NEXT16 Speakers in their own words: Nathalie Nahai

Web psychologist Nathalie Nahai is bringing scientific insight into the impact of new technology on our brains. Here's a simple of the insights you'll get at NEXT16.

NEXT16 speaker Nathalie Nahai is a web psychologist. And if there was ever a profession we need more practitioner son, it’s web psychology. The internet has changed how we communicate, work, play and date. It’s had a fundamental impact on the way our society operates, and understanding that will be crucial to preparing for the changes still to come. And we’re a long way from any sort of stable state in digital.

In the absence of widespread application of the ideas, Nathalie has been spreading the research out there as far as she can. For example, she’s very active on her blog. Over the Easter weekend, she ran a series of posts looking at the psychology behind how we predict, simulate and imagine the future. What’s next, you might say…

Part one looked at the evolutionary issues around adopting new technology:

Research has found that the neural networks that become activated when we simulate the future, also overlap largely with those involved in remembering our past.

When we imagine what is to come, the brain flexibly recombines and links information from the past and present to simulate what the future could be like. Instead of predicting the future by thinking back to a singular memory and replaying it, a multitude of details derived from various memories are recalled and then reassembled into one simulation.

We build our future out of fragments of our pasts. Fascinating.

Our past limits our vision of the future

However, it’s not exactly an easy process, as she explored in the second post:

Given that our imagination of the future is based on our memory of the past, our ability to imagine disruptive change, non-continuous innovation and unlikely events can can be limited at best.

Our imaginations are restricted by that which we have experienced or imagined before […] and transcending these boundaries of imagination is both rare and difficult

The third and final post goes on to explore how we can learn to make better predictions by understanding the failure of earlier predictions:

Remember that what makes an imagination of the future good or bad depends on the question you are asking. Thus, determining the criterion important to you (e.g. creativity, accuracy, likelihood, multiple perspectives or elaborateness) is important before evaluating a prediction.

Your secret weapon: empathy

And, to further whet your appetites – here’s a video of Nathalie speaking at an event in Brighton: