There is still room in the world to think big
Moonaim — the people — were introduced to the world first time in Slush 2016.
November 29th, 2016
Our dreams and goals are profoundly important — they set the direction of our lives. While we do consciously recognize this, our external information systems do not take them into account much at all. Sure, there are individual applications and websites that deal with them, and there are also many personal growth and task management oriented applications. They are mostly, however, not well connected to other services or service infrastructures.
We propose that a new paradigm for personal computing is needed: the system should facilitate you for reaching your dreams and goals — not distract from them. We call it ”Dreams Oriented Computing”.
In this first post, I’m going to take a look at what we should consider when starting to build systems with this viewpoint in mind (and not so much yet of how it technically can be built).
7 minute read
Artificial intelligence is a great tool for many a thing, and we are starting to see more and more real-life applications working with it — from automatic recycling centers to self-driving cars and expert systems in medicine. At the same time, both society and media are starting to awaken into the ethical questions that are unavoidable: when AI makes an error, Whose fault is it — Who is responsible?
The questions will not be easy to answer, especially when the systems will become more and more complicated and have more associated parties involved, from groups of open source coders to multi-national corporations and governments.
When you start to think about the future from this perspective, you will realize, that a system that deals with such intimate things as our dreams and goals — and how to achieve them — needs to have certain requirements. Such as:
1Transparency Why did the system do what it did? The user should be able to know about how the decisions are made, even if it is about prioritizing or recommending some content — thus making a decision that the content is somehow of greater importance than all other content not recommended or prioritized instead.
2Respect for privacyThe system should at least be clear what users are to expect regarding their privacy and the system should keep that promise.
3Enlightenment The previous requirements won't be met if the users are kept in the dark about their importance.
Additionally, ease of use and powerfulness are also important requirements, because people have the right to select a system that does not meet the above requirements, should they feel better served by it. So if our goal is to truly offer something for making people's lives better, we must strive for ease of use and powerfulness.
There are also other requirements, such as fairness and freedom of speech and thought. But these are somewhat fuzzier in their nature, and we will get back to them in future posts.
Above we have listed some general requirements that we feel must be met in order to work responsibly. I would like to further illustrate why these are indeed important with a short story.
In a not-so-distant future your relative, Moona, is having her teen-age existential crisis. At the same time she faces the same problem of numerous generations before her: she would like to be independent, especially from her parents, and pretty much from her guiding system Mama2 that has been helping her — but also restricting her independence, like the one time it denied her access to some "educational" information. In a moment of frustration, she shouts to Mama2: "It'd be nice to hear something comforting from you for once! But don't give me that psychological mumbo-jumbo, I've heard it all already!"
In this short story, there are great many possibilities that Mama2 could do. It could try to come up with material that seems somehow fitting? Perhaps it could find a memo from some relative that Moona likes that was written at the same age and seems to deal with the same issues? Or maybe there would be suitable online peer-groups that according to many have helped them?
When building systems that aim to be an integral part of many peoples daily lives, one should not stop with only scenarios where everything goes well. In a not-so-nice possible future, Mama2 could additionally increase its estimation about Moona becoming a threat (perhaps even to "national security") and update a governmental database about that, with or without her parents knowing about this. And in an even more sinister possible future it would happen because laws that were marketed for public as a gate for their own safety, would actually give good opportunity for corporations to make high profits based on some deeply flawed metrics of "thwartening security threats".
Far fetched as these latter unpleasant possibilities may still sound, there are actually several mega-trends in the world that seem to lead to this kind of path currently. It is not only accidental that Sci-fi writers have long told stories about societies that can be called techno-fascists or digi-dystopian.
We as system builders must recognize our responsibility for fighting for bright future scenarios and against the dark ones. We are not only making decisions ourselves, but we also have some (higher than average) understanding of principles and processes that are involved.
While listing clear general requirements and trying to make them well-known might not be enough, it is a step in the right direction. Stupid political decisions are often simply uninformed (though not always) and policies are often easier to create than change.
Let’s say that a system satisfies the requirements we have discussed above. What would make it good, extra ordinary?
One of my favorite quotes is ”Aim for the moon — if you miss, you may hit a star”. For me that quote means that one should aim high, even ridiculously high, because it is the act of setting your aim that matters (when you do it in a proper way). For us it illustrates our attitude as system builders, and also what we would like to be able to offer to our users.
Another quote I like is ”Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. At first glance it might seem to be in contradiction with the previous quote. But when you think of them together, they mix beautifully. Life doesn’t always go like you planned, but acting on your most meaningful dreams still gives you a better probability of living a good life rather than not acting at all.
Good systems will increase the possibility of you making choices that lead to your dreams, taking well into account that ultimately controlling your life is a paradox.
But what about the system we are going to build now? We are surely not going start by trying to build an advanced AI system with an enormous knowledge base.
In one sentence: we are going to build a system that mixes life goals, personal productivity, information management & sharing, and helping those who need help.
It will have the structure of dreams and goals and information related to achieving them — and much of that structure and information will come from you, the user. It will have means to connect to other systems, so it doesn't have to provide everything in itself, but rather serve as starting point and guide for your personal computing.
And it aims to respect the general requirements listed earlier.
I will end this first post with a quote from Victor Hugo:
"Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”