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Obsesiones [687]

de System Administrator - martes, 5 de agosto de 2014, 01:12

Video: "Obsesiones Cerebrales"

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Ocho alimentos que ayudan a tener una mente clara y ágil [997]

de System Administrator - domingo, 16 de noviembre de 2014, 17:20

Ocho alimentos que ayudan a tener una mente clara y ágil

Existen algunos alimentos que por sus propiedades pueden ayudar a tener una mente más lúcida y reducir los riesgos de sufrir accidentes o demencias.

El cerebro es uno de los órganos más importantes del cuerpo y además incide directamente en el rendimiento intelectual y la capacidad de disfrute. Muchos de los hábitos y los alimentos ingeridos durante el día tienen la capacidad de aletargarlo o hacerlo más ágil.

Los carbohidratos y las grasas son los elementos principales de los que se vale el cerebro para funcionar pero en exceso puedenresultar contraproducentes. También hay ciertos ácidos grasos no tan comunes en la dieta (como el omega 3), frutas y cereales que ayudan a su mejor funcionamiento.

Por el contrario también hay algunos hábitos y alimentos que poco a poco destruyen conexiones y reducen su rendimiento, entre estos se encuentran fumar, el sedentarismo, las grasas trans, el alcohol en exceso y las drogas, que producen serios desgastes a lo largo del tiempo y pueden tener consecuencias fatales.

  1. Cereales y harinas integrales: éstos aumentan la energía al suministrar glucosa a la sangre. Además reducen el colesterol y mejoran la digestión, mejorando el flujo sanguíneo y manteniendo al cerebro bien irrigado.
  2. Omega 3: Las conexiones del cerebro se encuentran hechas en gran parte de ácidos grasos, éstos son fundamentales para la transmisión de información. Los ácidos grasos omega 3 favorecen estas funciones, aumentando la memoria, reduciendo los riesgos de accidentes y las demencias. Los alimentos que poseen estos ácidos en gran cantidad son los pescados grasos, las nueces, semillas de zapalla, soja, cánola, entre otros cientos.
  3. Arándanos: éstos han sido ampliamente estudiados y se ha probado que reducen los riesgos del Alzheimer así como también mejoran las funciones cognitivas.
  4. Tomates: los tomates poseen licopenos, un antioxidante que protege a las células del daño de los radicales libres, principales responsables del envejecimiento. Es así que al contribuir en este proceso en las células del cerebro ayudan a reducir los riesgos de alzheimer y otros tipos de demencia.
  5. Vitamina E: presente en nueces, arroz integral, semillas y vegetales verdes ayudan a mejorar la memoria.
  6. Palta: al igual que los cereales integrales reducen el colesterol y los riesgos cardiovasculares mejorando la circulación de sangre en todo el organismo y el cerebro.
  7. Brócoli: fuente de vitamina K, una gran ayuda para las funciones energéticas, cognitivas y de memoria del cerebro.
  8. Frutas: las frutas proveen grandes cantidades de glucosa, el combustible del cerebro, ofreciendo una sana y duradera fuete de energía. El azúcar común también provee este componente pero su efecto es de corta duración.

Incluyendo estos alimentos a la dieta de manera regular se puede ayudar al cerebro a mejorar sus funciones y tener una mente ágil con mayor rendimiento para que las largas jornadas no reduzcan la capacidad de disfrute ni la efectividad en el trabajo.

Autor: rtoranzo
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Oliver Sacks [679]

de System Administrator - martes, 5 de agosto de 2014, 00:41

Video: Entrevista al Neurólogo Oliver Sacks

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Online Education in 2025: Here’s What to Expect [1561]

de System Administrator - miércoles, 11 de noviembre de 2015, 20:14

Online Education in 2025: Here’s What to Expect


What will online education look like in 10 years?

That's a good question, and we're about to make some predictions. But first, to keep our perspective, let's talk about a few predictions that in hindsight, look ridiculous.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." — Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman, 1943

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” — Popular Mechanics, 1949

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2007

Now you can see why prediction articles like these are dangerous to write. But it’s fun to speculate, so let’s do it anyway!

To begin, let's look at the obvious.

The future will bring more devices and cheaper bandwidth. This one is a no-brainer because it’s an extrapolation of one of the clearest trends in the technological revolution—consistent and accelerating growth. This means the internet and the devices that access it will continue to become faster, cheaper, and available in more places.

And this is where the speculation begins. Some of these predictions are positive, and some are more ominous, so strap on your seat belts.

Dawn of the Tastemakers

The barrier for creating and publishing educational content will get extremely low—lower than it has ever been. This means an incredible amount of content will be created and published, and most of it will be mediocre. This will give rise to “expert tastemakers” who will curate that user-generated content, selecting the best videos, articles and blog posts.

This explosion in content creation will also mean that a lot of incredible content will fly under the radar and never be discovered. A YouTube search for “How to multiply,” for example, yields 300,000 results. Most content will never be discovered, regardless of its quality.

Take Skepticism Tablets (Twice a Day)

Education technology news will continue to cover exciting new inventions that will claim to revolutionize the way we learn, followed by reports that document the failure of many of these technologies. Consider, for example, the recent downfall of interactive whiteboards or the hype around the possibilities of educational television since the days of the the flying classroom in the 1960s.

Be skeptical of people that are either trying to sell you something or capture your data. While we’re at it, let’s apply that same recommendation of skepticism to this article (although we’re not trying to sell you anything today).

