“Amplifying Cognition is about recognizing that the human mind is the most extraordinary thing in the known universe. Yet it is capable of far more. “
– Ross Dawson
About Ross Dawson
Ross Dawson works globally as a futurist, keynote speaker, entrepreneur, and strategy advisor. He is Founding Chairman of the Advanced Human Technologies Group of companies, and is the bestselling author of five books, most recently Thriving on Overload.
What you will learn
- The metamorphosis from Thriving on Overload to Amplifying Cognition (00:31)
- How and why Amplifying Cognition became the name of the podcast (02:23)
- A glimpse of what AI is and how it can amplify humans (06:41)
- Cognitive evolution (epigenetics) through leveraging collective intelligence (10:11)
- The nature of interviews and features on this podcast (12:53)
Welcome to the launch episode of The Amplifying Cognition podcast, which is an evolution and rebirth of the Thriving on Overload podcast. I’m Ross Dawson. I’m a futurist and entrepreneur fascinated by how we can tap the incredible potential of the human mind. In this brief episode, I will share why the metamorphosis from Thriving on Overload to Amplifying Cognition, what I mean by Amplifying Cognition and where the podcast will go, the sorts of people will speak to, and the sorts of topics we’ll cover.
Thriving on Overload podcast was originally the interviews for the book. I thought I was going to be speaking to these incredible people, and rather than just having me in that conversation, capturing all of their insights for other people to listen to, and it was far more from those amazing conversations than I could fit into the book, of course. We kept on going with conversations with fascinating people that could help us to thrive in a world of unlimited information.
That’s a year and a half now that the podcast has been running. A few months ago, on the podcast, I published an episode where I had a conversation talking about my thoughts about the future of the podcast. And at the time, I said, I was considering renaming the podcast Amplifying Cognition, along with a few other possibilities, and asking for some thoughts and feedback. I spent a long time thinking about the many options to reframe the podcast. But in the end, I went with Amplifying Cognition. It’s a big decision because I expect it will be years where I will be continuing to dig into this theme.
Now that I’ve made the decision, I’m very happy because it brings together so many of the themes that I’ve been fascinated by, and worked on throughout my life really, really from when I was a child. It’s interesting now that I’m finding that the vast scope of my interest can somehow be related to this idea of Amplifying Cognition.
In this episode, once again, I’m sharing with you where the podcast is going. I’d love to get any thoughts you have to help make this podcast as interesting and useful to you as it possibly can be. Please get in touch with me directly on the contact form on my website, or any of my social media profiles.
The background to this rebranding is, first of all, I had this concept of Thriving on Overload, which was this issue that we all face; we are immersed in the world of unlimited information and our brains are not built for that so we have to build practices and how it is we engage, enhance our attention, pull together all of that information, find what’s useful, find what’s relevant, and pull that together into the frameworks that enable us to synthesize that, see opportunities better, and make better decisions. These are really fundamental skills in the world of very, very fast change.
At the end of last year, at the birth of ChatGPT and now a whole array of other generative AI tools, I found that this was just drawing me in. I’ve really been engaging with AI and how it can complement humans and how we can use that for a couple of decades in various guises. This was something where I just felt I have to dive in fully. For the last six months, the majority of my work has been around Humans plus AI, and that’s the framing. Humans plus AI and together what they can do that they cannot do individually.
The Thriving on Overload theme is still very important to me and I was looking for how do I combine these two ideas of Thriving on Overload, and Humans plus AI and that’s where Amplifying Cognition comes as this umbrella concept, which includes Thriving on Overload, which is about our individual thinking and how we can improve that and Humans plus AI, which is around how it is we can use technologies to enhance our capabilities and what we can do.
Broadly, this idea of Amplifying Cognition is recognizing that the human mind is the most extraordinary thing in the known universe. Yet it is capable of far more. It is in a different environment that our minds exist now, with not just challenges but also massive opportunities to be able to amplify our thinking, the way we take information, make sense of that, and create the things which we want. There are a number of themes around individuals, organizations, and humanity. We’re starting with individual cognition. How it is we can each think better?
I think there’s this idea of human technologies. My first company was called Advanced Human Technologies and that was really around this idea of how it is, the technology is not in terms of information technologies, per se, but the ones, the tools or the techniques or the approaches that can enable us to think better. This includes having better mental models, having effective thinking structures, the practices that can improve our attention, or our thinking or ways of working, essentially the ways in which we can improve how we interface with information.
However, on top of that, we have AI, with generative AI being an extraordinary tool, where we can do things better, find what it is that humans do best, amplify our capabilities in those, and look at what AI can do the best and weave these together into a workflow. You’ll be finding and hearing about some of the other things which I’m doing in that space in terms of being able to build effective Humans plus AI workflow.
