Header artwork by David Thomas

So, what's up? What's new?

I'm primarily leading a project on providing consultants with tools. In 2002 and 2003, I worked on an e-learning project. This has won several awards.

I visited my daughter Kim in the summer and came back with two new kittens (scroll down in poems of fun ).

Kristin has been working hard on many fronts. To catch some of her award winning songs, check out http://www.daydreamcafe.com/

Wendy and I attended the CSCW conference in New Orleans. I co-led a workshop there on socio-technical pattern languages. Shortly after, we went to California to spend Thanksgiving with her extended family. Both were fun! We even managed to get a round of golf in the day after Thanksgiving. Hard to be extremely accurate with borrowed clubs and after more than a month's layoff. The challenge of staying fit continues. For some strange reason, even though fresh fruits and vegetables are now available, at Thanksgiving people seem to want to keep to the practice of dousing nice produce with sugar, cream, butter, sour cream, and cream cheese. Go figure. It probably made sense in the Northeastern colonies in November 1500 when the vegetables and fruits at that point probably didn't taste very good without considerable doctoring. Now we have the luxury of fresh produce in November and still prepare it in the old way.

Wendy and I attended the DIAC-02 conference in April which asked people to submit patterns rather than papers. Shortly before that, we attended CHI '02 where I was in charge of a CHI retrospective ("Twenty Years of CHI") and attended workshops on computers and creativity and on HCI Pattern Languages. Other than that, we played golf this summer.

WorldJam seems to have been a roaring success in that IBMers from all over the world did "attend" the three day online meeting and posted many thoughtful and insigfhful comments. Wendy's group will be analyzing the results for some time to come. There were over 7 million hits and 22,000 unique visitors. I was in Matsue City Japan at the time for a conference on "Social Intelligence Design" chaired by Professor T. Nishida-san from the University of Tokyo. It was a fascinating meeting concerning how to combine what we know about social psychology, sociology, and computer science to design systems that improve our collective wisdom. But the timing required that I moderate my WorldJam forum at night and attend the meeting by day. I had tremendous trouble connecting via modem and the hotel's phone lines. My best guess is that some billing function camps on the line and immediately causes a disconnect from the IBM Global network. Nonetheless, with persistence, I was able to help Wendy "moderate" by posting many comments and replies.

This year, IBM followed up with ManagerJam, a similar world-wide on-line meeting for managers focusing on management issues. The earlier work on stories continues to resonante and reverberate in diverse places in and out of IBM.

Wendy and I recently attended a one-day course in "Social Network Analysis." The speed and power of applications available on a Thinkpad now is amazing. In particular, it has always bugged me that social scientists (including me) have used classical statistics when we KNOW the assumptions are not met. A widespread example is treating successive trials of one subject as independent. Not only is there no evidence that they are independent events; there is empirical evidence that they are NOT independent. Even in a simple two-choice reaction time, there are sequential effects that go back at least five trials. Another common example is having a group of people work together for awhile and then polling them on their opinions and then treating these opinions as "independent events." Well, for decades it has been known that an alternative is Monte Carlo simulation. Twenty years ago this was an expensive mainframe process. What is astounding is that you can now get software cheap to run these on your laptop in a split second. There is no more excuse for using classical statistics under invalid conditions.

Speaking of being bugged, here's another pet peeve. We were in Boston for this course, in record-breaking 91 degree heat outdoors and we are both sitting there in the Sonesta Hotel freezing our buns off! What is it about hotels that makes them think freezing people in hot weather is some sort of luxury? Meanwhile, the US is using up way more than it's share of energy. And, for what? So the citizens can be more uncomfortable? Jeez.

I'm at IBM, managing a project on the business use of stories and storytelling. In May, 2001, IBM will have a multi-day on-line innovation session with everyone in IBM invited to attend. This event, called "WorldJam" was partly inspired by a paper I wrote about "The Million Person Interface." It's an interesting and pretty gutsy experiment. There will also be on-line creativity aids inspired by some of the prototypes on our project website. Wendy and I will be co-moderating a session on "Work-Life balance."

