Trends to Automate: How business is mimicking cognitive nature

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digital brainAutomation and robotics are trending in business news these days. In manufacturing, physical robots continue to disrupt the workforce in that industry. In IT there are trends in Test Automation and DevOps which works on automating most of the software assembly line beyond the design and coding itself. In the offices, process automation has resurged with better tools to automate any fingers on keyboard type tasks and will continue to evolve to handle more complex tasks alongside the evolution of AI and cognitive computing.

Companies are looking for ways to free up valuable brain cells of their knowledgeable workforce from doing well structured logical, repetitive, manual tasks. Allowing them to instead focus on more creative knowledge based work.

This actually is no different from animal’s cognitive nature to evolve. Assuming you drive a car regularly. Think about the first time you witnessed someone driving a car when you were a child. You probably thought.. that looks like fun, I’m sure I can do that if I tried.

Now think of the first time you were behind the wheel of a car as a student driver. Remember to adjust the mirrors and seat, seatbelt on, start the car, foot on the brake, place it in reverse, look around reverse out of the driveway, etc…. Then while driving, there were all the rules (written and unwritten), signs, signals, other cars, pedestrians and cyclists, and above all this, a sense of direction to navigate you to your destination.


It took some time and practice, but before you knew it you could confidently handle all these variables with some focus. But something strange happens after many iterations of this same process. Can you recall a time you left work to go home or vice versa, where you reached your destination, and then don’t recall paying much or any attention to the act of driving and wondered how you got there in one piece?

This is actually a good example of the Four Stages of Learning or “Conscience Competence” developed by Noel Burch in the 70s.


The model shows that before learning begins, you are in an unconscious and incompetent state. Like a child watching an adult driver, you are not aware that you are not capable yet to drive. When you get behind the wheel the first time, you reach the next step of learning which is consciously incompetent. Here you know you are not a proficient driver yet… but you now have a choice to continue to practice the skill to take it to the next level. After some practice you become fairly comfortable at driving, but it still requires some focus for you to manage all the stimuli and variables and react accordingly. This is known in the model as being consciously competent. But after quite a bit of experience at driving… say a few years… something magical happens. You slowly start letting go of the wheel (metaphorically) .. and your mind goes into auto pilot mode. Your mind no longer needs your complete attention to manage many of the logical and physical process required to drive. You see a brake light or red traffic light ahead, and you unconsciously reach for the brake pedal. You’ve reached the unconscious competence level of learning. You can witness this as well when you’re in the passenger seat next to a driver who is a “late braker”, and you find yourself illogically pressing your foot against the floor of the car. Why is that?

Basal GangliaThat is your Basal Ganglia at work. After enough repetition of a task, the brain recognizes that it is worth automating that process and storing its pattern into the Basal Ganglia: the portion of the brain that most actively enables habitual learning and related physical memory pattern. And it does so such that the brain can instead focus on new learnings, analysis, and creative thoughts. Like thinking of a solution to a problem you faced at work while you drive home. 

This is very similar to why and how persons or collectives within a business choose to invest in automation of repetitive tasks within the team in order to free up physical or intellectual capacity for more meaningful or newer objectives.

I believe there is a lot for humans to learn by looking inward … literally. And at natural systems around them. As nature has evolved to solve many of these problems in similar ways, but at the biological, chemical or physiological level.

If so, there are likely other solutions waiting to be discovered, but for now remain stuck in my head …


Why I believe voice recognition will never be used for secure authentication…

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You know when you get those phone calls from unknown numbers where you answer, but no one on the other end responds, and it just hangs up after a few second?


Ever wonder if it’s an automated service that is recording everyone’s voice… later to be used to hack into their accounts with voice recognition used for authentication… :)


A conspiracy theory stuck in my head…

[Music] Stuck in Abe’s Head

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applemusic My first post on this blog was related to music stuck in my head. I’m a music lover at heart and intended to reserve a portion of this blog to the music currently “stuck in my head”.

To compliment this blog I’ve started an Apple Music shared playlist appropriately called… Stuck in Abe’s Head. (you’ll need to click the link from an iOS device).

The playlist will change based on what I’m currently listening to, so visit regularly or subscribe to some discover new music. Hope you enjoy it.


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Newspaper delivery kid for nursing home (lots of interesting war stories and free hard candy), Second Cup “barista”? (Wasn’t called that in the 80s), auto factory worker (experienced being part of a union), car detailer (chemicals must have knocked 5 years off my life), hotel engineer (janitor), UI designer / Tech support (experienced working for gov), entrepreneur (CEO and founder of Bottom Line Enterprises… The makers of IndyCushion: seat cushion sold at the Toronto Indy) :)

… All great memories and experiences that have shaped me in my early years, and will remain stuck in my head :)

Time and Experience… The Universal Currencies

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TimeThe phrase “Time is money” is absolutely true. More true than ever these days. Product and service based businesses looking to innovate should think in terms of time and experience currencies. How can your new product or service save people time, or provide them with an experience that is more valuable than their time?

I wonder if world currencies would ultimately be standardize to a time based currency? I think it makes sense. A local currency would be weighted based on what an amount of time is worth on average to a particular group of people.

But going back to the original thought, Human decision is ultimately time/experience based. Do I buy a coffee or wait until I get home and make one. Do I get (or make) a regular coffee which will satisfy my want, or spend more (or take the added time to make) a caramel mocha latte which will enhance my experience? Human lives are a series of these ongoing debates. Innovators are then challenged with whether they can come up with a new product or service that can shift the human balance of time and experience.

What I Learned In School

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The important life lessons school taught me…

Elementary (Grade) school taught me how to deal with bullies.

High School taught me how to deal with distractions.

University taught me how to deal with stress.

Complain and You Shall Receive

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From that extra mark on a test, to a discount on your next bill, our environment these days rewards complainers. Or punishes those that don’t.Complainer

I just received a memo from my gas provider stating that my heating protection plan is due for renewal. Along with accepting to renew I’m accepting an increase to my rate.  If I had any concerns, I needed to call in the next 10 days or my new agreement would kick in automatically.

Luckily I picked up the mail on a Friday evening and this memo was dated only a couple of days ago. My wife had taken the kids to a splash park, so I was home alone to rummage through the mail in peace. Otherwise, on a busy week, mail like this would have likely gone unopened and sat on a ledge, or worse left in the mailbox for days, until it was too late to react on.

I call and declare  I will be cancel my protection plan. A bluff of course, and I was hoping they don’t call me on it. Furnace maintenance is quite expensive and I paid the price of not having a plan in the past. But at this point I was cancelling based on principle [gulp].

After being asked why by the front line agent, I was put on hold and passed over to a “Contract Negotiation Specialist”. Yes, that was the exact title. This agent spoke without an Indian accent, and once again asked to verify all my info, which I don’t understand why I need to do this again for each agent?! But that’s another topic. I explained the situation again, firm that I’m looking to cancel my plan. My plan worked, and I was offered 20% off the current rate for 1 year. Asking if the rate will automatically go to the regular or likely raised rate next year, the agent responds… and here’s the kicker… “Just call back before the new rate kicks in and ask for a discount”. Really?

[Flashback] Recalling back to my university days. I remember the day a test would be handed back, and the hoard that formed up front around the professor after the class was dismissed. And the debates were on for the half mark here, or full mark there. Perhaps I was doing it all wrong by simply accepting the professors opinion of my answers.

So in an effort to prove my theory, I tried it with my cellular provider… same results! So that’s how the world works these days?

I’ve come to believe is that service providers are aware of this. Today’s busy schedules, preauthorized payments, and auto renewals are key to their business model. But they won’t get me! … at least not this time.