But there are also other technologies, and thinking tools as a whole new software category. We have tools, of course, such as Obsidian and Roam and Tana and Notion and others, and a whole new array of those that are AI-enabled. These are all ways in which individually, we can think better, make sense of the world, be able to make better decisions. Part of this is in what I was trying as well to weave into this idea is that it’s not just cognition or thinking, it is around our intent.
AI can amplify us. But well, what is it amplifying us in doing? So this comes back to one of the other ideas I had for the name of the podcast, which was Amplifying Intent. What is it that you want to achieve? What is your intention, and how it is we can amplify that? And ultimately, it is through our thinking, and using AI and these other tools to be able to build that ability to achieve what it is that is worthwhile, create value for ourselves and others.
The second frame is around organizations. Karl Weick, back in the 1990s talked about organizational sensemaking. I think that’s a really important metaphor or analogy that essentially, organizations have cognition, they have information coming in at them, they filter that, they make sense of that, and they make decisions as a result. Essentially, an organization is an analog for the human mind. We can think about how is it can organizations filter information better, to be able to find the right information, the signals, for example, that will shape their industries, and from that, be able to make sense of the world, what is their position, what is their opportunity, what are the initiatives that will take them to their vision and mission.
One of the other key themes around decision making, where I look at decisions around a whole array of levels and organizations, and the low-level ones, of course, can be completely automated, delegated to AI, hopefully, with sufficient oversight, that there we don’t have a bias or other aspects of those decisions going awry. But we need to move to the higher bigger order decisions, often in strategy, where essentially, AI is a tool. These are humans’ decisions. These are decisions that humans must make. Boards and executive teams are responsible for strategic decision-making, which are the most complex work decisions that they can make, and in incredibly uncertain circumstances in an accelerating world.
Two themes that I’m working on. One is the strategic decision-making and how that’s assisted by both AI and better decision-making tool approaches and tools and techniques for these small groups and hopefully, broader groups as incorporating the strategic thinking and capabilities across the organization, but also in institutional investment decision-making. Again, of course, we have algorithmic trading, which is completely delegated to AI. But these are some of the most important decisions that can be made because of the 400 trillion odd of capital in the world, that is often misallocated, and if we can improve the way in which capital is allocated, just even a little bit, that can make a massive difference to our fortunes as society and humanity. A lot of my work and a lot of interest is delving deep as possible into how we can improve strategic and investment decision-making, in particular, through the use of AI and other tools.
Finally thinking about humanity, where the last chapter of my book, Thriving on Overload was essentially about cognitive evolution. Our brains are evolving, they must evolve. This is not so much Darwinian evolution, which takes longer time spans. But through epigenetics, where our genes are expressed in different ways, depending on our environment, essentially, our brains are evolving. We can observe that some people’s cognition is devolving, it’s getting worse, because they’re getting sucked into the attention-hijacking that is the nature of our world today.
We do have a choice, we don’t necessarily have to have our cognition going backward. I think that unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are going that way, and we need to do whatever we can to support them. But we can positively evolve our cognition and thinking. This has to be around evolution. This is a critical juncture. This is a time when we can actually evolve our thinking, our cognition, and who we are as the human race. This, of course, includes the extended mind when we can become cyborgs in whatever sense, including the artificial intelligence plus humans together, evolving and becoming more sophisticated, more able to make better decisions.
This becomes a world where we look at collective intelligence, which is a theme for decades I’ve been looking at and delving into and working on, amongst other things in my 2002 book, Living Networks, looking at how the networks are coming alive, and how we are becoming part of a higher order life form. The collective intelligence that we’ve observed over the last decade has not always been in a positive direction. But there are opportunities to amplify the cognition of the human race, collectively, and to build the platforms for true collective intelligence, and possibly, collective wisdom.
This is all ultimately about amplifying humans, and who we can be. What is it possible to be as a human? We’re using the minds, this most extraordinary thing, which we’re just beginning to understand. We have incredible understanding down to the quantum level and beyond. We have an incredible understanding of the cosmos. Yet, the thing right in the middle, which is our brain, we have relatively little understanding, it’s advancing rapidly, and we are understanding more about our brains, but now we can be on the frontier of the science of amplifying our cognition, our thinking, and who we are.
I’ll be speaking to some incredible people who are on that journey, amplifying themselves, and helping organizations to do that, on broader missions for collective intelligence and beyond. Please, I’d love to have you on the journey with us as we go through that. Let me know any thoughts, or any input you have, to be able to make this as useful and valuable to you as possible. This is intended to be fun and interesting, fascinating and useful. I’ll look forward to engaging with you along the way.