Last year, Wendy was technical co-chair of Designing Interactive Systems and general Co-Chair of CSCW 2000. I was technical co-chair of Universal Usability. We recently returned from our first trip to Italy where we attended a workshop to help form a new Institute for Interaction Design in Ivrea.

At CHI 2001, I co-led a panel on "On-line Informed Consent" and another on the use of Pattern Languages in HCI. I also attended a two-day workshop on Interactive Narrative.

Here are a few recent short stories. The first one, unfortunately, is based on an actual incident that took place in Yorktown Heights.


Now, they are widening the road. Every morning, it adds five minutes to my commute. I'm not sure the width of the road was really the problem though. I wish it were. But I don't think so.

Billy doesn't mean to be mean with his question. Billy's mother bites back her tears and answers calmly, "We still don't know when Daddy will wake up." Only when the three-year old becomes engrossed again in his video, do mother's hot tears flow. She no longer bothers to wipe them off.

She's lost a lot of weight. Could you call that a gift of sorts, some silver lining to the funnel cloud that dipped into their lives 17 months ago?

She tries to teach Billy baseball, football, but she never learned them herself, never liked them. The boy wants to learn from his Dad. He thinks that maybe today, maybe in time for Christmas, Daddy will finally wake up.

But the Doctors don't think it likely. And, if he did wake up, he wouldn't be playing catch, they don't imagine.

All the workday evenings, through these same suburbs, the rush continues. Streams of zooming cars whine and weave their homeward way. Mostly, they do it without incident. But when three lanes squeeze to two, someone must go first and someone must be left behind.

The unidentified man in the SUV who ran Billy's father off the road needed to be first. Clearly, that was vital.

Clearly, there are some things only God forgives.

And now, on a lighter note....


Now, those of you who play golf realize that it is not easy to get all the parts of your game working together at the same time. Sometimes, you hit great drives and nice iron shots, only to watch your putts seemingly roll UPHILL all day. Or, some days, you're hitting great putts and nice, accurate iron shots. Unfortunately, the nice iron shots are between and under tree branches to get back out on the fairway because those long, low, straight drives you hit a hundred of yesterday on the driving range have been replaced by a long, high, slice. And, the designers and groundskeepers have conspired to put little ponds, thickets of birches, and blackberry hedges precisely in the spots where that slice goes.

So, naturally, I was happy when I finally got my long, short, and putting game all going great for a nine-hole twilight round. Par the first hole. Par the second hole. And, no cheating. I never cheat at golf. That is just self-defeating in the long run. Maybe I was headed for par for the course.

The third hole is a long par four with a sloping fairway. Difficult to arrange a drive that doesn't leave you 220 yards to the pin with a lie considerably below your feet (if you hit right-handed like me). So, sure enough, I hit a nice long, straight drive and managed to land it in the 25 square feet of level fairway. I walk up to my ball and where is it? In somebody else's unreplaced divot! That's where! Why don't people repair the course as they go along? Anyway, there is no way to hit an accurate 3-wood out of a hole like that. So what do I do? Well, first of all, I have to make sure it's really my ball, right? You don't want to hit someone else's ball. So, I take the end of my tight lies 3-wood and roll the ball over to make sure it's a Teitlist 3. It is! It is my ball. Well, what do you know? It seems to have rolled out of the divot. Hmmm. I wonder. Should I put it back in the divot? The one that shouldn't be there in the first place? I hate people who cheat at golf and never do so myself. There's a foursome behind us and replacing the ball would only slow down play, so I decide in the interest of etiquette, I'd better hit the ball from where it now lies. So I do. Wow! A nice straight hit that climbs up onto the green about six feet from the hole.