Human Interaction…For a Price

Online learners will be able to more easily connect with actual coaches or tutors in real time. Companies likeInstaEdu and Udacity* are already betting their future on such a connection. For a peek into this future, consider the 

 in Brazil that is connecting Brazilian youngsters who want to learn to speak English with retired American seniors. A version of the now defunct Google Helpouts, which brought experts and students together online, will eventually be successful.

Other companies are betting their futures on building educational experiences away from real coaches or tutors and towards automated solutions. This is a more scalable approach, but this certainly isn’t the option people will choose if they can afford to hire real life tutors.

As online education becomes more universal, learners will increasingly seek personalized instruction. In-person tutoring is already expensive and will become even pricier as demand for it goes up. Human interaction will become an even stronger symbol of status, affordable only to a subset of the population. It is telling that many Silicon Valley leaders prefer to send their children to schools that have no screens.

Exhibit A, B, C, or D

In the next 10 years, educational testing and assessment will transition from being high-stakes multiple-choice assessments to project- and portfolio-based exhibitions.

Standardized tests have begun to dominate a K-12 student’s calendar year. The use of these tests has ballooned since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which mandated annual testing in all 50 states. The liberal and often-unnecessary use of these tests has led to parents and students boycottingthem.

These tests will lose their importance over time. US companies will begin to follow tech leaders like Google and stop asking for transcripts, GPAs and test scores in their job applications. There are already at least 180 well-ranked schools in the US that do not require SAT scores for admissions, and that number will continue to grow.

Testing is, therefore, headed towards a more project-based, open-ended task evaluation system that will support the learning needs of students and be in better sync with the demands of today’s job market. One of the current limitations we face today is grading open-ended submissions, but as machine learning takes off, this limitation will fade.

I Wouldn’t Learn That, Dave

Machine learning enables systems that, among other things, learn over time and appear to “understand” human input. Some examples of this include Facebook auto-tagging your friends in photos, your phone identifying the song that’s playing on the radio, and everything Siri (mis)understands when you talk to her.

Right now, most machine learning systems are not trying to emulate human interaction. But we’ve started dipping our toes into those waters (chats on websites are often started by machines), and in 10 years, we’ll be using machine learning to emulate human interaction. But what does this have to do with education?

Automated systems have already begun evaluating open-ended submissions and are offering customized feedback for each student. The systems will get even better as time goes on, and will be available to all students, irrespective of social status.

Taking this a step further, human interaction will be quietly replaced in many products with very convincing bots. These bots will not become sentient anytime soon (as they do in most sci-fi movies), but they’ll do a great job providing emotionally satisfying interactions for users.

Social-Emotional Learning

Now, we’re not sure if this prediction will happen — but we can hope, can’t we?

We would love to see an expansion of services that promote social-emotional learning. These services would teach students to develop compassion and empathy for others and resolve conflicts in a non-violent fashion.

And while we’re at it, we’d also love to imagine a world where teacher pay is at par with the compensation received by doctors and engineers.

There’s More, But We’re Out of Time

We'll stop here. The online education space is extremely vast. We haven’t even predicted the future ofChromebooksthe OLPC projectMOOCsLMSsOER, or the rest.

Care to venture a guess? Share your predictions in the comments section below.

And if you do come up with a ridiculous prediction to share, we can all look back at this article in 10 years and shake our heads together, laughing at our naiveté.

* Full disclosure: both authors currently work at Udacity

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Related Topics: 

Kunal Chawla And Ben Jaffe

Kunal designs online learning experiences; he has created several technology courses at Udacity and has a degree in education technology from Stanford University. You can follow him on Twitter @professorKunal.

Ben is a web developer and instructional designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He cohosts two podcasts about science and technology (GeekSpeak and Linear Digressions).


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OpenAI [1618]

de System Administrator - jueves, 24 de diciembre de 2015, 19:56

Inside OpenAI: Will Transparency Protect Us From Artificial Intelligence Run Amok?


Last Friday at the Neural Information and Processing Systems conference in Montreal, Canada, a team of artificial intelligence luminaries announced OpenAI, a non-profit company set to change the world of machine learning.

Backed by Tesla and Space X’s Elon Musk and Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, OpenAI has a hefty budget and even heftier goals. With a billion dollars in initial funding, OpenAI eschews the need for financial gains, allowing it to place itself on sky-high moral grounds.


By not having to answer to industry or academia, OpenAI hopes to focus not just on developing digital intelligence, but also guide research along an ethical route that, according to their inaugural blog post, “benefits humanity as a whole.”

OpenAI began with the big picture in mind: in 100 years, what will AI be able to achieve, and should we be worried? If left in the hands of giant, for-profit tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple, all of whom have readily invested in developing their own AI systems in the last few years, could AI — and future superintelligent systems— hit a breaking point and spiral out of control? Could AI be commandeered by governments to monitor and control their citizens? Could it, as Elon Musk warned earlier this year, ultimately destroy humankind?

Since its initial conception earlier this year, OpenAI has surgically snipped the cream of the crop in the field of deep learning to assemble its team. Among its top young talent is Andrej Karpathy, a PhD candidate at Stanford whose resume includes internships at Google and DeepMind, the secretive London-based AI company that Google bought in 2014.

Last Tuesday, I sat down with Andrej to chat about OpenAI’s ethos and vision, its initial steps and focus, as well as the future of AI and superintelligence. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How did OpenAI come about?

Earlier this year, Greg [Brockman], who used to be the CTO of Stripe, left the company looking to do something a bit different. He has a long-lasting interest in AI so he was asking around, toying with the idea of a research-focused AI startup. He reached out to the field and got the names of people who’re doing good work and ended up rounding us up.

At the same time, Sam [Altman] from YC became extremely interested in this as well. One way that YC is encouraging innovation is as a startup accelerator; another is through research labs. So, Sam recently opened YC Research, which is an umbrella research organization, and OpenAI is, or will become, one of the labs.

As for Elon — obviously he has had concerns over AI for a while, and after many conversations, he jumped onboard OpenAI in hopes to help AI develop in a beneficial and safe way.

How much influence will the funders have on how OpenAI does its research?

We’re still at very early stages so I’m not sure how this will work out. Elon said he’d like to work with us roughly once a week. My impression is that he doesn’t intend to come in and tell us what to do — our first interactions were more along the lines of “let me know in what way I can be helpful.” I felt a similar attitude from Sam and others.

AI has been making leaps recently, with contributions from academia, big tech companies and clever startups. What can OpenAI hope to achieve by putting you guys together in the same room that you can’t do now as a distributed network?

I’m a huge believer in putting people physically together in the same spot and having them talk. The concept of a network of people collaborating across institutions would be much less efficient, especially if they all have slightly different incentives and goals.

More abstractly, in terms of advancing AI as a technology, what can OpenAI do that current research institutions, companies or deep learning as a field can’t?


A lot of it comes from OpenAI as a non-profit. What’s happening now in AI is that you have a very limited number of research labs and large companies, such as Google, which are hiring a lot of researchers doing groundbreaking work. Now suppose AI could one day become — for lack of a better word — dangerous, or used dangerously by people. It’s not clear that you would want a big for-profit company to have a huge lead, or even a monopoly over the research. It is primarily an issue of incentives, and the fact that they are not necessarily aligned with what is good for humanity. We are baking that into our DNA from the start.

Also, there are some benefits of being a non-profit that I didn’t really appreciate until now. People are actually reaching out and saying “we want to help”; you don’t get this in companies; it’s unthinkable. We’re getting emails from dozens of places — people offering to help, offering their services, to collaborate, offering GPU power. People are very willing to engage with you, and in the end, it will propel our research forward, as well as AI as a field.

OpenAI seems to be built on the big picture  how will AI benefit humanity, and how it may eventually destroy us all. Elon has repeatedly warned against unmonitored AI development. In your opinion, is AI a threat?

When Elon talks about the future, he talks about scales of tens or hundreds of years from now, not 5 or 10 years that most people think about. I don’t see AI as a threat over the next 5 or 10 years, other than those you might expect from more reliance on automation; but if we’re looking at humanity already populating Mars (that far in the future), then I have much more uncertainty, and sure, AI might develop in ways that could pose serious challenges.


I think that saying AI will destroy humanity is out there on a five-year horizon; but if we’re looking at humanity already populating Mars (that far in the future), then yeah AI could be a serious problem.

One thing we do see is that a lot of progress is happening very fast. For example, computer vision has undergone a complete transformation — papers from more than three years ago now look foreign in face of recent approaches. So when we zoom out further over decades I think I have a fairly wide distribution over where we could be. So say there is a 1% chance of something crazy and groundbreaking happening. When you additionally multiply that by the utility of a few for-profit companies having monopoly over this tech, then yes that starts to sound scary.

Do you think we should put restraints on AI research to assure safety?

No, not top-down, at least right now. In general I think it’s a safer route to have more AI experts who have a shared awareness of the work in the field. Opening up research like what OpenAI wants to do, rather than having commercial entities having monopoly over results for intellectual property purposes, is perhaps a good way to go.

True, but recently for-profit companies are releasing their technology as well  I’m thinking Google’s TensorFlow and Facebook’s Torch. In this sense how does OpenAI differ in its “open research” approach?

So when you say “releasing” there are a few things that need clarification. First Facebook did not release Torch; Torch is a library that’s been around for several years now. Facebook has committed to Torch and is improving on it. So has DeepMind.


But TensorFlow and Torch are just tiny specks of their research — they are tools that can help others do research well, but they’re not actual results that others can build upon.

Still, it is true that many of these industrial labs have recently established a good track record of publishing research results, partly because a large number of people on the inside are from academia. Still, there is a veil of secrecy surrounding a large portion of the work, and not everything makes it out. In the end, companies don’t really have very strong incentives to share.

OpenAI, on the other hand, encourages us to publish, to engage the public and academia, to Tweet, to blog. I’ve gotten into trouble in the past for sharing a bit too much from inside companies, so I personally really, really enjoy the freedom.

What if OpenAI comes up with a potentially game-changing algorithm that could lead to superintelligence? Wouldn’t a fully open ecosystem increase the risk of abusing the technology?

In a sense it’s kind of like CRISPR. CRISPR is a huge leap for genome editing that’s been around for only a few years, but has great potential for benefiting — and hurting — humankind. Because of these ethical issues there was a recent conference on it in DC to discuss how we should go forward with it as a society.

If something like that happens in AI during the course of OpenAI’s research — well, we’d have to talk about it. We are not obligated to share everything — in that sense the name of the company is a misnomer — but the spirit of the company is that we do by default.

In the end, if there is a small chance of something crazy happening in AI research, everything else being equal, do you want these advances to be made inside a commercial company, especially one that has monopoly on the research, or do you want this to happen within a non-profit?

We have this philosophy embedded in our DNA from the start that we are mindful of how AI develops, rather than just [a focus on] maximizing profit.

