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Amorphous Text, A Socratic Exploration

Submitted as an entry to the Future of Text competition

Imagine an information medium that could respond; that could provide feedback. Something that would know if we’ve grasped a message. What would such a medium look like? Does its seed already exist, hidden amidst us? In today’s world of algorithmic news feeds, we are consumers of a never-ending deluge of content. Content generated to maximize user engagement, often at the expense of our long term interest. Could we take these same innovations and instead apply them for the benefit of users; to nudge us into better behavioral patterns?

What if a medium existed that knew what a user was reading; that knew if a user had understood the material? And if not, would automatically generate content to fill in knowledge gaps? What would such a medium look like? Would it lead to better learning and eventually better societal outcomes?

What even are these knowledge gaps that a user accumulates while reading? Are they caused due to missing prerequisite knowledge, or are they the result of exposure to unfamiliar thought structures? As a remedy, could this medium be linked to a neural interface that detects the presence or absence of these thought structures? Could the medium then generate the optimal content needed to build or repair these structures? What if the optimal format for this content existed in a language foreign to that of identifiable human languages? Would the medium learn to transform the text into a user-specific data space; one where ideas are easily digestible? What effect would this have on human comprehension?

After habitual use, would we lose the ability to comprehend ideas in the absence of this medium? Would certain ideas become acceptable, and others become forbidden knowledge? How would we reverse this irreversible decay; this eventual demise of forbidden ideas before they are forever lost to the sands of time?

Is the seed for such a future already germinating? Could this possible future materialize into existence? Only time shall tell, but one thing is certain. Our choice of forking paths in this garden of reality shall continue to influence the humanity’s course for generations to come.

Thanks to Cyrus Tabrizi for reading an initial draft of this.

Written October 22, 2020. Send feedback to @bhaprayan.

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