mind exists in the physical world, then it ought to be feasible to do that. Now, the issue is, is the physical substrate to that so dependent on the actual biological chemistry and everything? It’s like saying, you know, you can create wind in a wind tunnel, but man, is it expensive to do that. And it’s never quite exact.
It’s never quite exactly the same as being outdoors. So, you know, it could be that the physical properties of the brain kind of limit how far you can go with that. But setting that aside, the other stuff you talk about, I think is more within the reach of our life time. So certainly, you know, being able to embed its chips, but some kind of other device in a way that augments cognition is, I think, certainly feasible.
And, you know, the whole idea of having augmented cognition in a way where you’ve got, you know, maybe not a brain computer interface, that’s something like that. I think that’s all being heavily researched right now. And I can imagine that it’s within reach.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: There was recent news out of M.I.T., where they’ve transmitted thoughts between three people I think it was. That was quite interesting that they were able to do that. But also, if I just look at it from when I was writing a recent statement I used Alexa by my side and I used the synonyms and calculating equations, which I couldn’t do five, six years ago.
And as day to day, with more contacts and more information being kind of flooding our brains, we need a filter mechanism or we need something to help us in real time tell us, okay, this is important. This isn’t. Or you met this person at that time. I think smart glasses, they’re trying to do something similar with that. But do you see that coming in?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, I think there’s already versions of that around. One worry I have about a lot of these augmentation supposed systems that are supposedly augmenting you is that they’re often not very well designed. So, you know, as you were saying, having this system that’s kind of around when you need something, you could just ask it for information. It gave it to you just at the right time.
That seems to me a fairly well designed system that is kind of human centered, is engineered to the task, and is more like what I think Ken Ford would call an orthotic in the sense that it’s kind of, you know, it’s supplementing what you’re doing. And there’s not a lot of great work that starts from the human and kind of figures out how to augment this.
Usually it’s like, here’s a piece technology program and let’s see how that works. And, you know, for example, the idea that you would have an augmented reality glass set that would be providing you information. Well, you know, that has to be highly tuned to what the task is that you’re performing and how much attention you need to pay to the channel that you’re operating in.
So, you know, if you’re in a conversation as something is talking into your ear, as you’re in that conversation, it’s not going to be a whole lot of help in making that conversation go well. So I think you’re on the right path that we have to figure out how to do this kind of augment, you know, augmented cognition or orthotic of cognition. But it has to be, you know, from the get go designed around a human centered strategy.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: I would agree because we have only a certain bandwidth and attention span where it’s difficult to be doing two things at once. And if we’re getting up to date information on everything during a conversation, does that detract from that experience? And how does that affect human interaction as well? And where will that lead us to?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Yes. And especially if you’re talking about real conversations. And by real conversations, I mean you’re engaged, you’re in sync. You sort of almost read the other person’s mind. Those are almost flow like experiences. And, you know, I can’t have someone talking in my ear while I’m doing that. So, you know, I think it’s more the modulation. So the system would have to know.
You know, I need to back off at this moment because they need to focus completely on what they’re doing. As opposed to, you know, now, I can sort of, you know, talk to them over their shoulder about something. So that sensitivity to essentially the psychological state and the task at hand has to be, you know, somehow built into the, whatever, A.I. is that’s controlling that system.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: You talk about flow state. I read decoding superhuman. And I’m quite interested in the stealing fire as well and how people achieve flow states. Are you someone who tries to be in a state of flow more often than not?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: No, I wouldn’t. I wish I said I was, but I’m not. But you know, I’ve had enough experiences that are like that, but I sort of recognize it in it maybe on a more mundane level. I do like to do work in a way where I’m heavily focused. So I am the kind of person who, you know- my email only operates by poll. So I don’t have notifications.
I only use slack, for example, if I’m in the middle of a project and need to be fully aware of everything that’s going on. So for the most part, you know, when I’m working, I like to shut everything off except for the thing that I’m working on. So I wouldn’t say that’s a flow state, but certainly a focused state.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: So you keep distractions to a minimum. And I guess in the future, if there is some type of augmentation through a device which can guide us, I guess the most useful, I would find it would be using evidence based data because in a lot of situations, people we know in the public forum, people drawn facts which aren’t true anymore. They just rely on their memory, and memory can be quite falsified.
You’ve heard something, so you think it’s true. So if you could draw upon because I think that could really stimulate intelligent conversation where people don’t have to memorize facts, they could be having quite an intelligent conversation and be able to pull upon a real time fact.
So that’s quite interesting. And where the future, I guess with you in the perfect space, with human cognition and machine and intelligence. And I think that convergence will lead us to some amazing things for humanity. And I’d like to thank you for coming onto the Owaves podcast. We’ve got a lot of insight for our listeners. I’m sure people have found it quite cool to have you on talking about these futuristic things, but also the applicable behavioral psychological strategies for people to apply. So thanks for coming on.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Hey, thank you for having me on. It’s been great.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Is there anywhere where the listeners can follow you?
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Well, because I’m so focused, I’m not afraid not.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: That’s good, too. We like to stay focus. That should be a very good tip for especially students, as well, to know how get to get deep work done. So amazing and conversation. I’m obviously very personally interested in the kind of convergence between tech and human, and I love what you’re doing. So keep doing what you’re doing and I wish you the best.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Okay. Let’s talk again sometime soon.
Dr. Sohaib Imitiaz: Yeah, sure. Thank you.
Dr. Peter Pirolli: Okay. Bye.
Dr. Haroon Kazem: Thanks for listening to another episode of the Body Clock podcast by Owaves. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a 5 star rating on your podcast app. Please also remember to download the Free Owaves app on the Apple App Store. Please tell your friends and your family. It’s a great tool to help you optimize your life and to effectively plan your day. Thanks, as always, for listening and I hope you join us again next time.
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