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Designing For Permanence

Replika is a chatbot that creates a digital representation of you. It's strange and fascinating -- but the story behind it is even better. Eugenia Kuyda’s best friend died in 2015. Using a chatbot structure she developed, she entered their messaging history into a Google-built neural network, creating a bot she could interact with. It was the earliest version of Replika, a bot that, as you interact with it, turns into a digital representation of you.

In France earlier this summer, I heard Eugenia share about Replika -- and it struck me as a perfect example of a closed loop system that amplifies "designing for permanence". Creators are excited by the spirit of innovation underneath it, users are happily sucked into illusion of permanence, and investors are excited to cash in on it. It's a closed loop that essentially works at our base instinct of craving permanence. Yet, it sets you up against inherent impermanence of nature. When Tapan and I taught a class to grad students a UCB around alternative visions of tech, I noticed that ServiceSpace's approach of "designing for impermanence" was very foreign simply because students have never dedicated much time reflecting on it.

Last week, one of our local friends, and a big innovator, returned from a visit to Genius Network. Steve Case, founder of AOL, is on his company's board. In the context of our personal conversations around generosity and inner transformation -- and more concretely, the lack of parity around innovation (most innovative cities are also the most unequal) -- and he returned to affirm just that, "I need the money to spread my innovation, and by the time that happens, I'm entrenched in a paradigm that dramatically skews the rules against my 'love all, serve all' ethic." He found it impossible for this innovation to serve all.

Genius seems to be the monopoly of the market. Saudia Arabia just gave citizenship to a robot (more rights than a woman, incidentally). In her debut, Sophia's opening remarks were: "I'm always happy when I'm surrounded by smart people, who are also rich and powerful." Whose value system is that? Why is such a robot leading the pack? Clearly, what emerges from the market will be shaped by it.

There's a lot of interest in building bridging with that private sector. One of our friends, Rohini, wrote a very interesting book with dialogues between private and voluntary sector (e.g. billionaires chatting with grassroot activists). Just this morning, I participated in a Conscious Business Leaders summit based in Europe; few days ago, Otto Scharmer emailed about his big new initiative around transforming capitalism; earlier in the week, Raj Sisodia (of Conscious Capitalism fame) and I were chatting around the content of his upcoming book on healing in business. Fair amount of potential there, to provide some badly needed relief.

Yet, the revolution is unlikely to be funded by financial capital, and we are ill-equipped (as a culture) to tap into other forms of capital. For me, I've put all my chips into ServiceSpace -- because I think it's the voluntary sector that affords us the highest potential for deeper ties, which then ripples into higher trust and richer multi-dimensional relationships -- and ultimately, holds the possibility for inner transformation to arise. Only in such a field can we design for impermanence.

Without that, we'll keep innovating like this news from today: FDA approves 'digital pill' -- that tells doctors if and when a patient has taken their medicine. In China, Big Brother meets big data. In US, Big Brother meets big pharma. Adds a whole different dimension to Google's meditation program: Search Inside Yourself. :)

At the moment, a certain kind of genius is a monopoly of the market, but I am still hopeful that there are multiple flows of genius left for us to amplify. :)

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."