The changing nature of human communication. And all the cool things which happen now.

Collaboration, Science & Technology, Society, Systems thinking

wThis is summary notes from an essay (“Forthcoming Major Revolution in Global Dialogue“) which goes quite deeply into the opportunities for robots / artificial intelligence to engage meaningfully with us. However in reading it, it became obvious that there was more to it than that.

It is a great analysis of the modes and capabilities of modern communications technologies, and the social opportunities which arise from them. It provides a great road map of how to move human communication forward by understanding its current failures, and hinting at how we might address them.

The artificial intelligence angle of the piece is that AI can be used to fill in for the ‘social failures’ of communication, eg someone to have a deep conversation with, finding a great teacher who will take the time with us, providing companionship for those who don’t have it (elderly, destitute).

Rather the purely fixing the symptoms of this failure by using AI, can we se this insight to improve human dialogue and social interactions to solve (at least part of) the problem at its root?

Here are my summarised notes.  I’ve not just focussed on the human communication, and have left in a few areas which talk about the unique potential of AI, since most credible futures are going to be (and already are, think satnav) a blend of human and AI interaction. I apologise to the author for any brusque or confused editing. The original is right here.

I think this is one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a while. It gives a structured framework for future thought, and brings new insights with its clarity. If you agree, please share with those who may find these frameworks and thoughts useful.

A note on the author, Anthony Judge. He’s incredible. He started the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential in 1972 and this work shares the same analytical and progressive nature as his blog writings.



  • All the pieces are in place, or being rapidly developed, enabling an unsuspected revolution in dialogue.
  • The convergence of communication technologies will accelerate this.
  • This has implications for how we interact as human beings, with other species, and even with artificial intelligence.

Indicative uptake of new communication technologies

  • The internet has transformed communication, locally and globally.
  • Costs have come down — increasing accessibility.
  • Uptake has evolved in response to unsuspected needs — notably amongst the otherwise underprivileged.
  • “Anti-social” use of distance-communication technologies (phone, facebook, twitter, sms..) suggests this is more attractive than that offered by the face-to-face opportunity.

Unresolved challenges to engaging dialogue

  • How is “interactive communication” is to be distinguished from “meaningful dialogue”?
  • There is a new degree of social dialogue amongst friends and acquaintances. (eg grandparents (and parents) staying in touch with younger generations. Such dialogue has been considerably
    enhanced by the incorporation of photographs and videos.)
  • The internet has only increased the rate, variety and quantity of such real-worth and virtual gatherings.

Meaningful dialogue #fails.

  • Lack of time: People have less time for each other unless their activities “mesh” within similar “busyness models”.
  • Lack of Quality time
  • Uninterrupted time: we’ve become habituated to checking our devices.
  • Constrained enhancement of dialogue: We need to have serious conversations commensurate with the changing world we live in.
  • Dialogue between those of different political / religious / group ideology: it’s easier to bubble into tribes.
  • Dialogue depth aversion: with risk aversion in other arenas. These might include:
    • capacity to entertain “nasty” questions
    • capacity to entertain issues typically “designed off the table”
    • capacity to consider why previous outcomes from such “positive” dialogue have not succeed as expected.
  • Tokenistic language: engaging with archetypes of ideas, not their reality. Dialogue is then claimed to be successful provided it ensures a “feel-good” factor.
  • Undermining of dialogue?Surveillance technology undermines integrity and capacity.

Reframing dialogue constrained by value polarities

  • Many communications would have little memorable content in the absence of such assertions like:
    • that is good (better) — or that is bad (worse)
    • that is right — or that is wrong
    • that is (too) big — or that is (too) small
    • that is too much — or that is too little
    • that is too soon — or that is (too) late
    • that is pleasant — or that is unpleasant
    • that is (too) complex — or that is (too) simple
    • that is (too) hot — or that is (too) cold
    • that is (too) wet — or that is (too) dry
    • etc.
  • Our dialogue is often social, and doesn’t convey much information. (The word for this is “phatic”, a linguistics term which means “one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information”.)
  • Dialogue is thus constrained to a pattern between polarized value perspectives — but with little awareness of the constraining nature.
  • This mode of analysis is itself constrained by the implied assertion that some modes of dialogue are:
    • adequate (to existential challenges) — or inadequate (to existential challenges)
    • engaging — or alienating
    • interesting — or boring
    • enchanting — or annoying
    • etc.

Superdialogue? What questions would we ask supercomputers? Are there questions which are too smart or too dumb for them?

Humour: can be used to transcend frameworks.

Transposition of key: Another mode which merits consideration derives from traditional rhetorical skills. Rather than dialogue based on a simplistic modality there is a case for reframing through a musical metaphor.  The question is then who exhibits such skills and why do they not enable transcendence of the current inadequacies of international, interfaith, interdisciplinary, interethnic and intergender dialogue?

Recognizing axes of bias:  our failure to transcend the differences below ensures the predictability of our positions.

    • Order vs disorder
    • Static vs dynamic
    • Continuity vs discreteness
    • Inner vs outer – our own vs experience vs objective numbers
    • Sharp focus vs soft focus: Namely the range between a preference for clear, direct experience and a preference for threshold experiences, felt to be saturated with more meaning than
    • is immediately present.
    • This world vs other world: Namely the range between preference for belief in the patio-temporal world as self-explanatory and preference for belief that it is not and can only be
    • comprehended in terms of other frames.
    • Spontaneity vs process: Namely the range between a preference for chance, freedom, accident, etc and a preference for explanations subject to laws and definable processes.