I might just make this for a birdie. I walk up to mark my ball and what do I see? My ball is sitting in someone else's unrepaired ball mark. Can you believe it? What's with people on these county courses? And, what about people who litter? In general, I believe people who litter should be fined handsomely. But people who litter on a golf course, particularly if they leave little golf-ball sized chunks of white or shiny plastic, should be drawn, quartered, and forced to eat their own livers. Raw. In small slices.

But back to the green. Now, a green is supposed to be an even putting surface. This is GOLF, damn it, not an off-track dirt-bike race. I mark my ball, just a little to the side, and when my turn comes, sure enough, I make my birdie putt.

Well, here I am one under and the next hole is a slight dogleg left with a strongly sloping fairway to the right. So, I generally try to take a little shortcut over some pine trees on the left and lay it onto a flat area for a shot at the green. I hit a towering drive that I imagine probably went beyond the flat area and rolled down the hill but I can't really see it land.

I get to the top of the hill and see my ball shining down at the bottom. I walk toward it, but notice that a foursome is about to tee off on the ninth hole. I have to hide behind a tree while they take approximately forever to tee off. The rest of my group has hit their shots and is drifting toward the green. I get about two feet from my ball and guess what?

It isn't a blasted golf ball at all! No! Some idiot has left a piece of white Styrofoam right where my ball should be. (Some idiot who should be eating his liver as we speak!). The foursome behind us is already teeing off. I can't very well walk back up the hill and search for my ball. I'm supposed to get five minutes. Shoot. I shake my head, infuriated, but drop a ball out in the fairway even with where my ball should have been and quickly hit a nine iron that lands on the very right hand edge of the elevated green and then bounces wildly right and down the hill into the sand. Jeez. Well, to make a long story short, I boggie and I'm back at par.

The next hole is an uphill par three. I hit a good shot but a little off left, maybe twenty feet from the green. I hit a perfect pitch shot which rolls to about four feet from the hole. This pin location is near the front of a ridiculously slanted green. I take my time, line up, and hit a perfect putt which lips out, barely and comes to rest about a foot from the hole... a foot and a half....what the heck? The ball is creeping, I mean creeping down the green. It begins to pick up momentum. It decides to go on a vacation. It's like a beer-drunk teenager on spring break. It rolls through the fringe and into the deep grass a good twenty-five feet from the hole. The same exact thing happens to one of my partners. Well, I give myself a three on that one. You can't really call that cheating.

Still cursing at the last pin placement, I get ready for the drive on sixth hole. Blam. Straight into the woods. My foot slipped! The tee box here is muddy. I take a mulligan and hit another one. Blam! Nice, low, straight drive straight into the woods, but longer than the first mulligan. I compose myself. Should I hit another one? I'd better just drop near where my first ball left the vicinity of the fairway. There's no way the tee box should be this muddy and slick.

I boggie the hole and get ready for an over the water downhill par three. I hit a beautiful shot over the water and smack it onto the green about six feet from the hole. Finally, I take my putt and there it goes straight for the hole. It stops on the very lip of the cup. The very lip. I wait. Surely, it will fall. It doesn't. It's par, technically. But, morally, it's a birdie, right? So, then there's that dilemma. Do I do the moral thing and give myself a birdie or be a stickler and give myself par? Well, I still have two holes to make up for a boggie, so, since I never cheat I give myself par, but I don't think you could really call it cheating if I had given myself a two. The ball just wouldn't fall though it should have.

Never mind. I parred the next hole and prepared to tee off for the par five ninth. I hit a lousy ball, dangerously high in the air. Lucky no planes were overhead. I must have teed it up too high, so I hit another drive. Shoot. This one sliced off into the woods. It was getting too dark to find or I would have played that one. I hate hitting a third tee shot, but I hardly had any choice. On balance, it would speed up play so the group behind us could at least finish nine. Third time's the charm and I finally hit the tee shot I meant to the first time. When I got to my ball though, it was behind a stone. A stone! On the fairway. This was too much. I kicked the stone out of the way, accidentally advancing my ball about ten yards in the process. Ten yards is nothing on a par five, so I hit it from there, a nicely hit 3 wood streaking to the opening of the well-protected green. I was just a pitch from the green now. Dusk was falling however, making precision difficult. Sure enough, I skulled the first two attempts past the green. By our fast play, though we had opened up a gap and I had time for a third attempt. Swoosh! Perfect! Right up on the green, only four feet from the hole. I picked up for my birdie and finished with par for the course. With no cheating, really.

