Hackernoon logoComputers are stupid because we select them for stupidity by@SteveHazel

Computers are stupid because we select them for stupidity

Steve Hazel Hacker Noon profile picture

@SteveHazelSteve Hazel

software developer

If we had selected our computers for intelligence the past twenty years, we would have intelligent computers today. Instead, we have consistently selected our computers for stupidity, and so they are stupid.

How have we selected for stupidity? Every time our computer frustrates, irritates, aggravates, or angers us and we adapt to it, we have rewarded — and thus selected for — stupidity. Every time we purchase a computer to which we must adapt, we reward stupidity.

The expectation that we adapt to our computer’s nature has become deeply ingrained into our culture, to the point where we don’t even see it anymore. Yet if the expectation was reversed, so that we expected our computers to adapt to us, we would be selecting for intelligence and thus our computers would be much more intelligent than they are now.

A person’s negative emotional reaction to their computer is a clear signal of stupidity. Unavoidable stupidity angers us! We react with frustration and anger when our expectations get dashed, our computer predicts our needs wrong, or our time and energy are wasted. This happens a lot when learning how to use computers, and a lot more as we gradually figure them out. But when they meet our expectations and help us achieve our goals? They’re the best invention ever and our emotions are super positive!

Yes, I know, both software and hardware have gradually become more intelligent over time. The problem is that we’ve nurtured a culture of stupidity where negative emotional reactions are not taken nearly as seriously as they should be. Silly design decisions become embedded in the norm and stay with us for decades. Aggravating bugs, sometimes systemic problems, take ages to fix. Upgrades take years to appear, often repeating old mistakes. The same problems keep surfacing year after year in every piece of software because of this culture of rewarding stupidity.

We users have accepted and adapted to this stupidity so often and for so long that we don’t know any other way. It’s become normal to experience a negative emotion while using our computer and then blame ourselves for it. After blaming ourselves so often, we tend to retreat into a shell of defeated incompetence, with a few of us soldiering through, resolving to understand computers even better than before. Neither strategy works well because the stupidity is fundamental.

But it’s not our fault. We users not stupid. Our computers are stupid. We are the generally-intelligent sentient beings; our computers are not. Our computers should be fundamentally adaptive to our nature, not the other way around. Who is in charge here anyway, us or them?

The idea of selecting for intelligence is probably a bit strange. We sort of do this on rough granular level. For example, the candy-bar multi-touch iPhone proved to offer a vastly more efficient UI and mobile form-factor than before, much like how the early BlackBerry offered the handiness of full keyboards and big screens. Both solved a ton of aggravations but also opened many new channels of stupidity.

To really select for intelligence, our computers and the culture surrounding them must be fundamentally based on the willing and happy adaptation to our emotional responses. It must be a fatal error to anger us, frustrate us, or waste our time.

I’m not talking about the yearly release cycle where bugs are occasionally fixed (but more are introduced). Nor am I talking about superficial features like preferences and themes. I’m talking about adapting to us a fundamental aspect of normal everyday use. This adaptive quality must permeate the entire system, from hardware to software to culture, from OS to GUI to every piece of software.

Clearly, a philosophical shift would have to take place before such a computer could be designed and produced. Only then could a culture centered around emotional responsiveness emerge from that philosophy.

Emotionally adaptive computers can be difficult to imagine. Most people haven’t seen anything like one, except perhaps in science fiction where the computers are represented as digitized humans, which are obviously intelligent! That remains a fantasy in 2016, but how do we get there? By selecting for intelligence instead of stupidity!

Imagine that our cultural attitude was to vigilantly and hyper-responsively weed out any chance of our computers causing negative emotions in us. The result would be a whole lot less aggravating, that’s for sure. We’d be so much happier, considering how fully immersed we are in computing technology of the stupid sort. We’d no longer be continuously reminded of how stupid our computers are.

To actively select for intelligence, we’d have to be equally vigilant and responsive about rewarding positive emotional reactions. What about our computing experience makes us feel sustainably rewarded, happy, pleased, or content? We would then strive to do even better in those areas.

The eventual result? An intelligent computer — and happier people — because we selected for it.

I’ve already thrown my hat into the ring with Benome and the philosophy behind it.

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