Hello! This is the first issue of Augmented Intelligence, a newsletter about friendly computing.
I’m Max. I’m a whole-systems designer living in high desert New Mexico. In recent years I co-founded a bookstore and taught myself to code, but before that I was a builder of permaculture gardens.
The whole-systems philosophy of permaculture guides my approach to design. Whether I’m designing a business plan, a website or a food forest, I use ecological thinking to create productive, beautiful and resilient systems.
But this newsletter is not an advertisement for my services (I’m plenty busy — who isn’t?). This newsletter is about interfaces. Specifically, the interface between humans and computers.
There are other interfaces, of course, wherever two domains touch. A garden is an interface between human and plant. A bookstore is an interface to the world of written thought.
Just because an interface works, however, does not mean that it fits well into the larger system. The dominant style of human-computer interface design is short-sighted and wasteful. Through the lens of whole-systems design, it looks like a system for making the maximum amount of human misery, at the greatest cost.
To understand why things are this way requires a grand vision for politics, economics, history and science, which I do not have.
What I do have is an obsessive interest in interface design, and your email address. Expect a weekly missive on the hows of interfaces:
How did these interfaces evolve, how do they work, and how can we make them better?
The name of this newsletter is a play on “intelligence augmentation,” a computing concept coined in 1962 by Douglas Engelbart:
By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble.
— Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Engelbert 1962
Though gaining in popularity, this vision is still not realized. We build fake people — “artificial intelligences” — and force them to be our “assistants”, when we could be building tools that augment human intelligence. Humans could work with, not against, the machine. And the machines could work with us. A cybernetic meadow, where mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony.
Thanks for reading,
P.S.: If you got this in your inbox, you’re one of my very first subscribers — a true friend. You might know more about any of this than I do, or you might have an outside perspective that I fail to see.
Write back whatever thoughts you have, even a quick sentence or a weird question. I’m learning in public here, and I’d like nothing more than to help and be helped.
One favor? If you can think of someone who might like Augmented Intelligence, share it with them so they can subscribe too. The more people we connect, the more intelligence we can generate. Talk to you soon.