Here's some writing, playing with multi-story.....The first three stories are related. Then, the next four are related.

Strange Encouter of the First Kind

He frightened her. He liked that.

Although he would never admit it to himself, she also frightened him in her own way.

But worse than that, she frustrated him. So many things he wanted to get, to do, to be. So many years of seeming success, lukewarm success, partial success. In between, the stinging failures. Had they really been her fault?

Who knew for sure?

But she was convenient. And scared.

He liked that.

When he humiliated her, it made him feel more powerful.

For awhile. Over time, she forced him to take more extreme measures. To be truly humiliated, there must be some element of novelty, something unexpectedly cruel. Mom had known that.

The waitress serving him now was altogether different. She showed no sign of fear. Was she brave? Or, just stupid -- a bad judge of character?

He would find out. He could feel the vibes. Feel her willingness.

They went to her place. "Anything you want," she had said. Begging to be humiliated. Fine with him. But, of course, he would have to push far beyond what she had had in mind. Otherwises, it wouldn't really be humiliation. He wanted her to feel the sting as he had, the begging hot tears on the red cheeks.

Here she comes. Skimpy clothes, mere nothings, suggestive, sexy -- and best of all, her lips parted, eyelids heavy, hands behind her back in that submissive pose.

What game was this? Why was she holding a gun? With a silencer!!

Strange Encounter of the Second Kind

Without the filter of a brain, Bullet's knowledge extended to the edges of the universe. But, his concerns focused nonetheless on a small, proximal bubble of reality. Time was infinite. There was yearning, but there was patience.

"Buy me! Buy me!" Bullet would shout soundlessly as each customer entered the store.

No-one did.

Not until the pretty woman came into the shop.

"Load me! Load me!" Bullet had screamed silently.

At long last, she did. The feeling of her fingers on his metal casing was almost too much to bear. He had never known such sheer pleasure; yet, it was a prelude of the greater pleasure to come. Now, Bullet lay surrounded by heavy metal, ensconced in the chamber, ready.

"Use me! Use me!" The pain of waiting.

The pretty woman pointed the revolver at the stupid man. Bullet was so ready to explode and go searing and screeching into that pasty flesh and bury himself into the solid oak paneling behind. Where would he sink himself? Would he shatter bone? He had been designed, manufactured, transported, shelved, bought, loaded -- all for this moment and now, she hesitated. Why?

He had been patient, but could wait no longer. "Fulfill me! Fulfill my life!" But the pretty woman wasn't pulling the trigger. She was making the stupid man drink out of a dog dish. Why? Why wouldn't she just pull the trigger? Now, the man convulsed on the floor; his eyes bulged; he begged for Bullet. Pretty woman only laughed.

Strange Encounter of the Third Kind

I'm pretty, but that won't keep me out of prison. I know that.

It was those songs, you see. That was what put me over the edge.

I had met her first in college. You could say, we were life-long friends. Though we didn't stay in touch often. But she confided in me about most everything. But even I didn't know at first about the beatings, the bondage. Eventually, of course, I found out. I told her to leave, as anyone would. But once I understood her situation, I saw that was not possible, not realistic. Too terrified.

I felt like killing him. Yet, I don't think I would have. Not even for the beatings. Like I said, it was the songs.

He made her sing over and over, more sweetly, more sincerely, more loudly till at last her throat ached and the tears poured, but still she had to sing those words again.

It was more than I could bear.

Getting the job as a waitress was easy. I'm pretty, you see. No experience necessary.

Getting him to my place was trivial.

I was willing to clean up the mess a bullet would have made. But, I'm glad I didn't have to.