In that case, is OpenAI comfortable being the gatekeeper, so to speak? You’re heavily influencing how the field is going to go and where it’s going.

It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a “lesser evil” argument; I think it’s still bad. But we’re not the only ones “controlling” the field — because of our open nature we welcome and encourage others to join in on the discussion. Also, what’s the alternative? In a way a non-profit, with sharing and safety in its DNA, is the best option for the field and the utility of the field.

Also, AI is not the only field to worry about — I think bio is a far more pressing domain in terms of destroying the world [laugh]!

In terms of hiring — OpenAI is competing against giant tech companies in the Silicon Valley. How is the company planning on attracting top AI researchers?

We have perks [laugh].

But in all seriousness, I think the company’s mission and team members are enough. We’re currently actively hiring people, and so far have no trouble getting people excited about joining us. In several ways OpenAI combines the best of academia and the startup world, and being a non-profit we have the moral high ground, which is nice [laugh].

The team, especially, is a super strong, super tight team and that is a large part of the draw.

Take some rising superstars in the field — myself not included — put them together and you get OpenAI. I joined mainly because I heard about who else is on the team. In a way, that’s the most shocking part; a friend of mine described it as “storming the temple.” Greg came in from nowhere and scooped up the top people to do something great and make something new.


Now that OpenAI has a rockstar team of scientists,what’s your strategy for developing AI? Are you getting vast amounts of data from Elon? What problems are you tackling first?

So we’re really still trying to figure a lot of this out. We are trying to approach this with a combination of bottom up and top down thinking. Bottom up are the various papers and ideas we might want to work on. Top down is doing so in a way that adds up. We’re currently in the process of thinking this through.

For example, I just submitted one vision research proposal draft today, actually [laugh]. We’re putting a few of them together. Also it’s worth pointing out that we’re not currently actively working on AI safety. A lot of the research we currently have in mind looks conventional. In terms of general vision and philosophy I think we’re most similar to DeepMind.

We might be able to at some point take advantage of data from Elon or YC companies, but for now we also think we can go quite far making our own datasets, or working with existing public datasets that we can work on in sync with the rest of academia.

Would OpenAI ever consider going into hardware, since sensors are a main way of interacting with the environment?

So, yes we are interested, but hardware has a lot of issues. For us, roughly speaking there are two worlds: the world of bits and the world of atoms. I am personally inclined to stay in the world of bits for now, in other words, software. You can run things in the cloud, it’s much faster. The world of atoms — such as robots — breaks too often and usually has a much slower iteration cycle. This is a very active discussion that we’re having in the company right now.

Do you think we can actually get to generalized AI?

I think to get to superintelligence we might currently be missing differences of a “kind,” in the sense that we won’t get there by just making our current systems better. But fundamentally there’s nothing preventing us getting to human-like intelligence and beyond.

To me, it’s mostly a question of “when,” rather than “if.”

I don’t think we need to simulate the human brain to get to human-like intelligence; we can zoom out and approximate how it works. I think there’s a more straightforward path. For example, some recent work shows that ConvNet* activations are very similar to the human visual cortex’s IT area activation, without mimicking how neurons actually work.

[*SF: ConvNet, or convolutional network, is a type of artificial neural network topology tailored to visual tasks first developed by Yann LeCun in the 1990s. IT is the inferior temporal cortex, which processes complex object features.]


So it seems to me that with ConvNets we’ve almost checked off large parts of the visual cortex, which is somewhere around 30% of the cortex, and the rest of the cortex maybe doesn’t look all that different. So I don’t see how over a timescale of several decades we can’t make good progress on checking off the rest.

Another point is that we don’t necessarily have to be worried about human-level AI. I consider chimp-level AI to be equally scary, because going from chimp to humans took nature only a blink of an eye on evolutionary time scales, and I suspect that might be the case in our own work as well. Similarly, my feeling is that once we get to that level it will be easy to overshoot and get to superintelligence.

On a positive note though, what gives me solace is that when you look at our field historically, the image of AI research progressing with a series of unexpected “eureka” breakthroughs is wrong. There is no historical precedent for such moments; instead we’re seeing a lot of fast and accelerating, but still incremental progress. So let's put this wonderful technology to good use in our society while also keeping a watchful eye on how it all develops.

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Organic sci-fi? [1490]

de System Administrator - miércoles, 7 de octubre de 2015, 15:45

Organic sci-fi? New concept, and possible disrupter, in electric cars

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Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform [1366]

de System Administrator - domingo, 30 de agosto de 2015, 15:03

Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform

Organizational Development Magazine Article

by Edward M. Hallowell

David drums his fingers on his desk as he scans the e-mail on his computer screen. At the same time, he’s talking on the phone to an executive halfway around the world. His knee bounces up and down like a jackhammer. He intermittently bites his lip and reaches for his constant companion, the coffee cup. He’s so deeply involved in multitasking that he has forgotten the appointment his Outlook calendar reminded him of 15 minutes ago.

Jane, a senior vice president, and Mike, her CEO, have adjoining offices so they can communicate quickly, yet communication never seems to happen. “Whenever I go into Mike’s office, his phone lights up, my cell phone goes off, someone knocks on the door, he suddenly turns to his screen and writes an e-mail, or he tells me about a new issue he wants me to address,” Jane complains. “We’re working flat out just to stay afloat, and we’re not getting anything important accomplished. It’s driving me crazy.”

