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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for November, 2009


by ~ November 30, 2009

The NYT ran an article today discussing how humans may be wired for trust. In a recent study of small children, scientists discovered that traditional views of human nature as hopelessly egocentric and fiercely competitive don’t portray the full picture. From the article:

“We’re preprogrammed to reach out,” Dr. de Waal writes. “Empathy is an automated response over which we have limited control.” The only people emotionally immune to another’s situation, he notes, are psychopaths.

Dr. Michael Tomasello, one of the researchers cited in the NYT article, explains that “we are both selfish and altruistic at the same time.” Some of the altruism in humans comes from what Tomasello describes as “shared intentionality.” Again from the article:

The shared intentionality lies at the basis of human society, Dr. Tomasello argues. From it flow ideas of norms, of punishing those who violate the norms and of shame and guilt for punishing oneself. Shared intentionality evolved very early in the human lineage, he believes, and its probable purpose was for cooperation in gathering food. Anthropologists report that when men cooperate in hunting, they can take down large game, which single hunters generally cannot do.

I’m sure this view of human nature feels intuitive to most people, but Western traditions haven’t given these ideas much play. Perhaps the current economic crisis will inspire policy makers and economists to re-evaluate the philosophical underpinnings of capitalism.

But narrowing the topic to the field I work in (digital identity and internet security), I wonder 2 things: How can we provide for shared intentionality on the Internet? And how do we also imbue applications and other non-human actors on the Internet with similar instincts?

Comments welcome!