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Raymond Ie

Web / Sofware developer,

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We need better tools for cooperation - not just better tools for our existing ways of communicating.

I realize how difficult it would be to change an existing language, but I'm not proposing REPLACEMENT, I'm proposing augmentation of communication between individuals and/or groups aided by software.

I believe that many (if not most) of the world's big problems are due to the inability of HUMANS TO COOPERATE WITH EACH OTHER.

While there are certainly many other factors that inhibit cooperation in any given situation, if verbal language was involved in an attempt to reach cooperation, the inherent features of the language itself must play a significant role. And I'm not talking about across 2 different languages, but within a single language, such as English.

In my attempt to clearly express this very idea, I am limited not only by my personal inadequacies in language, but also by the language skills of any reader, and the inherent properties of the verbal language itself.

I believe we could develop software tools that could facilitate the transmission of thought from one mind to another, minimizing the loss of fidelity caused by the medium (language) and the participants' competency over that medium.

The world has scientists and engineers that improve upon existing technologies in the physical and social sciences, and the organizations/funding, and systems to fuel innovation in those areas, but there doesn't seem to be any efforts to improve our abilities to cooperate.

There's education for improving people's abilities to use the existing languages we have, but not for how to improve the language itself. There's billions of $ invested in technologies to make it easier for us to communicate MORE, but not necessarily better.

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  • Mar 2 2011: We need to share common experiences in order to have a common frame of reference. After that we need to understand our own language well so that we can tell when our thoughts are truly clear and so we don't get mixed up by taking figures of speach literallty or making other related errors. Last of all, we need training in passing our Ideas on to others in words or pictures. That is called ART (writing, drawing, singing, dancing, or taking meaningful photos). Nothing worth doing is easy because we value things by how hard they are to do!
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      Mar 2 2011: Thanks, I think those points are along the lines of what I'm thinking.
      I personally would welcome tools that could help me understand my own thoughts better...particularly when I might be making errors in judgement due to the complexity of information processing the situation entails.
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    Mar 1 2011: Interesting thought. I agree that communication is a big problem, but I wouldn't know where to start. As you suggest, there are many differences even within the same language. Everyone has their own experiences tied to their words. I argue that the "meaning" of a word is little more than its associations in ones mind. The word "good" for one person brings up different experiences and associations than it does for any other person - even a brother or sister. What is "good" for one person may be "great" for another. The same is arguably true for almost any noun, verb, or adjective. So at its root, finding a distinct and objective meaning that communicates clearly is even more complicated than we might first think. For you to really understand what I mean when I say "good" would require not just transmitting that word, but all the associations with that word (and all the associations with those associated words). That is a lot to digest. I wouldn't say it is impossible, but I wouldn't know where to start.
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      Mar 2 2011: Thanks.Yes, I agree. You provide some good examples.

      It may be unreachable to obtain a "complete" understanding of what your meaning of "x" is, but I might get closer and closer to it as I invest more time learning about you, your experiences, etc. But that requires an investment of time and other resources on both parties.

      But maybe if there could be some Facebook-like data store of your experiences and associations of those experiences with your words...software could analyze those data and propose an improved mapping of it against my experiences and my associated words. Perhaps, the words could eventually be eliminated and the end points of the mappings would be some new form of tokened symbols that would have greater precision of meaning to each individual than words would.
    • Mar 2 2011: Hello Raymond,

      I think the primordial reason for communication is to accurately transmit an idea that is in a given mind, into another mind.

      Collaboration therefor is essential to the process. Otherwise it would be impossible to define and agree on the parameters needed to reduce misunderstanding, or create deception.

      Consequently I intend to use a varied range of communication techniques when assimilating information in order make sure I under stand the message being sent.

      I like your soft ware idea and I hope that it includes checks and measures which address such matters. I also hope the urgency of my message was not lost in translation.

      Further clarification available at your request:)
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    Mar 2 2011: No software tools are necessary. Communication can be as easy or as difficult as you make it. Let me illustrate the point with two classics quotations from two classic texts on writing.

    From THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B.White: Chapter II, Elementary Principles of Composition: "Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short , or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

    Most of the writing in Ted Talks in anything but concise.

    From ON WRITING WELL, by Wiliam Zinsser. "Simplicity. Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon."

    Most of the writing in TED is drowning in foggy jargon.

    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...
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    Jun 30 2011: Love your thoughts on this - quite inspiring.

    Not much to add, though I wonder if you have read any Robert Anton Wilson? His take on language and communication is priceless, in my mind, and if you haven't read any of his work, I highly recommend.
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    Mar 3 2011: I'm always fascinated by possibilities for amending language/thought/communication. Whether to improve language education, or language itself, or the ideas we associate with words, or whatever, it's sure that in general public our collaborative strengths/skills/methods aren't excellent.

    Lojban is an intriguing project, though I won't invest myself in it. I like the idea of a community collaborating with purpose and common principles (though surely with deficiencies in the means/methods of collaboration) to develop/maintain/adapt a language.

    I'm also aware of L'Académie française, which (so far as I understand) comprises elected people who try to guide (according to established standards) the preservation/evolution of the French language. Though I don't know much about it. I doubt they've promoted any radical changes to the language, such as new grammatical devises or new function words.