Self-reflexive metaphor: A further valuable clue to any reframing is here

One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don’t ordinarily have access
to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we are not usually conscious of in ourselves.
So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping from complexity to complexity. (Cited by Mary Catherine Bateson, pp. 288-9)

Meta-pattern of connectivity: In the next revolution in dialogue, rather than in communication it could be expected that artificial intelligence of the kind foreseen will make extensive use of poetry and poetic forms to give expression in dialogue to higher orders of connectivity

Relevant technologies — existing and under development

What rapidly converging technologies are indicative of a forthcoming dramatic revolution in dialogue?

  • search and location facilities
    • random access
    • GPS facilities
    • site-linked commentary applications (museums, etc)
  • visualization and presentation facilities
    • Google glasses
    • mapping (concept mapping, argument mapping, etc)
    • immersive presence
    • conversion between forms (text readers, musical rendering, etc)
  • pattern recognition and learning
    • neural network learning
    • brain exercising applications
    • programmed learning software (and mentoring facilities)
    • plagiarism detection
  • intelligent gaming and simulation
  • personalization and profiling
    • automatic personal profiling and filter bubbles (as in the case of Amazon or Google)
    • preferences (voice, language, style, etc)
    • indicators of inattentiveness
  • environments and modes of access
    • personal, cafe, library, other facilities
    • internet chat rooms
    • intelligently enabled environments
  • proactive applications (push techniques)
    • news feeds
    • hints / tips (“did you know?”)
  • robotics and artificial agents
    • simulation of voices, facial expressions and haptic gestures

Ability to select preferences:

  • inclusion or exclusion (blocking) of themes
  • include or block facilities
  • ability to fine tune preferences for degree of:
    • humour
    • news
    • wisdom, aphorisms
    • repetition and reinforcement

Additional facilities:

  • multiple voices — conversation
  • simulation of “style” as between: earthy/simple, abstract/complex, spiritual/subtle
  • use of multiple agents as “assistants”, effectively an interplay of subpersonalities

Forces driving the revolution in dialogue

  • Boredom with normal dialogue, especially those whose styles are challenged and constrained
  • Unsatisfied “thirst” for more significant dialogue.
  • Sensitivity to ineffectual dialogue: Increasing recognition of the ineffectual nature of what is conventionally upheld as meaningful social, political or scientific discourse.

Dialogue preferences

  • Specific Need:
    • humour, sport, superstition, salacious, conspiracy-focused, doom-mongering, anticipatory (arrival of extraterrestrials or a Messiah) — possibly to be characterized as obsessional and potentially boring to others.
    • obscure topics or modes, favoured by relatively isolated people, including intellectuals, preoccupied with concerns of which few have heard and in which even fewer are interested.
    • individuals without the level of companionship desired. This includes: children, elderly, mentally unstable, others wanting a “shoulder to cry on”.
  • Diverging preferences:
    • older generations and their desire for proactive attention
    • younger generations impatient with older styles of communication and eager to experiment with new possibilities
    • politically engaged in contrast with the politically passive (as suggested by the use of social networking in the Arab Spring revolutions)
  • Learning:
    • objective insights and assistance with regard to administrative requirements (tax, regulations, etc)
    • advice with regard to purchasing new products — talking through advantages and disadvantages in relation to requirements
    • “how to” assistance with regard to various products, including software
    • people in quest of informed advice, whether with respect to vocational guidance or research themes — needing to “talk things through” and have a “sounding board”
    • possibilities of dialogue with simulations of otherwise inaccessible persons, including: deceased relatives, living celebrities, long-dead icon figures (philosophers, generals, saints,
    • etc.), “enemies of the people”
  • Marketing (AI ALERT!!)
    • offering enhanced dialogue facilities in exchange for new vehicles for placement advertising — in which “word-of-mouth” tips are inserted by intelligent agents. The advertising currently inserted into search engine results is an indication of
    • possibilities
    • promoting particular non-commercial perspectives by appropriate discourse and argumentation — as is currently evident in “door-to-door” sales techniques, whether for political or religious purposes
    • grooming and confidence trickery leading to deliberate miss-selling of products and services, and other “creative” initiatives
  • Cyberwar (AI ALERT!!)
    • opportunities offered as a feature of the envisaged development of cyberwarfare and memetic warfare, and the proactive extension of electronic surveillance. However it is appropriate to note that poetry has not been considered as an alternative means of engaging “memetically” with cultures valuing it.
    • as an extension of propaganda, this could include a form of “idea planting” — to be better recognized as “meme planting”, as with the current use of human agents to employ the comment
    • facilities in relation to articles in order to place “corrective” comments to deprecated views. In the light of current revelations regarding the inserting of “backdoors” in computer operating systems, attention will no doubt focus on the opportunity to insert “backdoors to the mind” in intelligent
    • applications and humanoid robots — typically to promote particular ideologies or religions, as discussed separately (Unsuspected “crown jewels” of intelligence community: backdoors to the mind? 2013).
    • related techniques could be used to plant “evidence” of “subversive thinking” if such was required for legal prosecution — as an extension of current techniques of planting suspect files
    • (pornography, weapon designs, etc) on any person’s computer.
  • Immortality?
    • Reframing the challenge of mind uploading, or whole brain emulation, to build a relationship where the other has a uniquely deep insight into the human engaging in that process — who might readily describe that agent as the only “person” who “really understands me”. The agent essentially becomes a mirror reflection of the person — offering a contrasting interpretation of the role of mirror neurons.

Together the above forces help to clarify a fundamental challenge to achieving profound dialogue.

Nature of “global” dialogue

In a period in which there is frequent reference to globalization, and how it is sustained by global conversation, there is a case for exploring the inadequacy of the implied understanding of
“globality” in dialogue terms.

Source: Forthcoming Major Revolution in Global Dialogue.

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons

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