The yellow dog dish was pure inspiration. Just as I figured, he thought I just wanted to humiliate him, making him crawl over on all fours and lap the liquid from the dog dish. His game, you see, was Humiliation.

He never saw that mine was Death.

Mirror, mere

"Come on, y'all'll enjoy it."

"Sounds stupid. Ain't been in a 'Scare Houses' since I was twelve."

"This here one's great! 'Sides, you can cop a feel."

Willard's pale skinny finger fluttered toward the facade. "Looks like the same stupid grinnin' clown and the same ugly witch as back in 'Bama.' What's so special about this'n?"

"These New York dudes got themselves some whiskey cool mirrors."

"One's thang's for danged sure. These here Ryeland tickets costs 'bout ten times our state fair for the same danged rides."

"Come on, Willard, give it a go."

"Fine." Willard spied two teenage girls joining the line, and sidled in behind them. One had tight slacks but the other wore a loose cotton dress. Didn't she know about that blast of air? Or, maybe she did. Liked, in fact, showing off her panties. Pink? Black?

The dark, the pop-ups, the rollers. Willard's eyes adjusted slowly to the dark. The youngsters soon sped out of groping range. What's next? Stupid House of Mirrors. Willard turned the corner. Where the hell was Gene? "Screw him," he muttered and wondered whether he'd be a beanpole or a midget. He looked in the mirror.

"What the --- ! Gene, how they do that?"

But Gene had disappeared.

Willard blinked again at the cute, black teenage girl gaping at him in the mirror; blinked; stared down at the black hairless arms and the bluely sparkled fingernails; screamed in that high girly voice; watched her ample heaving breasts.



Watch for the next installment....

Mere, Mirror

Good Morning!

The sunlight sparkles on the snow,
Sparkles on the sea,
On the fields of wheat,
On the forests.

A New Day,
A New Millennium.
Lids flutter open
In waves across the world.
Minds awake from their deeply troubled dreams.
Blind ambition opens sleepy lids;
Wipes the sand away from slumber.

Humanity awakes!
At long last,
The veil is lifted from minds and hearts.
Hands touch hands,
The world round.
Everyone laughs as if on cue
To think that we were ever so blind,
To think that we were ever so silly.
We chuckle and shake our heads.
Our teen-age years of rebellion are over.

Guns fall silent;
People see beneath the skin;
People hear beneath the accent;
We are glad to have so many brothers,
So many sisters, so many long-lost cousins.
With joy, the people begin the long,
Long journey back to Eden.

We remake our travelling spaceship jewel,
We replant the surface of the earth.
Seen from space,
Our whirling little marble greens again,
Our whirling edge of blue clears again.

Seen from our backyards,
The moon grows clear and huge,
And stars once more appear in night skies.
Birds fly over Mexico City;
Dictators become gardeners;
Soldiers become poets;
Plastic turns to wood.
Creation is re-created.
Paradise, always there,
Suddenly appears;
Our multi-millennial blindness is cured.
Our multi-millennial sleep is over.

Good Morning!

The Wit and Wisdom of Cats as Expressed in "Hi-Cat-Ku"

On the Infinite Wisdom of Change.

Tao is not in In.
Nor Out. Content Yourself in Tao:
Infinite In/Out.

On the Infinite Wisdom of Patience.

Pasted to Kitchen
Window. Watching. Who knows what
Bird may come or when ?

On the Infinite Wisdom of Food.

Monica ? Clinton ?
Bosnia ? Millennium ?
Mackerel ! Here ! Now !

Here's a DRAFT of a paper presented at HCIC 1999. An HCI Agenda for the Next Millennium: Emergent Global Intelligence.