David, Jane, and Mike aren’t crazy, but they’re certainly crazed. Their experience is becoming the norm for overworked managers who suffer—like many of your colleagues, and possibly like you—from a very real but unrecognized neurological phenomenon that I call attention deficit trait, or ADT. Caused by brain overload, ADT is now epidemic in organizations. The core symptoms are distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience. People with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time. These symptoms can undermine the work of an otherwise gifted executive. If David, Jane, Mike, and the millions like them understood themselves in neurological terms, they could actively manage their lives instead of reacting to problems as they happen.

As a psychiatrist who has diagnosed and treated thousands of people over the past 25 years for a medical condition called attention deficit disorder, or ADD (now known clinically as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), I have observed firsthand how a rapidly growing segment of the adult population is developing this new, related condition. The number of people with ADT coming into my clinical practice has mushroomed by a factor of ten in the past decade. Unfortunately, most of the remedies for chronic overload proposed by time-management consultants and executive coaches do not address the underlying causes of ADT.

Unlike ADD, a neurological disorder that has a genetic component and can be aggravated by environmental and physical factors, ADT springs entirely from the environment. Like the traffic jam, ADT is an artifact of modern life. It is brought on by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades. As our minds fill with noise—feckless synaptic events signifying nothing—the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and thoroughly to anything.

The symptoms of ADT come upon a person gradually. The sufferer doesn’t experience a single crisis but rather a series of minor emergencies while he or she tries harder and harder to keep up. Shouldering a responsibility to “suck it up” and not complain as the workload increases, executives with ADT do whatever they can to handle a load they simply cannot manage as well as they’d like. The ADT sufferer therefore feels a constant low level of panic and guilt. Facing a tidal wave of tasks, the executive becomes increasingly hurried, curt, peremptory, and unfocused, while pretending that everything is fine.

To control ADT, we first have to recognize it. And control it we must, if we as individuals and organizational leaders are to be effective. In the following pages, I’ll offer an analysis of the origins of ADT and provide some suggestions that may help you manage it.

Attention Deficit Cousins

To understand the nature and treatment of ADT, it’s useful to know something of its cousin, ADD.

Usually seen as a learning disability in children, ADD also afflicts about 5% of the adult population. Researchers using MRI scans have found that people with ADD suffer a slightly diminished volume in four specific brain regions that have various functions such as modulating emotion (especially anger and frustration) and assisting in learning. One of the regions, made up of the frontal and prefrontal lobes, generates thoughts, makes decisions, sets priorities, and organizes activities. While the medications used to treat ADD don’t change the anatomy of the brain, they alter brain chemistry, which in turn improves function in each of the four regions and so dramatically bolsters the performance of ADD sufferers.

ADD confers both disadvantages and advantages. The negative characteristics include a tendency to procrastinate and miss deadlines. People with ADD struggle with disorganization and tardiness; they can be forgetful and drift away mentally in the middle of a conversation or while reading. Their performance can be inconsistent: brilliant one moment and unsatisfactory the next. ADD sufferers also tend to demonstrate impatience and lose focus unless, oddly enough, they are under stress or handling multiple inputs. (This is because stress leads to the production of adrenaline, which is chemically similar to the medications we use to treat ADD.) Finally, people with ADD sometimes also self-medicate with excessive alcohol or other substances.

On the positive side, those with ADD usually possess rare talents and gifts. Those gifts often go unnoticed or undeveloped, however, because of the problems caused by the condition’s negative symptoms. ADD sufferers can be remarkably creative and original. They are unusually persistent under certain circumstances and often possess an entrepreneurial flair. They display ingenuity and encourage that trait in others. They tend to improvise well under pressure. Because they have the ability to field multiple inputs simultaneously, they can be strong leaders during times of change. They also tend to rebound quickly after setbacks and bring fresh energy to the company every day.

Executives with ADD typically achieve inconsistent results. Sometimes they fail miserably because they’re disorganized and make mistakes. At other times, they perform brilliantly, offering original ideas and strategies that lead to performance at the highest level.

David Neeleman, the CEO of JetBlue Airways, has ADD. School was torture; unable to focus, he hated to study and procrastinated endlessly. “I felt like I should be out doing things, moving things along, but here I was, stuck studying statistics, which I knew had no application to my life,” Neeleman told me. “I knew I had to have an education, but at the first opportunity to start a business, I just blew out of college.” He climbed quickly in the corporate world, making use of his strengths—original thinking, high energy, an ability to draw out the best in people—and getting help with organization and time management.

Like most people with ADD, Neeleman could sometimes offend with his blunt words, but his ideas were good enough to change the airline industry. For example, he invented the electronic ticket. “When I proposed that idea, people laughed at me, saying no one would go to the airport without a paper ticket,” he says. “Now everyone does, and it has saved the industry millions of dollars.” It seems fitting that someone with ADD would invent a way around having to remember to bring a paper ticket. Neeleman believes ADD is one of the keys to his success. Far from regretting having it, he celebrates it. But he understands that he must manage his ADD carefully.

Attention deficit trait is characterized by ADD’s negative symptoms. Rather than being rooted in genetics, however, ADT is purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live. Indeed, modern culture all but requires many of us to develop ADT. Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points. Everywhere, people rely on their cell phones, e-mail, and digital assistants in the race to gather and transmit data, plans, and ideas faster and faster. One could argue that the chief value of the modern era is speed, which the novelist Milan Kundera described as “the form of ecstasy that technology has bestowed upon modern man.” Addicted to speed, we demand it even when we can’t possibly go faster. James Gleick wryly noted in Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything that the “close door” button in elevators is often the one with the paint worn off. As the human brain struggles to keep up, it falters and then falls into the world of ADT.