    Sure we could develop software! What about a platform like Wikipedia where, instead of developing factual articles, we collaborate on clarifying the ideas behind words, etc.? But somehow I dislike the thought of a Wikideology.

    Ubuntu occurs. Why can't we apply to our languages the practises of open-source mass-collaboration: nor for profit but with passion for the sake of excellence, etc? But human-language patches could not be distributed as simply as software patches. Imagine writing an annual memo to all speakers of English, "Issue 2011: Suggested and Experimental Amendments to the English Language; and Concepts Currently Under Development"! ---Do you know about any such efforts already undertaken? I'd like to investigate.

    Or we can practise (from earliest discussions onward) expounding "The Sense in Which" and "The Extent to Which" and "The Circumstances under Which" what we say is true or meant; develop skills/strengths in that.

    But I would love to develop general tools that help us communicate not more profusely, nor more quickly, but more beautifully, and more exactly.
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    Mar 2 2011: Interesting. Brain to brain interfacing. You know, there are just some thoughts I don't actually want contaminating my brain. How would you keep extraneous thoughts from slipping through?

    In the end, while communication is a part of the problem, the core issue still is this need for validation. Whether it's religion, politics, or what-have-you, the fundamental issue is the need to have our own beliefs reflected back at us and to either convert or stamp out dissent.

    I still think that if people truly believed what they claim to believe, it wouldn't matter what those around them thought. That extends beyond religion to notions of success and failure; if we stopped needing to have more than others and actually took pleasure in what we had (and relinquished what failed to please to someone else whom it might please), the world would be a much better place.
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    Mar 2 2011: This is a good question, but perhaps the issue is not so much technology or software, but better understanding of the cultural divides between folks. I see these divides within higher education. Each discipline has differing methodologies and expectations. Some are open and others closed to new and different communication means.

    I have moderated workshops where we have spent the first day just developing an understanding of how the different communities work and then trying to create a common vocabulary so we can move forward to a common goal.

    Cultural differences, varied vocabulary, and expectations need to be flattened or modified into a level playing field then collaboration can be more productive.
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    Feb 26 2011: "I believe we could develop software tools that could facilitate the transmission of thought from one mind to another"

    Wouldn't that require some *hardware* tools above all? A hardware to read your mind*, provide it as input to software and/or to another hardware that can actually... errr... I'm missing a term here. "Write" is not it, or if it is, it's a thing science should not venture to, since it opens a whole new world of potential abuses (imagine politicians implanting "love" for them into you, or "advertisers" implanting the idea for you to buy a product). "Translate it into another person's thought language" let's say.

    But even assuming we had the hardware AND software, there's another thing I have a problem with... the very idea of someone reading my mind, even if I could also read his in the meantime. I may intentionally distract my mind from the topic, sometimes for a good reason, and I wouldn't want the other person to think that my temporary distraction means a full disinterest in the subject. Heck, even this very post was written with a few temporary distrations at hand.

    The mind is a good place for a person to "draft" what he's about to say and stop himself in case there's no real need to say something. Yes, I agree human languages themselves need to be researched and improved instead being let into evolving naturally... but not thought.

    * Like this:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/tan_le_a_headset_that_reads_your_brainwaves.html
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      Feb 28 2011: Thanks, but I'm not proposing mind reading at all.
      I think it's possible for people to have clear thoughts without having the ability to communicate their thoughts as effectively as they desire through existing mediums (words, visuals, etc.). Key point being "their desire". so control over revealing those thoughts should remain with them.

      Some kind of hardware would be required but not necessarily new, and not any kind that would jack in to your stream of consciousness or anything like that.

      And I agree that the mind is a good place to "draft"..so perhaps the software could even help a person "communicate" to him/herself better.
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        Feb 28 2011: So... you're proposing "clear thought"-to-text convertion? And that being done by some kind of software that would take the brainwaves (or something deeper thought related) via some hardware, analyze them and output corresponding text in an arbitrary language?

        It will surely be cool if someone does that, even if only for demo purposes. Hardware similar to the one above is probably just a subset of what's needed though, as language is a little more complicated than the mind's sence of space and time (as all brainwave reading devices focus on). It includes that plus memory recalls, emotions and others.

        But how can anything express human thought without reading it? Without "jacking in to your stream of consciousness" if you will? It's like asking for access to remotely hosted pictures without your computer being albe to read them (and inherently visualze them) for itself... illogical and impossible.
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          Mar 2 2011: No, I'm not proposing any kind of "thought" reading by a device, hardware or software. I'll try to provide a better example as a new comment to this thread. But thanks again for your comments.
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        Mar 3 2011: I have to say, it's ironic that I've lost the meaning of your thoughts though the medium in a discussion about losing the meaning of the thoughts through the medium. :P

        Even after seeing all other comments, this seems a little too abstract for me... except the Facebook-like data storage. I could imagine how this would work if one was to manually write down their associations, but for this to be done "on the fly", directly extracted from your mind, I don't see how it could be done. And if you do mean actually writing down these... sounds like too much work for too little benefit from a user's perspective.
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    Feb 26 2011: Well said! I can't wait to see what you come up with!!