Singularity Summit 2012
For more transcripts, videos and audio of Singularity Summit talks visit intelligence.org/singularitysummit
Speaker: Temple Grandin
Transcriber(s): Ethan Dickinson and Jeremy Miller
Temple Grandin: ...what I want to get you think about is how different kinds of people think. I'll be talking about different kinds of minds. When I was really young, I thought everybody thought the same way. I didn't know that some people think differently. I'm an extreme visual thinker, I'm going to be talking a little more about that.
If you want to understand animals, autism, art, and mathematics, you've got to get away from verbal language. Our educational system today has kind of been taken over totally by the verbal language people. They don't test kids for visual-spatial thinking anymore. There's a lot of kids out there that are kind of different, that are some of our really bright thinkers.
An animal's world is totally sensory-based. It's not language-based. I want to get you thinking about a world that is not based in verbal language. Animals think in vision. They think in smells. They think in touch. Think about how much information a dog gets off a local fire hydrant. He knows who's been there, when they were there. They are definitely not a verbal thinker.
There's evidence in human beings, especially when they get frontal temporal lobe dementia, that as the language parts of the brain get destroyed, visual thinking can come out. Sometimes mathematical thinking comes out. I read an interesting article about a guy who got a head injury at the back of his head, and he started doing all kinds of mathematical things.
When van Gogh painted Starry Night, I don't think he realized that he was putting mathematical patterns into Starry Night. I mean, van Gogh didn't know anything about mathematics. But he was painting mathematics.
I've been reading some very interesting things about fractal patterns in the brain, mathematical patterns of how the different brain cells are laid out and developed. I think mathematics is going to be the basis of how DNA works.
I don't know how many of you heard about the ENCODE project. Only about 5% of our DNA is the coding DNA. All the rest of the DNA, they used to call it "junk DNA." The ENCODE project has found that about 80% of that actually gets transcribed and read. It's actually going to do something. I never believed in junk DNA. When I was a graduate student in the 80s I thought junk DNA was ridiculous. I thought "Wait a minute, that DNA has got to have an operating system, something's got to tell the coding DNA what to do, that's going to be all the stuff they used to call the junk DNA."
Then it folds back on itself, it may be all mathematical. You can have a regulatory gene in the non-coding DNA that controls coding DNA, and they're not next to each other, but you got to fold the whole gene with all of them up, that probably has something to do with how it works.
The thing is, the normal brain tends to ignore the details. When I was a young child, I was a very very severely autistic child, no speech until age four, I had a lot of really good early therapy. The autistic brain tends to just go for the details. It's bottom-up thinking, rather than top-down. Looking at details, the normal mind tends to drop out the details. Well there's a lot of details that are really important that you don't want to drop out.
When I first started my work with animal handling, I noticed that the cattle were afraid of a lot of things that people tending to not see, like at this particular place, the cattle did not want to go up the handling facility. The problem is, they were afraid of the flag waving, but most people didn't see the flag. Sometimes the most obvious is the least obvious. To a visual thinker like me, it was absolutely, totally obvious. I'd get down in the chute and see, "What are those cattle actually seeing?" Nobody thought to do that before.
Here's an animal avoiding a streak of light. Look at how that animal's just locked right on that streak of light. Another time of day, the streak of light's not going to be there. Then I have a slide I show all my students, and I say, "I have been talking about animal handling for the last 40 years, and why do I still have to talk about chains hanging down in chutes wiggling and dangling? Because people are not taking them out. They're not seeing it." And when I was young I used to call it stupidity. It wasn't stupidity, it was not seeing it. Now I realize there's different kinds of minds and how people see things.
I'd get down in that chute, and I'd see what they were seeing. On a sunny day, you've got shadows, and those shadows can scare the cattle. On a cloudy day, you're not going to have the shadows. You can see people through the fence, you can see cars driving by. You get rid of those distractions, then the cattle walk right up the chute.
Look at how the horse and a zebra have an ear on each other. When you look at that picture and I point it out, that seems so obvious. But it took a long time to figure that out. The other ear is pointed at me. Horses and cattle will watch with their ears. Yeah, you point it out now you go, "Well duh, that was so obvious." But most people don't see that. I now have checklists that I give my students to help them see these things.
I always get asked, "Do they know they're going to get slaughtered?" Don't worry, I'm not going to show any gross slaughter pictures. If you want to see how my slaughter plant equipment works, you can go on YouTube and type in "Temple Grandin beef plant video tour," and you will find out how it works. I've got lots of stuff up on YouTube. But the big question everybody asks is, "Does that [xx] steer right there know he's going to get slaughtered?" I've found they behave the same way at the slaughterhouse as they behaved at the farm. No, they're afraid of things like there's a chain hanging down, there's a shadow.
One thing that's good in that picture is you've got light-translucent panels in the steel tunnel, and so they'll see light, they don't like going into the dark. But there's another problem in this picture, that about half my students do not see. There's three people standing in the wrong place. These are not totally tame cattle, they're going to tend to balk at those people, you've got to get the people out of the way. They're more worried about that than getting slaughtered.
Sometimes the most obvious is the least obvious. This is the remains of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. I get very interested in these things, and I read lots of articles. I fly all the time, so what do I do on those airplanes? I buy like four newspapers, take them on the plane, watch all the TV stuff, read stuff on the internet. I wanted to find out why the Fukushima nuclear power plant blew up. Three or four nuclear reactors reached containment, you're talking totally bad here.
When I found out, I almost couldn't believe it. It was something so obvious to the visual thinker like me, I couldn't believe it. I can't design a nuclear reactor. But maybe I better do their safety systems. It's not a very good idea, when you live next to the sea – you've got a 30-foot sea wall, but up on the hill there's a granite plaque that was put there a hundred years ago, that's higher up than the sea wall, and it says "Don't forget. The water comes up this high."