This Is Your Brain

While brain scans cannot display anatomical differences between people with “normal” brains and people suffering from ADT, studies have shown that as the human brain is asked to process dizzying amounts of data, its ability to solve problems flexibly and creatively declines and the number of mistakes increases. To find out why, let’s go on a brief neurological journey.

Blessed with the largest cortex in all of nature, owners of this trillion-celled organ today put singular pressure on the frontal and prefrontal lobes, which I’ll refer to in this article as simply the frontal lobes. This region governs what is called, aptly enough, executive functioning (EF). EF guides decision making and planning; the organization and prioritization of information and ideas; time management; and various other sophisticated, uniquely human, managerial tasks. As long as our frontal lobes remain in charge, everything is fine.

Beneath the frontal lobes lie the parts of the brain devoted to survival. These deep centers govern basic functions like sleep, hunger, sexual desire, breathing, and heart rate, as well as crudely positive and negative emotions. When you are doing well and operating at peak level, the deep centers send up messages of excitement, satisfaction, and joy. They pump up your motivation, help you maintain attention, and don’t interfere with working memory, the number of data points you can keep track of at once. But when you are confronted with the sixth decision after the fifth interruption in the midst of a search for the ninth missing piece of information on the day that the third deal has collapsed and the 12th impossible request has blipped unbidden across your computer screen, your brain begins to panic, reacting just as if that sixth decision were a bloodthirsty, man-eating tiger.

As a specialist in learning disabilities, I have found that the most dangerous disability is not any formally diagnosable condition like dyslexia or ADD. It is fear. Fear shifts us into survival mode and thus prevents fluid learning and nuanced understanding. Certainly, if a real tiger is about to attack you, survival is the mode you want to be in. But if you’re trying to deal intelligently with a subtle task, survival mode is highly unpleasant and counterproductive.

When the frontal lobes approach capacity and we begin to fear that we can’t keep up, the relationship between the higher and lower regions of the brain takes an ominous turn. Thousands of years of evolution have taught the higher brain not to ignore the lower brain’s distress signals. In survival mode, the deep areas of the brain assume control and begin to direct the higher regions. As a result, the whole brain gets caught in a neurological catch-22. The deep regions interpret the messages of overload they receive from the frontal lobes in the same way they interpret everything: primitively. They furiously fire signals of fear, anxiety, impatience, irritability, anger, or panic. These alarm signals shanghai the attention of the frontal lobes, forcing them to forfeit much of their power. Because survival signals are irresistible, the frontal lobes get stuck sending messages back to the deep centers saying, “Message received. Trying to work on it but without success.” These messages further perturb the deep centers, which send even more powerful messages of distress back up to the frontal lobes.

Meanwhile, in response to what’s going on in the brain, the rest of the body—particularly the endocrine, respiratory, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and peripheral nervous systems—has shifted into crisis mode and changed its baseline physiology from peace and quiet to red alert. The brain and body are locked in a reverberating circuit while the frontal lobes lose their sophistication, as if vinegar were added to wine. In this state, EF reverts to simpleminded black-and-white thinking; perspective and shades of gray disappear. Intelligence dims. In a futile attempt to do more than is possible, the brain paradoxically reduces its ability to think clearly.

This neurological event occurs when a manager is desperately trying to deal with more input than he possibly can. In survival mode, the manager makes impulsive judgments, angrily rushing to bring closure to whatever matter is at hand. He feels compelled to get the problem under control immediately, to extinguish the perceived danger lest it destroy him. He is robbed of his flexibility, his sense of humor, his ability to deal with the unknown. He forgets the big picture and the goals and values he stands for. He loses his creativity and his ability to change plans. He desperately wants to kill the metaphorical tiger. At these moments he is prone to melting down, to throwing a tantrum, to blaming others, and to sabotaging himself. Or he may go in the opposite direction, falling into denial and total avoidance of the problems attacking him, only to be devoured. This is ADT at its worst.

In survival mode, the manager is robbed of his flexibility, his sense of humor, his ability to deal with the unknown. He desperately wants to kill the metaphorical tiger.

Though ADT does not always reach such extreme proportions, it does wreak havoc among harried workers. Because no two brains are alike, some people deal with the condition better than others. Regardless of how well executives appear to function, however, no one has total control over his or her executive functioning.

Managing ADT

Unfortunately, top management has so far viewed the symptoms of ADT through the distorting lens of morality or character. Employees who seem unable to keep up the pace are seen as deficient or weak. Consider the case of an executive who came to see me when he was completely overloaded. I suggested he talk the situation over with his superior and ask for help. When my client did so, he was told that if he couldn’t handle the work, he ought to think about resigning. Even though his performance assessments were stellar and he’d earned praise for being one of the most creative people in the organization, he was allowed to leave. Because the firm sought to preserve the myth that no straw would ever break its people’s backs, it could not tolerate the manager’s stating that his back was breaking. After he went out on his own, he flourished.

How can we control the rampaging effects of ADT, both in ourselves and in our organizations? While ADD often requires medication, the treatment of ADT certainly does not. ADT can be controlled only by creatively engineering one’s environment and one’s emotional and physical health. I have found that the following preventive measures go a long way toward helping executives control their symptoms of ADT.

Promote positive emotions.

The most important step in controlling ADT is not to buy a superturbocharged BlackBerry and fill it up with to-dos but rather to create an environment in which the brain can function at its best. This means building a positive, fear-free emotional atmosphere, because emotion is the on/off switch for executive functioning.