John C. Thomas
IBM T. J. Watson Research
PO Box 704
Yorktown Heights, New York 10598



McKee (1997) claims that conflict, as portrayed in story, exists at three fundamental levels: intrapsychic, interpersonal, and with the wider society or environment. These roughly correspond to three stages in the development of the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). In the first few decades, the emphasis was largely on using cognitive psychology to support individual workers. The last few decades have seen a gradual shift toward an emphasis on supporting the team. In the next decade, we predict that the emphasis will continue to shift toward supporting the entire organization (e.g., Intranets), interdependent organizations (e.g., Extranets) and ultimately the entire social, i.e., human, experience.

Alexander (1977) and Oldenburg (1997) illustrate some of the ways that architectural space can facilitate or inhibit effective social behavior at a variety of levels. Similarly, we believe that a socially oriented and aware computing "field" can be constructed to support or inhibit effective collective action. Popular books are already appearing (e.g., Lipnack and Stamps, 1997) on "how to" build effective virtual teams with little reference to the relevant CSCW and HCI literature. The questions desperately being asked by corporations, governments, and the general public about how to use technology in the large to serve human needs are not being answered at the level of scope and generality that our current scientific methodologies provide.

Of course, there are important interactions among the levels of organization. The cognitive difficulties that individuals have that stem from tendencies such as seeking only confirmatory evidence, the fundamental attribution fallacy, focus on the short-term (Ornstein and Ehrlich, 1989), and failure to observe base rates, e.g., produce difficulties at a social level. Of course, poorly designed individual interfaces to technology can also inhibit effective social action. Thus, we are certainly not claiming that good HCI design at the individual level will ever become irrelevant to the creation of global intelligence. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

While much of CSCW still seems to operate under the implicit assumptions that we need to make teleconferencing as much like face to face meetings as possible or that we need to make virtual spaces like real spaces, we are struck with the considerable difficulties that remain in interpersonal communication even when it is face-to-face. Even small teams and families are often notoriously dysfunctional. Large organizations seldom seem even fractionally as productive as the sum of their parts. Huge amounts of resource are spent worldwide on misunderstandings and miscommunications across various political and organizational boundaries. The costs range from the billions of dollars spent on the mismatch in cognitive models between end-users and help desk personnel to the trillions of dollars consumed by armed conflicts.

In Jihad versus McWorld, Barber (1995) points out that we are experiencing two seemingly contradictory trends: globalism and retribalization. Jacobs (1997) identifies these trends with two disparate value systems: an older one based on territoriality and a newer one based on commerce. A major challenge for HCI in the next century is to take the next logical step: to address head-on social issues; to provide a space that facilitates creative dialectic and value out of diverse viewpoints and even value systems such as those mentioned above. In order to accomplish this end, we should not draw a sharp boundary around HCI so that it only includes something with an explicit and separate "computer" as a major component. Any tool, technique, policy, procedure as well as any technology, embedded or separate, that helps bring people to the next level of social cooperation should be a legitimate field of inquiry.

Many investigators today, noting the sea of information that we are drowning in, call for more efficient search tools, more comprehensive meta-data, and more effective filtering agents. These are fruitful lines of research and development. We believe that another avenue worth exploring is to turn toward more organic, more integrated, more "primitive" methods of understanding and communicating social information, methods such as "stories."

In contrast to the last few hundred years of increasing emphasis on analysis and trying to dissect factors from each other and content from context, story revels in complex systems; accepts and thrives on conflict; often portrays multiple perspectives; and gives the reader or listener a chance to "live another life." It seems that story may be fundamental to the way we perceive and recall the world (Schank, 1990; Murray, 1997). It may be also fundamental to the world we create for the next century. How can we use the power of story and the story-creation process? Can we create something that transcends the old use of story to help us collectively comprehend the world in greater detail and complexity?

It is something of a truism in HCI that the construction of appropriate technological support depends upon the users, their tasks, and their contexts as well as the technology available. We might then ask, given limited resources, what tasks, users, and contexts of use should HCI focus on for the next millennium? It is suggested that there are three critical interrelated objectives that we might challenge ourselves with in this regard. First, how can we actually design a better worldwide network -- not one that hopes at best to mirror the properties of face-to-face communication -- but one that transcends face-to-face communication in that it overcomes problems that arise in "normal" human conversation because of our cognitive limitations? In other words, how can we design a system that allows global intelligence to be brought to bear on critical problems.