And then, you take your emergency generators, very important emergency generators that run the emergency cooling pump that prevents the reactors from burning down, and you put them in a basement, and you don't think watertight doors are necessary. Well, the generators all flooded. Any farmer can tell you, diesel's, even when they're the size of semi-trucks, they don't work underwater. They drowned their emergency pumps and their emergency generators.
That's a mistake I would never make. Because if I had visited that plant, I would have walked around here and I would have looked at the sea wall and I would have gone "Well, if the water comes over the sea wall, all they've got here is a little building with louvers," you know that ventilate the generator, [xx] can see the louvers busting out, they painted everything baby blue, so they'd be baby blue louvers, I'm seeing them smashing out, the water coming in, and the generators are now underwater. And if I was some Japanese engineer I'd go "I'm in a lot of trouble now," I don't know what the Japanese swear words are, but they'd be saying them, because they're now in so much trouble it's not funny.
You mathematicians and computer guys can design a reactor. But being a visual thinker, I can think of all the different ways to break this thing, to visualize all the ways that it could go wrong, what could I do to prevent a problem? See the thing is, this is not a nuclear reactor problem, this was a lack of visual thinking problem is what it was. This is why we need to have the mathematicians and the computer scientists working together with people like me, which are the industrial designers. Industrial designers are the visual thinking people, mathematicians are the math kind of people, and we need to work together on projects to prevent these kinds of problems.
Everything I think about is like Google for pictures in my head. [image of line-drawing of a boy with gears turning in the back of his head] This is a picture that a young autistic boy sent to me to show how he sees movies in his head. And the HBO movie "Temple Grandin" showed very clearly how I think in pictures in my head. I used to think everybody thought in pictures. I didn't know that most people don't think in pictures, until I started questioning a lot of people.
So I started asking people questions about how they think. I said, "Think about a church steeple. How does it come into your mind?" And I was shocked to find out that most people see this vague, generalized, generic steeple. I asked this question to a bunch of people last night, they were computer science and math kind of people, and most of them just saw the generic steeple. If I ask you your own home, or your own car, most people can see that, but when I ask you something that you don't own, but you see them every day, people tend to get this vague image, unless I force you to think about something specific.
Now I only see specific ones, and they flash up into my mind just as a series of images. I can see childhood ones, I can put them in categories. I can see local ones in Fort Collins, Colorado where I live. I can see famous ones. But the thing is, they're all specific. My concept of what a steeple is, is based on specific steeples put in a steeple file folder.
OK now you want cell phone towers? Well there's a lot of different cell phone towers, there's palm trees, there's silos, there's fake windmills, they make them look like all kinds of crazy stuff. There's the ones just on big posts, like we have on I-25. I see specific ones. And I’ve even read about church steeples getting rented out for cell phones, as long as they've got wood ones, they can put the transmitters inside. But you see, I'm seeing specific. It's bottom-up rather than top-down.
To make my kind of thinking really work well, I've got to read a lot of stuff, I've got to do a whole lot different things, in order to fill up my database with pictures. [image of Westminster Abbey] There's another famous one.
I asked an astrophysicist professor about what he saw, and he saw an abstract motion of people singing and praying. It was pattern thinking, it wasn't visual thinking. There's two kinds of visual-spatial thinking, and I'm going to be coming out with a new book called "The Autistic Brain," where I'm going to be showing all the scientific data, and it shows that there's a photo-realistic visual thinker like me, and then there's the more mathematical, computer programmer type of mind, that thinks in patterns.
Visual thinking was a gigantic asset in my work designing livestock handling facilities, because I could test run equipment in my mind. I thought everybody can test-run equipment in their minds. When I was young and I was stupid, I would call other people stupid because they couldn't see this. No, I can't do the mathematics but they need me to do the visualization.
You might wonder "Why make it curved?" Because as the cattle come on around the bend, they think they're going back to where they come from.
There's an aerial view of the dipping bath facility they built for the movie. Oh man, the geek side of me just loved the fact they duplicated all my projects, I was really really happy about that. Because I'm seeing a lot of young kids, kind of quirky and different, get a lot of labels and things like that, we need to reach out to them in middle school and high school and show them all the interesting stuff that's around.
Since I was really weird as a kid, the only way that I could sell my work was to show off my drawings. Show off my drawings and then people took me seriously, they go "Oh, you drew that?" Oh and we actually have a really good projector here, I really appreciate that. You can actually see how nice the drawing is, because in a lot of places they have a really horrible projector. There's another one of my drawings.
I noticed a really weird thing happening when the meat industry went from doing drawings by hand to doing drawings on computers. This is one of my curved cattle-handling facilities, you can see how it's three half-circles laid out along a line, that's my cattle-handling facility. I have to teach my students how to look at the lines and then look at the real thing. How do you relate the lines to the actual, real object?
That's something I had to train myself how to do. I can remember back in the 70s taking the drawings for the big Swift plant, tallest in Arizona, and walking around with the drawings, and seeing the circle on the drawing is a water tower. And then a little square thing on the drawing was a concrete post that held up the building. I had to learn how to relate the drawing to the actual thing.
Then, when the industry switched from doing them by hand to doing them on computers, I started seeing strange mistakes on drawings. Like the center of the circle was not in the center of the circle. I caught these mistakes from every single major meat company. Gates that wouldn't swing right. They never used a compass, they didn't think to swing the gates. Alley widths that were wrong. They just weren't seeing their drawings.
