How do we debug ourselves as human beings?

I went to BIL yesterday, it’s an “unconference”… a bit like TED, but less official and much cheaper.

One of the talks by Julia Bossman, got me thinking. She was asking the question of “how can we use machine learning to improve ourselves?”

In other words, how can we use technology to observe ourselves, make recommendations and change our behaviours.

Now I realise this whole self-improvement is probably in the realm of navel-gazing … but bear with me.

I was so inspired by the talk that I did a little experiment.

One of the things I’ve done for the past year, is make notes using Google Keep. Whenever I’ve had a thought, idea, or hear something profound – I make a note using the app on my phone.

Think of Google Keep as a catalogue of your brain’s thoughts.

I then used Wordle to create these word clouds. The following data is based on over 28,000 words  in ~1000 notes I’ve tapped into my phone.

This first one analyses all the notes made between April 2013 – Christmas Day 2013

wordle-april2013-dec2013This second one, below focuses on Boxing Day 2013 to  2 March 2014 (today).  Most of which I spent in San Francisco.

wordle-jan2014-march2014Now – what can we gather from this semi-scientific experiment?

  • I think about people, and how humans work, a lot. 
    A typical thought would be something like this:“The biggest fear, that I and most English people have, is being afraid of looking silly”
  • I think a lot about what we want, like and need

    “*name* doesn’t want to upset the apple cart. Very level headed and likeable, but optimises to be liked and respected by his boss” 
  • I’ve thought less about business, marketing and work since coming to SF. Instead I’ve thought more about good things and feelings.“Helping *name* made me feel good. She was confusing to understand but I’m helping her get what she needs and needs my marketing help”

    “How do you make more people feel good?”

What does this mean for you?

I’m only scratching the surface here of what could be done. But the ramifications of this are if you log your thoughts during the day, you have a good data set.

Once you have a dataset, you can analyse it and realise your behaviours and patterns.

Based on those patterns and behaviours, a computer-system could make recommendations.

And the ultimate result of this means we can debug ourselves as human beings.

Why is that important?

It’s a very geeky thing – what I’m going to say next, but it means we can better optimise for certain things in our lives.

If you’re a coder and want to optimise your productivity. The system might notice that if you get up late, you’re not very productive. So it says your optimal wake-up time is 7:25am, and sets it automatically.

If you’re a salesman and you want to optimise sales and making money, the system could learn how what you’re eating affects your sales. Then it could recommend certain diets to help you maximise that.

If you’re me, you want to optimise for making other people feel good. So the system could tell you who needs your help, who has the most fun with you, and automatically organise your schedule around that.

If you want to optimise to be the happiest you can be, the system could learn what things make you happiest. It could then tell you who you should meet, what you should do and what you should eat.

Maybe I’m nuts to think about these kinds of problems. Maybe we don’t all want to optimise for certain things in our lives. 

But maybe… if we can use computers to find and resolve what limits us as people – we can have a society that is better at getting what it wants.

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