Second, we need to develop a methodology that can address issues at a scope that is commensurate with the critical problems people face; viz., how can technology-social systems be designed to enhance human productivity and enjoyment in the large? How will we be able to measure our progress toward effective global intelligence?

Third, we need to develop new representations that take account of natural human strengths (such as story telling and comprehending) but that also enable us to achieve the accuracy of analytical thinking. When we think within a representational system, whether it is an analytic framework or a narrative one, we are typically not aware of the limitations introduced by that representation. As Bohm (1994) says, though creates our world and then says, "I didn't do it." We need to develop a self-reflective set of representations, rich with annotations about its own limitations that help global communities develop complex, intelligent adaptive systems.

A more concrete way to state the confluence of these three goals might be: "How do we develop the technological support to let a million people be a million times as smart as one person?" This seems to be a goal that is both challenging and worthy of HCI for the next millennium.

While the goal is, to put it mildly, a "Stretch" goal, it is not discontinuous from current HCI. There is a growing literature in "captology" (Computers As Persuasive Technology; http://www.captology.org/), CSCW, organizational learning, and architecture and urban planning that provide some pieces in this rather large puzzle. It is time to start putting them together. Perhaps the UARC and SPARC projects can serve as a model first step. Scientists in the Upper Atmospheric Research community (http://www.crew.umich.edu/UARC/) have fundamentally changed the way that they do science as the result of a technological infrastructure designed with some sensitivity to individual and social issues in HCI (Finholt and Olson, 1997).


It has become such a truism that people may have largely become inured, but it remains true that the human race faces a number of complex problems of a serious, global nature. Among these are the very real possibility of ecological disaster. For example, global warming could well change ocean currents and produce an ice age. Widespread destruction through the use of nuclear weapons remains a possibility. The earth is running out of arable land and potable water(see http://www.dieoff.org for references and details). There are numerous significant social problems: high rates of poverty, crime, and drug use; economic challenges and so forth.

How do we address such problems? Problems of this type require wide-scale cooperation for implementing any potential solution. Yet, any one solution point will probably not be locally optimal for most of the people whose cooperation is needed. There are numerous and complex partially overlapping and contradictory goal-structures for individuals, groups, and institutions. One approach might be to support a single very smart individual or small team through knowledge management technology. Perhaps such a person or individual could comprehend such problems in order to find a solution and then they might be able to convince everyone else to implement their solution. But unless people understand the problem and the proposed solution in fairly great detail, there will be a great deal of understandable skepticism that any proposed solution is especially geared toward the goal structure of the proposers. ("Let's make the rich, richer and everyone else will benefit through the wealth trickling down through layers of society. Yeah. Sure.")

It appears that a very different approach will be required to solve such problems and then have the solutions implemented (Thomas, 1996). One such approach is to provide an interactive computational matrix that supports very large scale groups to find, formulate, solve, and commit to implement such complex, wicked problems. In order to design such a system, we will first review at a very high level some of the strengths of human knowledge processing that might be exploited and some weaknesses to be compensated.


Implicit in many of the writings in Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Human Computer Interaction is the notion that a goal of technology should be to allow communication at a distance the same degree of fidelity and the same bandwidth as face to face communication. While it may be true that there are some current applications of CSCW that suffer from such limitations today, face to face communication is not the ultimate ideal for all situations. Even in face to face communications, people misunderstand each other, negotiate from positions instead of needs, avoid looking for the win-win solution, respond on the basis of prejudice, and fall prey to their own irrational beliefs. While modern technology may bring with it its own set of problems the pre-electronic world still had its share of wars and crimes. In addition, because of the structure of natural language and physical reality, face to face interaction is effectively limited to either a broadcast mode or a very small group.