I went out and I visited Pixar, and we talked about this problem, about are you seeing the things that you're drawing. The thing is people have to touch to perceive, they still do some hand drawing. But now that you've got 3D printers, you can print out the little cartoon characters. And where do the people have their little cartoon characters? They have them right around where their computer mouse is so they can touch them.
I had a chance to go down to the University of California, a computer 3D printing lab, oh that was cool. The thing I thought was so cool is that you can buy a machine for $2500, maybe $3500, that a high school could use. So you could draw things, in stuff like SketchUp, which is now owned by Sumpirical [?], take a computer-aided drafting program, and you could print out things. I could ask you to take your little dip vat drawing that's done in SketchUp and I could print it out on the 3D printer. That 3D printer's only the cost of one major league football uniform.
I want kids to realize there's more in life than sports and video games. I'm seeing too many really smart kids, and they're getting so addicted to video games they're not doing anything else. They're not learning how to program. That's not a good thing.
Lots of kids, they get a lot of labels. They get "autism," they get called "dyslexic," "ADHD," or maybe "oppositional defiant" or some other really crazy label. Nothing's being done to develop their strengths. These kids often have uneven skills, good at one thing, bad at something else. Here's a picture in perspective that a nine-year-old drew. Most nine-year-olds don't do drawings in perspective.
We need to build up on drawing. I was very good at drawing, my ability in art was always encouraged. You've got to build up on the talent area. What I do, the livestock, is industrial design. In the universities we need to be taking the industrial design departments and merging them together with engineering. We need to have those two kinds of things working together.
A lot of these kids, they'll get fixated on something like trains, well then teach you math with trains. Teach reading with trains. Use that fixation to motivate that kid, that's what you want to do.
The problem you have with something like the autism spectrum, is the diagnosis is not precise. At one end of the spectrum you've got kids that remain non-verbal, they're very handicapped, they're not going to be working in Silicon Valley. And then at the other end of the spectrum – I met people last night that I know are on the spectrum – and they've got good jobs in Silicon Valley.
Einstein had no speech until age four. He'd be labeled "autistic" today. What would happen to little Albert in today's school system? How about Steve Jobs? There's a Businessweek article about Steve, a weird loner who brought snakes to school, I guess he turned them loose in his elementary school classroom. He was teased and bullied, that was me. That was the worst part of my life. And the only places I was not teased and bullied was at specialized activities. Horseback riding, electronics, and then I was really into model rockets.
I used to joke around that I had a huge Internet trunk line that went deep into my visual cortex. There's this DTI imaging, shows big interstate freeways in the brain, yes, and I do have a big interstate trunk line. And I've got an even bigger one here [gestures to forehead]. But then I had another scan done that looked at my ventricles, the fluid-filled ventricles, and my math department's just trashed. It's just full of spinal fluid.
I don't have a very good math department. But boy have I got a good graphics card. My analynal [sp] cortex is bigger, the other thing that's bigger was my fear center, that was three times bigger. I've been on antidepressants for the last almost 40 years now, because they had to damp back the fear. A lot of us visual thinkers, some of the mathematicians, are really nervous. A little dab of Prozac, well...
I have a really good friend, that actually made some of my cattle-handling slides, and she got laid off, and she got on drugs and alcohol and died. I have other friends that have taken Prozac and that's what's keeping them off of drugs and alcohol, but just little tiny doses. If you're interested in that, you might want to read the chapter in "Thinking in Pictures" called "A Believer in Biochemistry." There's a place for medication, and there's way too much medication given out to kids like candy, that's just terrible.
Another kind of mind is the mathematics mind. This is not my mind. [image of origami praying mantis] That praying mantis is made out of a single sheet of folded paper. And there's no cutting, and no tearing, and no taping allowed, and what you see in the background, that is the folding pattern. That's the mathematical mind, and I think a lot of people in here have that kind of mind. It's not my mind. This uses a different part of the brain than the photo-realistic mind.
This is probably one of my most important slides. There's people that get different labels, and these labels are not precise diagnoses. In fact right now the psychiatric association's fighting over changing Asperger's, which is mild autism, to "Social Communication Disorder."
The problem you have with the whole Asperger and autism continuum, is at the one end you have Einstein, Steve Jobs. At the other end you've got people that really are going to need a lot of specialized services. A lot of special educators, they know how to work with the more severe kids, but they don't know what to do with the smart kind of Asperger kid or ADHD kid, or maybe one that got labeled oppositional-defiant. Those kids need to get exposed to interesting things.
I think in photo-realistic pictures. Algebra was totally impossible. One of the mistakes made in my education is we didn't go to geometry. Algebra is not the prerequisite for geometry, geometry was invented first. I tried to take computer programming. In fact I had access to the exact same computer terminal that Bill Gates had in 1968, an IBM teletype terminal. It was free, I had tutors. I couldn't do it. That's just not my kind of mind. I got a line the other day and looked up a programming course and I couldn't even get past the first lesson. It's not my kind of mind. But you're going to need my kind of mind, on some of these singularity projects.
Then you've got the verbal thinkers that are good at writing. Some people are really good at talking.
Let's look at some examples of things we need to get together. Industrial design, engineering, needs to get together. Let's look at Apple. Steve Jobs was an artist. He was an industrial designer. He had to work with the engineers to make the insides of the phone, and there was a little clash here with the iPhone 4 on the antenna problem, it kind of disobeyed a rule of antenna design.
In a lot of my books, I've worked with co-writers, because I need help in organizing my ideas, I'm an associative thinker, I like to go across disciplines, get ideas from lots of different places, I need someone to help me organize them.
