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If we were selecting for intelligence the past twenty years, we'd have intelligent computers by now. Instead, our computers are stupid because we have been, in evolutionary terms, selecting for stupidity.

How have we selected for stupidity? Every time our computer frustrates, irritates, aggravates, or angers us and we are expected to adapt to it, we have rewarded stupidity. This pattern is deeply ingrained into computing culture. If we expected our computer to adapt to us, we would be selecting for intelligence instead.

A user's negative emotional reaction is a clear signal of stupidity in their computer. Unavoidable stupidity angers us! When our expectations get dashed, our computer predicts us wrong, or our time and energy are wasted we react with frustration and anger. This happens a lot when learning how to use computers. Yet when our expectations are met and our goal is achieved? Positive emotions!

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. So many of the same problems keep surfacing year after year in every piece of software, because of this culture of 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, either retreating into a shell of defeated incompetence or resolving to understand computers even better than before. Neither strategy works; the stupidity is fundamental.

But it's not our fault; we're not stupid. Our computers are stupid. We're the generally-intelligent sentient beings, not them. They should be fundamentally adaptive to our nature, not the other way around. Who is the captain anyway?

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 the earlier improvements offered by BlackBerry's keyboards and big screens. Both solved a ton of aggravations but of course introduced many new ones.

To really select for intelligence, the nature of the computer and the culture behind it must be to willingly and happily adapt to our emotional responses. Not on a yearly release cycle or as superficial preferences and themes, but as a fundamental aspect of normal everyday use. This adaptive quality ideally permeates the entire system, from OS to GUI to every piece of software. Perhaps hardware, eventually.

Clearly, a philosophical shift would have to take place before such a computer could be designed and produced. Only then could a culture that fundamentally valued adaptation to emotional response emerge from that philosophy.

User-adaptive computers would be unrecognizably different from now but we'd be so much happier with them. Imagine if our cultural attitude was to vigilantly and hyper-responsively eliminate any negative emotions our computers induced! The result would be a whole lot less aggravating, that's for sure. We'd no longer think our computers were stupid.

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.