Since we began the process of building applications using our AI engine, we have been focused on working with ideas or concepts. With BrainDocs we built intelligent agents to find and score similarity for ideas in paragraphs, but still fell short of the vision we have for our solution. Missing was an intuitive and visual UI to explore content interactively using multiple concepts and metadata (like dates, locations, etc). We want to give our users the power to create a rich and personal context to power through their research. What do I call this?
Some Google research led me to a great visualization and blog by David McCandless on the Taxonomy of Ideas. While the words in his viz are attributes of ideas, not the ideas themselves, it got me thinking in different ways about the problem.
If you substitute an idea (product or problem) in David’s matrix and add the dimension of time, you create a useful framework. If the idea above was “car”, then the top right might be Tesla and bottom left a Yugo (remember those?). Narrow the definition to “electric car” or generalize to “eco-friendly personal transportation” and the matrix changes. But insert an unsolved problem and now you have trouble applying the attributes. You also arrive at an innovator’s dilemma (not the seminal book by Clayton Christensen), the challenge of researching something that hasn’t been labeled and categorized yet.
Ideas begin in someone’s head. With research, debate, and engineering, they become products. Products have labels and categories that facilitate communication, search and commerce. The challenge for idea search on future problems is that the opposite occurs: products are not yet ideas and the problems they solve may not have been defined yet. If I may, Donald Rumsfeld nailed the problem with this famous quote:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
And if it’s an unknown unknown, it certainly hasn’t been labeled yet so how do you search for it? Our CEO Walt Diggelmann used to say it this way, “ai-one gives you an answer to a question, you did not know that you have to ask….! “
Innovators work in this whitespace.
If you could build and combine different intelligent (idea) agents for problems as easily as you test different combinations of words in a search box, you could drive an interactive and spontaneous exploration of ideas. In some ways this is the gift of our intelligence. New ideas and innovation are in great part combinatorial, collaborative and stimulated by bringing together seemingly unrelated knowledge to find new solutions.
Instead of pumping everything into your brain (or an AI) and hoping the ideas pop out, we want to give you the ability to mix combinations of brains, add goals and constraints and see what you can create. Matt Ridley termed this “ideas having sex”. This is our goal for Topic-Mapper (not the sex part).
So what better place to apply this approach than to the exploration of space? NASA already created a “taxonomy of ideas” for the missions of the next few decades. In my next blog I’ll describe the demo we’re working on for the grandest of the grand challenges, human space exploration.