Let's talk about some of the things where I get worried about computers controlling it. Let's look at the Stuxnet virus that our government and the Israeli government put into the Iranian centrifuges and they told them to spin so fast until they broke. Those are run off a Simon's Industrial controller. Simon's Industrial controller is in many power plants. You know how they got the Stuxnet virus into that thing even though it was isolated from the internet? A flash drive. They tricked somebody to take a flash drive in there and plug it into a computer. I think of when computers get as smart as us, there'd better be an off switch that cannot be overwritten.
Let's look at some other things that I really get worried about computers totally controlling. There was a horrible accident with a cancer therapy machine that accidentally overdosed people with too much radiation, because a computer screwed up. Well maybe some mechanical engineering should have been done on that cancer therapy machine to make it mechanically impossible for it to overdose somebody. That was really bad design.
In yesterday's New York Times, the Secretary of Defense Panetta discussed about problems of hackers getting in and maybe crashing the power grid. I think there's certain critical equipment like generators, water pumps, things like this, where they'd better have some controls on there that are hack-proof. So if it runs too fast, it gets too hot, or it gets too much pressure, it shuts off. I know how to make the old 50's type of controls, old-fashioned governor spins too fast, shuts down. Hacker-proof. There's certain things where you need the visual thinker to say, "We've got to put something on that generator that if it spins too fast maybe the old governor with the little balls, it spins faster and when the balls get up to a certain point they hit a switch, and it shuts down the main disconnect switch."
I was thinking last night, really thinking last night after reading an article in the New York Times about how we design some things in a power plant so the generator would not be destroyed by something telling it to spin too fast, or if it's a boiler to get too much pressure then it blows up. So you put a pressure-relief valve on there, that's strictly mechanical engineering, it's hacker-proof. It's not going to have a computer have anything to do with it. Or they can mess around with the displays, hack in so the displays of the control room are giving you wrong stuff. Well, I'm kind of glad that in the big airplane they still have the old-fashioned compass sitting up there on the dashboard of the plane. It's hacker-proof.
I'm not being some Luddite, but the thing is I was horrified when I found out why the nuclear power plant blew up. Then let's look at the BP oil rig thing. Well they did all this stupid little safety cosmetics, they'd done a really good job of stopping slips and falls. And then they had the whole thing blow up. You know why it blew up? They were shorting on materials. They were cutting corners on the cementing.
I had breakfast with a friend of the company that did the pressure tests on... You know, cattle industry, oil industry, they're close together. Cattle, raised around oil rigs, so the people tend to socialize together. And I found out that that pressure test company had evacuated a day early. They knew it was going to blow up. They chartered a helicopter to come out early, they didn't wait for the regular helicopter, "Get off that rig now." And those pressure tests were bad. They were ignoring the really important stuff.
Just to show you, there's different ways to do mathematics. There's a verbal way, and there's a visual-spatial way. I think the visual-spatial thinking is kind of getting ignored in the schools.
So how do you form a concept? When I have all these specific pictures floating around in my mind. Well I take cats and put them in one file, put dogs in another file. Maybe in the future we'll cross cats and dogs, we'll have to make a new category for that. But everything is based on sensory-based specific categories. It's totally specific.
A dog will form categories, like "When I'm on the leash, I protect my owner, and when I'm off the leash I can go play." Animals form these kind of categories all the time. And I think if you make a computer that's really smart, it's going to think more like an animal. You might want to read "Thinking in Pictures," you might want to read my book "Animals in Translation," and you might want to read Daniel Tammet's book "Born on a Blue Day."
Because one of the problems you have with people with autism, and I think we're going to have this with some artificial intelligence things, is black-and-white thinking. We've got to show them that there's some other categories, where it isn't quite such black-and-white thinking.
The dog and some things do some stuff really dumb. I have a really good friend and her husband's a cattle truck driver, and when he's sleeping at a truckstop in his sleeper, and some robber comes in to try to rip him off while he's sleeping, his dog will just bite the crap out of that person. If that dog is in the cab, it protects that truck. So when it goes to the maintenance shop, you know what the maintenance shop guys do? They call the dog out of the cab and put it in the office, then it's all friendly. The dog doesn't have enough association cortex to know, "My master's truck could get ripped off and stolen while I'm in the office." Dog doesn't quite put two and two together on that. "In the cab, I protect, out of the cab, I'm friendly."
Horses and cattle do the same thing. Cattle that have only been handled on horseback will be really gentle, and then when they see their first man on foot they're freaking out and panicking. Think about it. Man on foot, man on horse, it's a different picture.
Think about a vacuum cleaner. A lot of people just kind of stay in the vacuum cleaner file. I saw my elementary school play. How did I get from vacuum cleaner to my elementary school play? Because when I was in elementary school, they had this scary vacuum cleaner, it was a giant trash can with a giant bag. I was sure it was going to eat me up when I was five years old. And they kept it in the closet where the school play was. That's how I'm putting "vacuum cleaner" together with "school play." There is an association. That's kind of how a search engine works, a lot people that make search engines I think are on the spectrum, and they're making them in their own image.
I find on a lot of problems with things, that people have difficulty categorizing it. With a piece of equipment, do I have a problem with training the people, or is there something wrong with the design of the equipment? Categorizing problems so that you can fix problems. That's easy for me. So where'd I get that?
BP? Boy, they had lots of safety rules. [slide says "Lids required on coffee cups. Holding the handrail on the stairs to prevent falls."] But they forgot about the important stuff. Real important stuff was just totally forgotten about, and that sure ended up being an expensive mess, loss of life, terrible mess.
