AI as the Digital Boogeyman

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights something terribly important in our world system.  China is experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) to see how it can improve education.  My take on it is that they have created the digital boogeyman without realizing it.

According to Wikipedia, the boogeyman is a mythical creature used by adults to frighten children into good behavior. The Boogeyman has no specific appearance, and conceptions vary drastically by household and culture but is commonly depicted as a masculine or androgynous monster that punishes children for misbehavior.  Boogeymen may target a specific act or general misbehavior, depending on what purpose needs serving, often based on a warning from the child’s authority figure.

Yep, that is how I used it when my daughters would sneak out of their room to play with each other when they should have been staying in bed.  I told them that the boogeyman hid under the bed and would grab their ankles.  I know, I am now going to be blocked for something I did over 45 years ago thinking it was a silly way to get better behavior.  I also remember being told some things would make me go blind as a kid… so there!

Well, China has upped the game with just that.  Read the WSJ article.

Their plan is to use AI to increase the performance of the 200 million students in school and it appears to be working… at least in part.  Can they and will they truly understand how much of this is the boogeyman effect vs. studying brain waves?  Or, could it just be that they are using something parents want for their kids? aka a better education and a hope for a brighter future… to get them to permit this intrusive Orwellian approach?

After all, it may not be the AI at all that is behind the improvements.  It could just be the myth itself.  But, in the process of saying they were just studying children’s learning, they have unleashed the full power of AI to track human behavior!  Watch the link carefully.  Think about it.

Are we moving in the same direction with our data analysis?  Might Amazon suggest you stop buying certain things because they were harmful to your health?


Least Resource Planning

Most of you know full well that we are moving on from decades of “least-cost planning” with portfolios of energy options for supply and demand that are a testimony to the engineering and scientific prowess of many.  We should be rightfully proud.

However, against this backdrop of excellence, we are seeing a barrier to further progress called “cost-effectiveness” especially in the form of the regulatory test used for that goal called the TRC (Total Resource Cost) test.  When this attribute fails to produce a net positive effect we declare the idea or program a failure.

As with all regulatory approaches, we also get a panoply of unintended consequences, which are so broad and deep I will not bore you with a recount.

But, what hit me this morning is that we have stopped considering the long-term effects on some key related questions, especially on fragile resources that have moved civilizations faster than any others:  food and water, and now especially water in certain areas of this country and around the world.

Perhaps we need to reopen discussions around energy and all resources looking to the correctness of their uses.  Water has been priced historically at the cost of acquisition and production in the past.  It is not priced on the next resource acquisition cost which is typically hundreds of times higher.

I am not suggesting imposing higher prices on anyone… what I am saying here is that if we are stuck in a “monetize this” mindset for senior leadership, perhaps the most compelling economic argument is to look into the near-term future and see what incremental costs really are or are about to become.

As we do that, we will see clear economic signals in the balancing market for electricity.  We will see the environmental costs of avoiding forest fires in California.  We should be asking why smart and creative leadership today is stuck where they are?

A New Year’s Resolution

As we see another calendar year end and assess our situations we are less likely to make promises to lose weight or exercise than in the past.  It seems the years of making those resolutions and failing to follow through has dulled our lofty goals and lowered the bar we intend to set for ourselves.

Susan and I have noticed that simple things seem to make all the difference in people’s lives.  Maybe it has been the result of attending so many funerals and hearing so many stories about those we love alongside discoveries of those we never knew who we simply passed by in our lives.

Sure, they didn’t stop us and ask for our help.  But, we probably noticed a distant look in their eye or some level of sadness in their countenance.

I have been struck by a few of this season’s commercials that point to something we can all agree with and can do repeatedly.  The Chic-fil-A 2 minute TV story” about a child who wanted her family to make a snowman but who were all too busy ends with her giving them the “gift” of an extra hour to do exactly that.

Few of us have extra time in our day that we just waste away.  Many of us are juggling way too many things to add another to a list.  I remember a time in my life with Susan where we would describe our lives as just trying to keep the plates spinning on the sticks in the air fearing that if we slowed down one or more of the plates would come crashing down.

Perhaps the best resolution is to realize that we really don’t have to keep all those plates spinning.  Some will continue to spin if we stop trying.  Others will come down and have no ill consequences.  But, the individuals in our lives who offer us the chance to build a snowman may be the best times we spend.

Carve out time for those you know and love, and be open to spending time with those you meet along life’s journey.

Time connecting with people and showing them your love is never wasted.



Chocolatier Wisdom

Courtesy WSJ

I am surprised at times by what the Wall Street Journal will feature each day.  Perhaps they realize we are all so pressured with media bombardment that something slightly off the beaten track is refreshing.  Perhaps it is obvious as well: everything is better with chocolate.

I am not a chocoholic but I do enjoy the treat.  It is a great mood enhancer and it seems especially appropriate at this time of the year to give when visiting others.  We have been the recipient of that giving, and I am amazed by the diversity of what is available.

So, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to see a personal story about a person who has spent most of his life perfecting chocolates for Godiva.  Here is the link.

As you watch this, you will be struck by the simple wisdom within this very technical field.  Chocolate is not easy to make and its history is rife with subtle details about success and failure.   Thierry Muret is the executive chef chocolatier for Godiva, and he offers a heartwarming summary of his career and how his experiences innovating for Godiva happened over 30 years.

Things like failing fast, being creative, being unique, looking for ideas from everything around you, are good guides for more than chocolate making.  They are good guides for life.  He didn’t suggest eating more chocolate, but the rest of his humble wisdom seems a perfect start for our new year.

Happy New Year to you all,



The Latest Pet Rock?

Some ideas seem to attract people. Sometimes you wonder why and at other times it can be a blinding flash of the obvious. This can all seem whacky to straight-laced, conservative people like me.

When the pet rock came out decades ago I was stunned by the almost immediate commercial success. It was obviously not a serious product, but it certainly caught on.

Perhaps these ideas gain popularity just because they are so wacky they can be used as a “gag gift” for birthdays and Christmas. Some ideas seem to gain traction because they push an idea into a new direction or enable people to experience something different. One that we tried for team building is a vertical wind tunnel that lets you experience flight. Needless to say, I didn’t join in that event.

China embarked on one that seemed interesting given the huge natural wonders within its boundaries: glass bridges. Frankly, I hate driving across large conventional bridges in the US. I choose the center lane and grip the wheel like my life depended on it. So, you can probably guess that I am not going to seek out glass bridges.

The following article appearing on, therefore, struck me as especially interesting:

Well then… perhaps this has some pet rock learnings. Or, is it more like the vertical wind tunnel paradigm: you are just not going to do this twice?
I guess that is why I have always wondered how businesses like can persist. I went once when our son wanted to go. I haven’t been back… won’t be back. It was great to see the re-enactments and it was fun once…

We in the energy space need to avoid business ideas like this…