Roundtable Statement


Session Title:

  • Lovely Veneer: The underbelly of good design

Presentation Title:

  • Roundtable Statement




  • Roundtable: Lovely Veneer: The underbelly of good design

    Humans, for the most part, find it difficult to imagine processes that they cannot see: the scientific method of Popper, Lakatos, etc., is, in part, a response to this deficit, supplying a rigorous framework in which the invisible and abstract can be addressed. Applied mathematics serves similarly, as a tool kit that allows abstractions of often hard-to-observe physical processes to be written down and usefully manipulated. Logic and stochastic reasoning are comparable tools for representation and manipulation of meaning, underpinning many successful quasi-intelligent computer systems.
    Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction author, made (at least) two wise remarks on these matters. First, he argued that
      “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
    and then warned
       “Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.”
    People are often content, and even keen, to believe in magic; indeed, human dependence on religious and supernatural myth betrays a desperate need to explain, combined with a startlingly gullible tendency to believe whatever is told them loudly and often (and often by an old man with a long beard and theatrical manner, wearing a sparkly ballgown). They believe it no matter how severely it contradicts either itself or what they see around them. In the SerenA project, these issues are at a premium: knowledge about people is used to support them, to challenge them, and, potentially, to lead them astray—but in positive ways. The idea of inspectable user models, borrowed from Susan Bull’s AI/education systems and used in SerenA, is a key way of enabling users to engage with the information stored about them, and edit it. Such openness, embodied as encouragement to understanding, is rare in knowledge-rich computational systems, but is to be encouraged as social IT develops.