The thing is, both animals and people with autism are bottom-up thinkers, not top-down. Everything I learn, people ask like "How did you learn what rude behavior is?" I learned what rude behavior was by specific examples. If I told Mrs. Jones she was ugly and fat, mother would say to me "That's rude, don't tell Mrs. Jones that." If I stuck my tongue out at somebody at the grocery store, mother would say "That's rude." It's by specific example, using teachable moments. Everything's learned by specific examples. It's bottom-up, not top-down.
The thing about bottom-up thinking is it's easier to put information into categories, but to make bottom-up thinking really work well, you've got to get out and see so much stuff. I tell people, "Travel's a great educator," because in order for my visual thinking to work, I've got to have pictures in the database, and to have pictures in the database, I have to have read a lot of stuff, and traveled and seen a lot of different stuff.
The different kinds of minds, they need to be working together. When different minds work together, they can really complement each other. And I think on any kind of singularity thing, I really think we better make sure we have an off-switch. Remember the scene in HAL, HAL the computer got disconnected? I actually cried during that scene when they disconnected HAL. It was really pretty sad. But they were able to open up a panel and disconnect HAL. HAL hadn't locked the panel closed.
Good teachers, I had a fantastic science teacher, and I think one of the things we need to be doing, is to tap into a lot of retirees, get them into the schools. We've got to reach out to middle school kids. That's when we've got to hook kids. If you wait until community college, then it's too late.
We've got to be telling schools about wonderful things like Udacity, free computer-programming classes, Coursera, Khan Academy, MOOC, massive online learning, Stanford free classes. I have a slide of that that I show in my autism meetings. I go out to Kansas, and people say, "Well there's nothing interesting to show the kids in Kansas," I go "Yeah there is, there's feed yards." That's where I got started, I thought they were really, really interesting.
It doesn't matter if the retired person teaches a child about carburetors, or some old-fashioned thing like that, or teaches them some ancient old IBM language. Because what you're doing is you're turning the kid on, that's what you're doing.
Another thing we need to reach out to these kids is decent internet access. Internet access in rural areas is absolutely disgusting. You cannot play a YouTube video in rural Kansas. The satellite access is a joke. I've been there. That's something that needs to get fixed.
I'm very concerned that our education system's failing the mathematics thinker and the visual thinker. When you've got a little third-grader that's really good at math, there's sort of this PC correctness that everybody ought to be totally the same. What you ought to be doing with that kid, if that third-grader needs a high school math book he should be given a high school math book. But he may need special ed in reading. The pattern tends to be, the little math geniuses often have problems with reading. But we need to build up on that ability.
This is an old slide, but even years ago people in the sciences were worried about visual-spatial thinking being overlooked. I think it's a shame so many schools have taken out the hands-on classes. I learned to do embroidery in third grade. I was the second girl in my school to get into wood shop. Those were some of my favorite classes – art.
The other thing about the hands-on classes, they give you practical problem-solving skills. Auto mechanics shop, welding. Let's look at places where there's shortages of jobs. We don't have enough electricians. We don't have enough computer scientists with a dual major in electrical engineering and computer science. We need to be merging these majors together.
The Defense Department needs you. Next spy satellites? Well they're going to be the next Google Maps, what do you think Google Maps was originally? It's just the old spy satellites that are declassified. Those companies need U.S.-born engineers, that don't have any drug offenses, that haven't gone to weird websites that are bad. They really need them.
What drives me absolutely crazy is to come to a meeting like this – I've met people here that I know are on the spectrum that are doing great. Then I go to an autism meeting in Kansas, and junior comes up to me, he's twelve years old, and all he wants to do is talk about his autism. In other words, his fixation, instead of being mathematics or something like that, is now autism. Or it's video games. A lot of these kids are ending up on Social Security playing video games. So like one geek goes to Hollywood – been there, talked to those people – one geek goes to Silicon Valley, and another one goes to Social Security playing video games. That's not a good place for them to be going. That's really, really bad.
Autism becomes defining who they are. I have these sciatic nerve problems. I don't go up to people and say, "I'm a sciatic." I don't want to talk to you about my sciatica. There's great exercises on Google, and if you have sciatic problems you'd better start doing the exercises before your nerves are wrecked. That's what I did. I'll give you that little hint.
This is the stuff that saved me as a kid. [slide says "Art class was my salvation in elementary school. Carpentry and horses saved me in high school."]
You can also get sensory problems, some people have sensory problems. Sound sensitivity, touch sensitivity, visual sensitivity problems. When I was a kid loud sounds hurt my ears. I told all the autism researchers, "You've got to be doing research on treating these sensory problems." I know people that can't tolerate a normal office, they can't tolerate a noisy restaurant. We've got to figure out how to help these problems.
Another thing is attention shifting. A lot of these people that are quirky and different, they're going to need a quiet place to work. They just can't work with a noisy place, cubicles with the noise going all over the place.
Some individuals, they go to read, the print jiggles on the page. I had a student who had this problem. I am finding 1 out of 50 students in my livestock handling class have this problem. These students absolutely cannot draw. There's a simple way to fix this. Colored paper, laptops and tablets, those would be the screens that you'd use, and another thing is maybe try some colored glasses, like some pink glasses, some light lavender glasses, things like this. I have a lot more information on this in "Thinking in Pictures" and "The Way I See It" book.
I've seen too many quirky, talented kids going nowhere. Silicon Valley needs to reach out to middle schools, and we need to reach out, not just around here, but out into the hinterlands. I'm seeing lots of brilliant kids. The problem is, is that the educators in special ed, they know how to deal with the more severe kids, but then I'm seeing smart kids, kids much milder than me, and they sort of get a handicap mentality, because they have to be stretched. I'm seeing kids that don't know how to order a hamburger at McDonald's. They don't know how to shake hands, they come up to me at the book table and they can't shake hands. You've got to teach them these things. The thing about the Asperger and the autistic mind, they've got to be taught all the social things.
