Dan Paluska


Animal training and the design of self rewarding systems

sean says “unless you’re the boss, you’re playing by somebody else’s rules.” but we and many people we know have no interest in being the boss ourselves. so how do you, me, him, her, we, them, etc, change the rules?

How do we design flat and self-rewarding ecosystems?

Wikipedia is a self rewarding system. If you come to a page and the page has been vandalized, you can help the system and activate the revert function on the post. When you do this, you are rewarded with the information you came for. Clay Shirky, HCE book has a nice section on wikipedia.

So where to now?

Let’s go back to nytimes article on animal training and husbands. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=husband+animal+training

A great article. A snippet that summarizes pretty well.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don’t. After all, you don’t get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

I was using what trainers call “approximations,” rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can’t expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can’t expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

Give it a read and try to convince yourself we are above animals. We like to give our civilization a little more credit than it may deserve. How do you give yourself a treat for riding the bicycle?

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