Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Buttons

A well-coiffed ragamuffin asks:
Why isn't there a Moot button on all office phones? I think it would be handy during conference calls.

A fine question. I am answering it from this fine airport waiting lounge while I wait to board a plane. And I am doing fine, just fine. I can see outside and the rain is carving chunks of sky out and I can see that the plane is arriving. Fine. Just fine. Everything is fine here.

Your question is strangely prescient. While we did not call it a moot button, I have done work to develop a similar technology. However, it seems that the world is not yet ready for your moot button.

I recall my days working in research and development at a large international organization which I am contractually obliged to avoid naming. I do recall those days. We were like cats in the window, staring at the taunting blue jay that was just out of reach. I woke in the morning just a-raring to get to the office and start churning out research, or perhaps development. I seem to recall that it was research on Mondays and Fridays and development all other days. I could be wrong. It was all a delight, just a delight I tell you.

We, me and Andy, the fellow with the peculiarly long left pinky, had developed some algorithms which would allow for contextual language disposition. We were inspired based on a meeting that we had attended. After an hour long conference, Andy and I compared our notes. Yes we did. Compared them. Apart from the doodles (Mine were a little bit neater. His pinky sometimes gets in the way when Andy draws.) we had both captured only one actual note.

Stop leaving paper coffee cups and empty cigarette packs on the basement steps.

We realized that the hour-long meeting was largely, well, moot. Everything that was said was patently obvious.

Yep. There is the ticket person. Yep she just might announce boarding any time. All my bags are packed, I am ready to go. Standing here outside your door.

Yep. So Andy and I got to thinking. If we routed all inter-office communications through the Cray, did some contextual matching, created a dynamic category engine, and put every little timestamped tidbit into a database, we would have a record of what we knew. Of what, if stated in a meeting, would be, as you put it, moot.

Then, all we had to do is run some real-time voice-to-text software, compare the output to our new database, and see what kind of matches came up. Yup. that is what we did.

The results were mind expanding. An average meeting is 90% moot. 100% mootness occurs with shocking frequency, particularly in scheduled weekly meetings.

Now, I was going to stop there. File a report and call it good. But Andy took the Moot Engine (I call it this in honor of your question, for we were not so concise. We called it the Contextual Importance Relevance Identification Device.) yes he took the Moot Engine and wired it to some supercharged noise canceling headphones. When statements were flagged as moot, Andy's headphones would essentially put the room on mute. He would mute the moot.

Passport is right here. I have my passport. Will tell them it is for business. I am traveling for business. Research. Consultation with local experts in their field. Yes. Got it. Atlas, good to have. Map of city. Right here. OK. doing fine. Might have to cut the answer short a bit, but doing just fine.

Poor Andy. He knew not what he did. He lived in a silent world, devoid of human voice. He found that even his own voice was muted. Taking this as a challenge, Andy strived for relevance. It is a difficult row to hoe, having a monitor that will cut you off should you say something redundant or obvious. It did not take long for Andy to condition himself to speak only relevant and new statements.

As you can imagine, he was checked into a rest home with exhaustion after two months of constant pertinance. An undisciplined human mind just can not sustain that.

We scrapped the Moot Mute project after poor Andy got sent away, yes, sure enough we did. Yup. The world just is not ready for constant relevance. We need space filler, white noise, pleasantries, and statements of the obvious. Our life must have chorus and refrain as well as verse. So do not do as Andy did, and enjoy the moot.

My gate is boarding. I must go.