Before the economy crashed, our top math graduates were going and working for banks and things like that, working for investment companies. You might be interested to know that the guy that was the leader of the ENCODE project was dyslexic, and almost ended up working for an investment bank, playing around with computers to wreck the economy, because it was [sarcastically] kind of fun.
Isn't it good that he went to work on the ENCODE project. That's what we need to be doing with our most talented, not have them do computer algorithms to mess up the stock market.
We've got to get back to doing real things in this country. We're spending more money in this country fighting over patents than we are making patents. That's crazy. The only way to stay ahead is you've got to just stay ahead. I find the verbal thinkers, they tend to want to guard all the intellectual property. I just go, "Let's just make up more stuff." Obviously when I have things under development, I keep it confidential. But basically what you've got to do is you've got to stay ahead.
Because I have found with the clients I've worked with – and I don't think the meat industry is that different from other industries. I remember going to this one plant I had to sign like six papers that I wouldn't tell anything about their plant. I had to give the drawings back, I'd never done that before. It was the crappiest, old set of obsolete garbage. The secret is, is that the people who get real secretive, the secret is, it's obsolete. I get worried about too much of this whole export control stuff, because we're going to be just guarding a bunch of obsolete stuff.
We're losing $80 billion a year to patent trolls. Come on, we need to be making up patents. That's what we need to be doing. How do we make stuff?
What is $80 billion? I like to look at it from a visual thinker's standpoint. I think if we did that, started looking at things from a visual thinker's standpoint, maybe we'd think about the budget more rationally. I could build 16 beautiful Denver airports for the amount of money that the patent trolls are wasting and sapping out of the tech industry. That's like, wow. We've got to get back to getting our best and our brightest doing real stuff.
Another problem I'm seeing right now in Washington, D.C. is you're getting people that come out of college, they've got a degree in Public Administration. You can actually get a degree in bureaucracy... I don't know, I have problems with that. About 15 years ago, somebody gave me this sign and stuck it on the wall in my office, I still have it. It says "Administratium: the heaviest element known to man." It's the heaviest element known to man because it's totally inert and it reacts with nothing.
Temple: We've got to get back to doing some real things.
I thought this was awful, that the head of 3M is moving R&D offshore because he can't find enough kids in this country interested in doing a lot of scientific stuff. They're here, they're just not going down the right path. We're getting a very rigid view of what kids have to do to pass tests. We've taken hands-on classes out, there's a lot of hands-on ways to teach math. Not good.
I think it's time in this country, we better take this guy's down there on balls street – "balls street," I don't want to call it "balls street." We need to take this guy [slide shows bronze Wall Street bull statue] and we need to grab him by the horns, we need to grab him somewhere else, and we've got to get back in this country to doing actual real things. That's what we've got to be doing.
Man 1: [xx 38:28 through 38:37]
Temple: His question was about buying meat that was humanely raised. A lot of people assume that big operations are bad. Big is not the problem, the problem is "badly managed" is bad. You can have badly managed small, you can have badly managed big. A lot of the equipment I've designed is for the big slaughter plants, and the problems I'm finding now, I'm seeing problems coming into the slaughter plant that are caused by the farm.
For example, Central Valley Meats [sp] and the Westland Hallmark [sp], these were half-dead dairy cows. Dairies were milking cows until they were half-dead, then bringing them into the plant and you can't handle them very well. That problem's going to have to be solved back at the farm.
The USDA's gotten a lot more strict on the slaughter plants, there's been a lot of improvements, the Central Valley Meats thing, make another crackdown there. Also companies like McDonald's actually inspect plants to make sure that they're doing things right.
Cargill and the JBS Company [sp] have video cameras where auditors outside the Internet are watching and seeing what they're doing. That's not a government program, it's industry program.
Man 1: [xx 39:47]
Temple: You need to find out where it's coming from. That's what you need to do. You can look on the packages, you'll see an establishment number. If it's from a big company, that'll give you the slaughterhouse, if it's from a smaller company it may give you the meat cut up room, rather than the slaughterhouse.
I think the more people that ask, it's going to help the industry to change. Because I'm interested in improving the industry. In 1999 I worked on implementing the McDonald's audits, and everything used to just be broken, before 1999 they just let all the equipment break. It was very frustrating, I'd build stuff that was nice and people would just tear it up and wreck it. Totally frustrating.
Man 2: Temple, first thank you very much for the very insightful talk. I've found personally that there are a ton of creative kids I grew up with, and at every step along the way, from our educational system, to parental training... we're constantly veered toward taking a safe route. I know when I chose to go to Carnegie Mellon for computer science rather than to go to Penn for finance, everyone's like, "Well finance is where the money is, you've got to be where the money is."
Temple: Not necessarily. You need to be where you can do the most good, because I'll tell you I've made money with my books and I've taken that money and I've supported graduate students. I've got five Ph.D.s I've supported, I've got three more Ph.D.s in animal behavior. Because I want to try to do things that do the most good. I want to make a living, but I'm just not into it for the most money, and I'm glad you went to computer science school and not into finance.
Man 2: Even to this day I have to challenge the parents of the kids I grew up with about my choices, and I think on a broad scale, the kids of today who would be valuable if, all of you in the audience on the younger side, if you're about to have kids or already do, challenge your kids to make stuff rather than just go the easiest path to make a living.
Temple: The other thing is we've got to get hands-on things back into schools so that kids learn that it's really fun to make stuff. We have a shortage right now of certified welders, we have a shortage of machinists, we have a shortage of making stuff. Let's look at economies that are strong, like the German economy. They have a lot of family-owned corporations, and they make highly specialized stuff. I've been reading a lot of that stuff, I'm very concerned about where this country's going. The financial stuff and playing with computer programs in the stock market, all that does is suck the blood out of the economy. We've got to get back to making stuff and actually doing things.
