'A bicycle for the mind'

JC Velten

2 months ago

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.

Steve Jobs used to argue with his co-founder Steve Wozniak that computers should be "bicycles for the mind." With this analogy he meant that technology should work for humans, augmenting people's abilities in simple, intuitive and elegant ways. Using a computer, he argued back in the 1980s, should feel as natural as riding a bicycle. You shouldn't need to understand, he argued, how chips and software code works. This simple insight put people as the center and inspiration for Apple's technology, and not the other way around, changing your life in the process. It seems like we need another Steve Jobs to remind us today that to enhance our lives products ands services should feel as natural as riding a bike: simple, intuitive and elegant.

So far they don't feel that way.

AI for breakfast, lunch and dinner

This week is Y Combinator Alumni Demo Day. Almost 70% of this batch are companies touting... wait for it... AI. Here are some elevator pitches:

@toinfinityai [Infinity], is a script-to-movie foundation model.

@tryparadigm [Paradigm] is building tool-driven AI autonomous agents.

@getDianaHR [Diana HR] is an AI powered HR person.

@OpenmartAI [Openmart] is an AI alternative to ZoomInfo.

@our_maia [Maia] is an AI relationship app that keeps couples together (big claim here!).

@yarn_so [Yarn] makes sales and marketing videos with AI.

@usetusk [Tusk] is an AI agent that fixes customers' bugs instantly.

@Leya.law is an AI assistant for lawyers.

@Maihem.ai [Maihem] is an AI agents that test AI products.

Let's just remember that before AI dominated every tech pitch, it was blockchain [where did it go?], and before blockchain, it was the metaverse. For those who like history, back in the late 90s you could not get funded if your name didn't end with ".com" 

Where is the human-centered big doer when we need her?

Here at Swim, we believe that in order to enhance your life in simple, intuitive and elegant ways, technology should be invisible. The role of tech companies like us is to use it to deliver benefits that enhance your life without forcing you to understand AI or move to the metaverse. Seriously, do tech people really think normal people will want to wear their world-cancelling goggles 24/7, or deal with an "AI relationship app that keeps couples together"?

Go into any cafe. Open your mobile. What you see is a screen to escape from where you are. All those apps you check dozens of times a day rob you from being present. If the owners of these apps had their way, you would live there, not here and now. If the likes of Instagram, the company "formerly know as Twitter" or TikTok are precedents we can rely on, what the bulk of AI-first tech companies seem to want you to do next is to go and move your life online, leaving, once and for all, the low-tech, analog and painful world around you. For them, technology is not a bicycle for the mind, but another way to make you the product they sell to advertisers.

We have a different hypothesis. We believe technology can help us connect places to the digital world in a way that makes sense: by augmenting them to enable you to live in the present, discovering people and things, right around you, that you wouldn't know are there. Then we want you to close the app to engage with them right there and then. Your mobile becomes a tool for exploring so you can interact in real life with people who share your affinities, rather than a device for escaping.

So where's Swim's AI?

We see AI [and your mobile, and the Internet, and augmented reality] working together towards giving us the potential to finally integrate places into the digital world so people can discover and engage with what's around them meaningfully, in the present, in a way that makes it easy and intuitive for anyone. Just like riding a bike.

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