Does the Future Include Behavior Analysts?

I spend hours every week talking with people across the United States who are in vastly different places in their professional career. The past month has been well over a 100 different phone calls and meetings across everything that’s going on, whether that’s NextGen, Why We Do What We Do, or just my general addiction to social media.  Everyone seems to “stumble” into the field in different ways, which makes sense given the relative age of our field and the current exponential growth in certified professionals , as well as the time it takes to create training systems at various levels (e.g., graduate school <->Primary Education).

One topic that I like to chat about is the future of the field. With the amount of growth that our field is experiencing (See the Behavior Analyst Workforce-Demand Report), as well as the sheer demand for services by a well-trained behavior analysts there’s a few things that may be worth a deeper dive for us all to consider.

Scalability

Scalable services are ones that are able to adapt to quickly meet the changing demand of the market. I personally think this varies based on the use case and the industry. It rests on the business model and the “value” that is delivered to the consumer. Much of our funding streams are aligned for 1:1 services, like much of psychology in general, but given the time it takes to train a practitioner for these services is on one hand totally reasonable (i.e., we must be able to provide high-quality and ethical services), but on the other hand is working against how quickly we can help inform more social issues and how many people we can impact at the end of the day. There’s a couple companies that I’ve recently ran across that seem to be pursuing this route:

Each of these are in various stages of development, some with funding, others pursuing funding, some are bootstrapping, etc. The last one is a project that I’ve been pursuing for over 6 years (when I first heard about it). It’s taken a while to find the right team, a dataset, and start pursing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).  I actually wrote about it's "failure" in a blog post here.

Speaking from that example, I can tell you that it’s crazy ambitious, and we have a lot of work to do in order to establish a product that meets the consumers’ needs and fits within the market. However, it’s not untenable. Progress is moving weekly, and it’s exciting as hell to work seriously with people of various backgrounds across the world to try and work on a system that can potentially alter the 1:1 service delivery model.

Technology

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Currently I look at technology in two ways. If it’s the development of technology to work on helping some situation in the world, then I refer to the Two Types of Tech outlined by Layng and Twyman. This is a really useful model for analyzing and creating systems that meet the environment <-> consumer interactions that’s proved itself in large-scale ways (e.g., With over ~3M students experiencing Headsprout to date), and has personally proved useful for my colleagues and myself (e.g., creating classes for our local school district, and a multi-county service that we’re working with the state of Nevada to scale through a few school districts this year).

The other side is in the “social sphere” – that’s every platform that is connected to the internet, from Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram, to Snapchat, etc. We’ll really dive into this in a different post. However, I do want to introduce a few areas of technology that admittedly are over my head when it comes to the details, but aren’t as scary or hard to understand as I first thought when I started learning about them a couple years ago.  

Artificial Intelligence: the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. - Google
Machine Learning: Machine learning is a field of computer science that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. - Wikipedia
Virtual Reality: the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors. - Google
Augmented Reality: a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. - Google

Again, not sure exactly where, when or how these will impact our field, but I’m confident that they are going to have to play a very significant role or we are facing the possibility of other fields incorporating them to a point that we have a hard time catching up. For example, let’s say that the incorporation of this technology is setup in such a way that the most well-trained and experienced behavior analysts in the world are utilized to inform a service that automates 80% of the typical workload of a behavior analyst (e.g., cameras can follow and track the development of skill sets in the moment, make data-based decisions faster and more accurately than humans, and do this all through the use of a headset that is worn by a parent or sibling). Crazy, but not impossible. And sure, that would have other effects such as the supervisory or designing of such systems, or create the conditions to move into novel markets or work on social issues that we currently do not formally work towards much as a field. 

The point is – what’s on my mind daily is some iterative of the question:

How will our field shift in the coming 10-20 years as this technology develops?

A few of the companies above appear to have this sort of technology in their vision - it's going to be exciting to watch them progress.  We’re in the midst of what I would argue is the most exciting time to ever be alive. I mean, the internet is a straight up miracle. What are we going to leverage to fulfill a larger vision, expand our scope, and show the world what our science is made of?*

👊👊👊

*Obviously I’m focusing on the positive side of this connectivity – the negative effects aren’t unnoticed, but beyond the scope of this blog post.


Author

Ryan O’Donnell, MS, BCBA

Affiliation: RYANO, LLC

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Bio: Ryan O'Donnell hails from northern Nevada in the grungy, yet surprisingly classy, (and newly renovated) Reno, Nevada . He likes his climate like he likes his data: evolving, uncompromising, and progressive. He is a master of science; that is, he has a M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis, however he has since grown to include many other interests, including entrepreneurship and capturing perspectives and stories through various mediums. He has used this degree to work with a lot of great people to help organizations and families in Florida and Nevada that support people with Intellectual Disabilities. Currently he leads product development and distribution for High Sierra Industries as a Learning Systems Development Specialist. His focus outside this role is on building a community of thought leaders and doers to create content that increases the transparency of behavior analytic technologies with the hopes of creating a platform that truly saves the world. His interests are all over, from artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to the theory and philosophy behind Why We Do What We Do (wwdwwdpodcast.com). In his spare time you can find him consuming social media, prepping/climbing a giant mountain, or walking around with his camera in his hand (and, occasionally, all simultaneously). Connect with him on most all social platforms via TheRyanoDotCom and let him know what drives you to pursue the Behavior Analysis vision.

 


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