I was in Illinois in a real economically depressed area at an autism conference, and I suggested, "Let's get the retirees to open up a woodworking shop, and get the 12-year-olds and the 10-year-olds interested in that. These 3D printers, these are the coolest things, they're coming down in cost where you can get a desktop unit and it costs $2,500 that will make your 3D drawings. Let's get kids involved in things like that." There's a tremendous amount of people that have retired early that have nothing to do, they're retired engineers, retired all different kinds of fields. Because we've got to get kids interested.
My parents weren't that interested in my cattle stuff, they didn't like my cattle stuff. Mother really helped me get through college, really, really helped me, she pushed me always to try new things. But then when I went to graduate school and I went the cattle route, they didn't really like the cattle route. Well I'm really glad I went the cattle route. When I was in my 20s, one of the things that motivated me to do those drawings so well, is I wanted to prove to people that I wasn't stupid. I had a very big motivation of wanting to do that.
But I'm seeing too many kids that instead of getting interested in something like cattle, they're either getting addicted to video games, or they're getting hung up on autism advocacy. Yes, I do autism advocacy, but I am a professor first. I like my logical mind. I heard about a magnetic stimulation that can be done that can make you more social, I'm not going to do it. Scientists can look at my brain but they cannot play with it. I'm not going to allow that.
Temple: Because I like the logical way that I think, and I don't want to change. I like the way autism makes me think logically. But I'm a scientist first, and autistic second. I see too many 10-year-olds where their whole life revolves around autism. That would be like my whole life revolving around sciatica. Yes, I do have bad sciatica problems, but that's not what runs my life.
Man 3: Temple, you talk about having severe anxiety and fear responses. But I'm also familiar with your biography, and you went through things that would completely overwhelm and overcome most people with fear. In addition to the visual and logical abilities, and the empathy with animals et cetera, that was a really major part of what brought you to where you were. Have you put work or thought into helping other people with autistic spectrum, and just people in general and people with social disorders, to go through it and push through fear and accomplish things anyway?
Temple: Well there's a point where I could push through fear, and I think you really need to read the "Believer in Biochemistry" chapter in my book, because my fear made me get very fixated on my cattle interests, and that fixation drove me, it was like a jet engine that drove me. But then as I went through my 20s, and the fear got worse and worse and worse, my health fell apart. I had uncontrollable colitis, horrible headaches, I had to have eye surgery, I started freaking out over that, freaking out in the middle of the night with my heart pounding.
I knew I had to get the medication. Back in 1978, no one knew about using it for anxiety, but I found this obscure journal article. I kind of resisted the idea of taking the medication, but I've often wondered if I had taken the antidepressant when I was 15, maybe I wouldn't have done what I did. But if I hadn't taken the medication in my early 30s, I would have ended up on drugs or alcohol or would have ended up not having any guts left because they would have fallen out from colitis.
I have a lot of friends that are designers, that now they're 50 years old, they're 40 years old, and if they weren't taking so much Prozac they'd be drug addicts. I describe it in "Believer in Biochemistry," it was like a jet engine that propelled me, but then there was a point that the jet engine started blowing up. So I had to take the medication or I would have just come apart in my 30s.
My ability to do drawings, I drew some of my best drawings while I was on medication, but there was a fervor that I no longer had. But by this time my career was already established.
Man 4: It's not really a question, but I see these same things with these gifted children, and I wanted to point out that the First Lego League is really addressing that. It's a bunch of independent thinkers and things, so that's something you should be aware of, because it makes the visual thinkers and the robotic thinkers mathematical, and it lets them do things.
Temple: Of course you can get mixtures of the different kinds of thinking. The way to look at how these different kinds of thinking and personality traits are, I had one scientist write in an article, I don't remember where I saw it, it's like a music mixing board, where you've got the things you slide. When you get an abnormality, you took some of those switches and you slid them all the way to one end. If you put them all in the middle, maybe that's normal, that's kind of boring. The genetics is very complicated, it's not simple Mendelian genetics, it's a little code change here and a little repeat there.
A totally normal brain would be completely boring. Some of this is just normal variation, to have different kinds of things. But we've got to be really working on building up what the kid can do. There's too much emphasis on what the kid's not able to do, and not enough emphasis on what the kid can do.
If you don't show them an interesting thing like a 3D printer, he's not going to know about it. Like I was shown the optical illusion room in a movie by the science teacher. Then I got fixated on building an optical illusion room. If I hadn't seen it I wouldn't have gotten fixated on it.
Man 5: Temple, you talked with great passion about the importance of making systems hacker-proof. You talked about putting in off switches so that things could be switched off if they went too far. Could you say a bit more about this? Because I fear that some things can't really be switched off. The Internet now is the core of banking. If we switched off the Internet we wouldn't have any money anymore, we wouldn't be able to do any [xx 48:43] web registrations and so –
Temple: The Internet doesn't have intelligence, either. The Internet's not HAL. I'm talking about when you get to the point when we'd need an off switch is you get... I remember in the Terminator movie, when the computer became sentient and then started to take over. No, the Internet's not sentient. But you get something that gets like HAL, then we'd better have a way to turn him off.
Get into the hacking stuff. Maybe there'd better be a governor on a power plant that when a generator turns too fast and it shuts down, and it's non-computerized. I never suggested turning the Internet off, the Internet is not sentient.
Moderator: I'll take the liberty of asking a question. You've really with your talk you inspired me to think about how I can take more advantage of my own visual thinking capacity. I tend to be not so visual in nature. Any ideas about how someone can come in from the other side.