The most important step in controlling ADT is to create an environment in which the brain can function at its best.

There are neurological reasons why ADT occurs less in environments where people are in physical contact and where they trust and respect one another. When you comfortably connect with a colleague, even if you are dealing with an overwhelming problem, the deep centers of the brain send messages through the pleasure center to the area that assigns resources to the frontal lobes. Even when you’re under extreme stress, this sense of human connection causes executive functioning to hum.

By contrast, people who work in physical isolation are more likely to suffer from ADT, for the more isolated we are, the more stressed we become. I witnessed a dramatic example of the danger of a disconnected environment and the healing power of a connected one when I consulted for one of the world’s foremost university chemistry departments. In the department’s formerly hard-driven culture, ADT was rampant, exacerbated by an ethic that forbade anyone to ask for help or even state that anything was wrong. People did not trust one another; they worked on projects alone, which led to more mistrust. Most people were in emotional pain, but implicit in the department’s culture was the notion that great pain led to great gain.

In the late 1990s, one of the department’s most gifted graduate students killed himself. His suicide note explicitly blamed the university for pushing him past his limit. The department’s culture was literally lethal.

Instead of trying to sweep the tragedy under the rug, the chair of the department and his successor acted boldly and creatively. They immediately changed the structure of the supervisory system so that each graduate student and postdoc was assigned three supervisors, rather than a single one with a death grip on the trainee’s career. The department set up informal biweekly buffets that allowed people to connect. (Even the most reclusive chemist came out of hiding for food, one of life’s great connectors.) The department heads went as far as changing the architecture of the department’s main building, taking down walls and adding common areas and an espresso bar complete with a grand piano. They provided lectures and written information to all students about the danger signs of mental wear and tear and offered confidential procedures for students who needed help. These steps, along with regular meetings that included senior faculty and university administrators, led to a more humane, productive culture in which the students and faculty felt fully engaged. The department’s performance remained first-rate, and creative research blossomed.

The bottom line is this: Fostering connections and reducing fear promote brainpower. When you make time at least every four to six hours for a “human moment,” a face-to-face exchange with a person you like, you are giving your brain what it needs.

Take physical care of your brain.

Sleep, a good diet, and exercise are critical for staving off ADT. Though this sounds like a no-brainer, too many of us abuse our brains by neglecting obvious principles of care.

You may try to cope with ADT by sleeping less, in the vain hope that you can get more done. This is the opposite of what you need to do, for ADT sets in when you don’t get enough sleep. There is ample documentation to suggest that sleep deprivation engenders a host of problems, from impaired decision making and reduced creativity to reckless behavior and paranoia. We vary in how much sleep we require; a good rule of thumb is that you’re getting enough sleep if you can wake up without an alarm clock.

Diet also plays a crucial role in brain health. Many hardworking people habitually inhale carbohydrates, which cause blood glucose levels to yo-yo. This leads to a vicious cycle: Rapid fluctuations in insulin levels further increase the craving for carbohydrates. The brain, which relies on glucose for energy, is left either glutted or gasping, neither of which makes for optimal cognitive functioning.

The brain does much better if the blood glucose level can be held relatively stable. To do this, avoid simple carbohydrates containing sugar and white flour (pastries, white bread, and pasta, for example). Rely on the complex carbohydrates found in fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. Protein is important: Instead of starting your day with coffee and a Danish, try tea and an egg or a piece of smoked salmon on wheat toast. Take a multivitamin every day as well as supplementary omega-3 fatty acids, an excellent source of which is fish oil. The omega-3s and the E and B complex contained in multivitamins promote healthy brain function and may even stave off Alzheimer’s disease and inflammatory ills (which can be the starting point for major killers like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer). Moderate your intake of alcohol, too, because too much kills brain cells and accelerates the development of memory loss and even dementia. As you change your diet to promote optimal brain function and good general health, your body will also shed excess pounds.

If you think you can’t afford the time to exercise, think again. Sitting at a desk for hours on end decreases mental acuity, not only because of reduced blood flow to the brain but for other biochemical reasons as well. Physical exercise induces the body to produce an array of chemicals that the brain loves, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, as well as two recently discovered compounds, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). Both BDNF and NGF promote cell health and development in the brain, stave off the ravages of aging and stress, and keep the brain in tip-top condition. Nothing stimulates the production of BDNF and NGF as robustly as physical exercise, which explains why those who exercise regularly talk about the letdown and sluggishness they experience if they miss their exercise for a few days. You will more than compensate for the time you invest on the treadmill with improved productivity and efficiency. To fend off the symptoms of ADT while you’re at work, get up from your desk and go up and down a flight of stairs a few times or walk briskly down a hallway. These quick, simple efforts will push your brain’s reset button.

Organize for ADT.

It’s important to develop tactics for getting organized, but not in the sense of empty New Year’s resolutions. Rather, your goal is to order your work in a way that suits you, so that disorganization does not keep you from reaching your goals.

First, devise strategies to help your frontal lobes stay in control. These might include breaking down large tasks into smaller ones and keeping a section of your work space or desk clear at all times. (You do not need to have a neat office, just a neat section of your office.) Similarly, you might try keeping a portion of your day free of appointments, e-mail, and other distractions so that you have time to think and plan. Because e-mail is a wonderful way to procrastinate and set yourself up for ADT at the same time, you might consider holding specific “e-mail hours,” since it isn’t necessary to reply to every e-mail right away.

When you start your day, don’t allow yourself to get sucked into vortices of e-mail or voice mail or into attending to minor tasks that eat up your time but don’t pack a punch. Attend to a critical task instead. Before you leave for the day, make a list of no more than five priority items that will require your attention tomorrow. Short lists force you to prioritize and complete your tasks. Additionally, keep torrents of documents at bay. One of my patients, an executive with ADD, uses the OHIO rule: Only handle it once. If he touches a document, he acts on it, files it, or throws it away. “I don’t put it in a pile,” he says. “Piles are like weeds. If you let them grow, they take over everything.”

Pay attention to the times of day when you feel that you perform at your best; do your most important work then and save the rote work for other times. Set up your office in a way that helps mental functioning. If you focus better with music, have music (if need be, use earphones). If you think best on your feet, work standing up or walk around frequently. If doodling or drumming your fingers helps, figure out a way to do so without bothering anyone, or get a fidget toy to bring to meetings. These small strategies sound mundane, but they address the ADT devil that resides in distracting details.

Protect your frontal lobes.

To stay out of survival mode and keep your lower brain from usurping control, slow down. Take the time you need to comprehend what is going on, to listen, to ask questions, and to digest what’s been said so that you don’t get confused and send your brain into panic. Empower an assistant to ride herd on you; insist that he or she tell you to stop e-mailing, get off the telephone, or leave the office.

If you do begin to feel overwhelmed, try the following mind-clearing tricks. Do an easy rote task, such as resetting the calendar on your watch or writing a memo on a neutral topic. If you feel anxious about beginning a project, pull out a sheet of paper or fire up your word processor and write a paragraph about something unrelated to the project (a description of your house, your car, your shoes—anything you know well). You can also tackle the easiest part of the task; for example, write just the title of a memo about it. Open a dictionary and read a few definitions, or spend five minutes doing a crossword puzzle. Each of these little tasks quiets your lower brain by tricking it into shutting off alarmist messages and puts your frontal lobes back in full control.

Finally, be ready for the next attack of ADT by posting the sidebar “Control Your ADT” near your desk where you can see it. Knowing that you are prepared diminishes the likelihood of an attack, because you’re not susceptible to panic.


Control Your ADT

What Leaders Can Do

All too often, companies induce and exacerbate ADT in their employees by demanding fast thinking rather than deep thinking. Firms also ask employees to work on multiple overlapping projects and initiatives, resulting in second-rate thinking. Worse, companies that ask their employees to do too much at once tend to reward those who say yes to overload while punishing those who choose to focus and say no.

Moreover, organizations make the mistake of forcing their employees to do more and more with less and less by eliminating support staff. Such companies end up losing money in the long run, for the more time a manager has to spend being his own administrative assistant and the less he is able to delegate, the less effective he will be in doing the important work of moving the organization forward. Additionally, firms that ignore the symptoms of ADT in their employees suffer its ill effects: Employees underachieve, create clutter, cut corners, make careless mistakes, and squander their brainpower. As demands continue to increase, a toxic, high-pressure environment leads to high rates of employee illness and turnover.

To counteract ADT and harness employee brainpower, firms should invest in amenities that contribute to a positive atmosphere. One company that has done an excellent job in this regard is SAS Institute, a major software company in North Carolina. The company famously offers its employees a long list of perks: a 36,000-square-foot, on-site gym; a seven-hour workday that ends at 5 PM; the largest on-site day care facility in North Carolina; a cafeteria that provides baby seats and high chairs so parents can eat lunch with their children; unlimited sick days; and much more. The atmosphere at SAS is warm, connected, and relaxed. The effect on the bottom line is profoundly positive; turnover is never higher than 5%. The company saves the millions other software companies spend on recruiting, training, and severance (estimated to be at least 1.5 times salary in the software industry). Employees return the favors with high productivity. The forces of ADT that shred other organizations never gain momentum at SAS.

Leaders can also help prevent ADT by matching employees’ skills to tasks. When managers assign goals that stretch people too far or ask workers to focus on what they’re not good at rather than what they do well, stress rises. By contrast, managers who understand the dangers of ADT can find ways of keeping themselves and their organizations on track. JetBlue’s David Neeleman, for example, has shamelessly and publicly identified what he is not good at and found ways to deal with his shortcomings, either by delegating or by empowering his assistant to direct him. Neeleman also models this behavior for everyone else in the organization. His openness about the challenges of his ADD gives others permission to speak about their own attention deficit difficulties and to garner the support they need. He also encourages his managers to match people with tasks that fit their cognitive and emotional styles, knowing that no one style is best. Neeleman believes that helping people work to their strengths is not just a mark of sophisticated management; it’s also an excellent way to boost worker productivity and morale.• • •

ADT is a very real threat to all of us. If we do not manage it, it manages us. But an understanding of ADT and its ravages allows us to apply practical methods to improve our work and our lives. In the end, the most critical step an enlightened leader can take to address the problem of ADT is to name it. Bringing ADT out of the closet and describing its symptoms removes the stigma and eliminates the moral condemnation companies have for so long mistakenly leveled at overburdened employees. By giving people permission to ask for help and remaining vigilant for signs of stress, organizations will go a long way toward fostering more productive, well-balanced, and intelligent work environments.

A version of this article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Harvard Business Review.


Edward Hallowell, MD, is a psychiatrist, served as an instructor at Harvard Medical School for 20 years, and is the director of the Hallowell Centers in New York City and Sudbury, Massachusetts. He is the author of several best-selling books, including his latest, Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive (HBR Press, 2015).