Temple: Visual thinking is like... let's say this is the continuum of visual thinking. I'm an extreme visual thinker here, and I've had to learn how to talk to people that are not visual thinkers. Most people are kind of in the middle, so most people if they see a generic church steeple, and then I force them to think about individual ones, they can. Then there's a few people where there not a visual thinker at all, they can't even visualize their own home or their own car – and they do drive, I made sure they weren't blind.
Temple: You can't take me that's here and make me down here and make me an algebra expert. That's not going to happen. There's a certain amount of plasticity, but you're not going to go the whole range. A lot of people in the middle, you can go one way or the other.
But I think it's really important for people to be aware there's different kinds of thinking. It was really a revelation for me to find out that other people didn't think the same way I did. When I was young, when I was in my 20s, I thought everybody thought in pictures. I didn't know that my thinking was different, and now I know.
Man 6: How receptive has the government been to your ideas on education?
Temple: The government's like an ossified bureaucracy.
Temple: When I first started my career in animal welfare, I tried to work more with the government, now I only work in private industry. You get the big buyers like McDonald's and Wendy's, and they've got the economic power to really clean up the slaughterhouses or some other problem. I developed a very simple scoring system so it's very objective on evaluating a slaughter plant. If you have more than 3 cattle out of 100 mooing and bellering in the kill chute, they fail the audit. More than one percent falls down, they fail the audit. Those are outcome measures.
That's where I'm doing most of my work, and I think a lot of these things I'm reaching out to students. I think major tech companies, they've got to work on this, on getting things out to the high schools in Kansas and places like that. Because I've seen smart kids just going nowhere. Then you see the farm kids, and they invent stuff. Take stuff like the round baler, that winds up the hay. Somebody had to get away from the idea of a square bale and make a leap to winding hay up in a round thing like this rather than making it square. A farmer did that. Then the equipment companies just made it all fancy and nice. .
Man 7: The different kinds of differences between thinking you talked about, the difference between top-down and bottom-up, and the difference between visual, pattern, auditory, and so on, do those differences tend to be heritable, or not so much?
Temple: I think they are heritable. I think it's pretty much heritable. You can influence things, the environment – as I said, you can take me if I'm here and move me here, you're not going to slide me all the way down to here. I think about 70 percent of it's probably heritable, because I have a gigantic cable in the brain that other, non-visual thinkers don't have. I inherited an extremely large fear center that's three times larger than normal. There's a very, very big inherited component.
I think there's a political correctness where they don't want to recognize these differences. Most normal people, it's more like on the music mixing board, the switches are more in the middle. Then you get those kids where some of the switches are shoved all the way over. That can cause a great deficit or a great ability. Or you can push too many of the switches over, now you've got a kid who can't talk, you've got a kid that can't dress himself, obviously he's going to have to be in a supervised living situation.
The thing is, it's a continuum of traits. And a very large percentage of our genes are involved in brain development. What I've learned from the ENCODE project is, we used to think we knew something about genetics? Well we've just learned that we know nothing about 90 percent of the genome. We do know that 80 percent of it actually is transcribed and read. We still don't know exactly how it works yet. We don’t know how it works. It's a big mystery.
That's the thing that the mathematicians had better be figuring out, because I think it folds over on itself and it's all mathematical. That's where you math-heads need to be figuring out how it works. This is where we need to take biology, merge it together with computer science and math. Then we'll find out how the non-coding DNA works. That would be the next step.
Man 8: I'm interested with your stance on video games, and autism specifically. Because, from my experience at least, a lot of children – because I've worked with children a lot – are able to reach out and see how to behave socially in a safe environment that's artificial. With video games they have a mode –
Temple: What we need to be doing is getting those kids who end up on this... The only place where I was not teased was the shared interests. Let's get the shared interest over computer science or over doing 3D printing or something like that rather than video games. If we get them doing that, that's something they can turn into a career. A beta-tester for video games is not a career.
Man 8: I agree but I've got to disagree, because it's an artificial environment where you can test out social interaction, and it gives a safe environment that's not as harsh as reality. I don't know, I just feel like your stance is very black and white.
Temple: I'm not suggesting that we ban video games, but I'm seeing too many kids where they're spending 10 and 8 hours a day in a basement playing video games, and they're collecting Social Security checks in some cases.
Man 8: Right, but also at the same time there's lots of advantages to doing video games, with the ability to decipher visual clutter, enhanced reflexes, and –
Temple: I'm fully aware of that research, but we need to be getting a lot more into – what's this kid going to grow up, how is this kid going to support himself? We're going to run out of funding if we're putting him on Social Security, so we'd better figure out a way to take that video game interest, maybe teach him to be a programmer. Maybe do artwork for video games.
One of the problems with the video game industry is we've got 10 people applying for every slot. If you want to design spy satellites there's like two slots for every applicant. There's jobs there. Video games are more crowded, it's harder to get into video games than it is medicine or veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine is four applicants for every slot, medical school's about three for every slot. The problem with video game field's it's extremely crowded, where a lot of these other fields are not.
We're going to have to take the video game interest and get it over into something to get them employed. I'm not saying give up video games, but we've got to get these kids employed, and get them employed in stuff that's intellectually stimulating, not just janitor work. Because some of them I'm seeing them trained for janitor work. That's ridiculous. There's some other kids where maybe they're thinking's at the sixth-grade-level, and maybe janitor work's appropriate, but there's others that ought to be in this room, not doing janitor work.
OK, I want to thank you all for coming, the clock's blinking. It's great to be here.
Moderator: Professor Temple Grandin, thank you so much for your inspiring talk.