Among the human limitations that impinge on our ability to communicate and solve complex problems are a bias toward noticing events that have large scale quick changes. As Ornstein and Ehrlich (1989) point out, the problems that face people today such as ecological disaster do not engage us emotionally or sensorially -- our attentional mechanisms evolved to deal with falling trees and lunging predators, not slow but systematic destruction of the ecological infrastructure that supports life.

In addition, natural language evolved over many millennia to allow small groups to communicate when those groups shared a common viewpoint and context. Today, we face problems wherein very large numbers of separate contexts and viewpoints are relevant to workable solutions.

Humans have many problems understanding basic statistical properties (Paulos, 1998). Again, Failure to take into account base rates, sensitivity to first information, the "Gambler's Fallacy" and other cognitive dysfunctionalities limit people's ability to deal well with complex problems that include probabilistic aspects (which is most of them).

Human beings also tend to access problem solving heuristics and algorithms on the basis of surface features of the problem rather than deep structure. Indeed, it often seems that simple logic eludes people (Wason and Johnson-Laird, 1972). Yet, when these same logic problems are put into a narrative context that people can relate to, they are much more able to make intelligent choices.

People do have some amazing and potentially useful sensory capabilities however. For example, people can recognize complex scenes that they have seen before even after brief exposures. They can comprehend speech in the presence of considerable noise and recognize the voices and faces of people they have known when heard or seen in a different context despite years without practice.

People are also capable of making fine relative discriminations in pitch, touch, and color in simultaneous presentations. People already have stored in their heads as adults a large amount of knowledge. With practice, people can learn highly complex motor skills. When they do make errors in the performance of these motor skills, the error patterns have some predictability perhaps allowing the possibility of some degree of automatic correction.

People can also modify behavior on the fly to deal with novelty. For instance, we can "understand" the speech of someone whose vocal tract we've never heard before; we can quickly adapt to a new font or handwriting style. If we have some skilled performance and need to perform the task with a new instrument or with a slight injury, we can adapt to the new situation quickly. People seem to have excellent memory for spatial position and can navigate quickly through two or three dimensions.

People also seem quite good at making use of their physical environment in order to aid memory and processing as illustrated by many papers on distributed cognition at HCIC a few years ago.

A natural way for small groups and even larger communities to share knowledge seems to be through the telling of stories. Telling a story often leads to telling another story that is related. By comparing and contrasting elements of stories, groups seem to be able to begin to build up a common and deeper understanding of some situation, culture, person, or artifact.

While people can engage skillfully in natural language behavior in small groups, there is a significant problem in the structure of natural languages that makes it relatively unsuited (in its unaltered state) for highly interactive large scale use. The problem is that the symbol space and the meaning (or referent) space are not very congruently mapped. While, on the one hand, "I do love my Macintosh (*TM) computer." and "I do love my Thinkpad (*TM) computer" are close in symbol space and close in meaning space, the sentences, "I do want to launch all the nuclear bombs." and "I do not want to launch all the nuclear bombs." are close in symbol space but quite different in meaning space (and in pragmatic space).

Formal logic shares this property. Thus, from the statement: "p AND p", one can only deduce "p" or a tautology. But, from "p AND ~p" one can deduce anything. Similarly, a slight change in a programming language completely changes the behavior of a program. When I ran the PDP-8 computer lab on the psychology of aging study, e.g., someone had written a program which was intended to collect reaction times. Instead, the actual behavior of the program was to ruin seemingly random parts of the operating system. In this case, the indirect bit had accidentally been set and therefore instead of storing the reaction time, it was using the reaction time as an address.

For this reason, when we attempt to use natural language, mathematics, or computer languages as a means for large group collaboration, an inordinate amount of time and energy is spent proof-reading, editing, and testing. Generally, in fact, a "published" piece of science is seen and reacted to by a moderate to large group of people before it becomes provisionally accepted as "true."

Contrast this behavior, for instance, with what appears to be the highly statistical nature of the brain. The firing behavior of individual neurons in the auditory or visual system at primary levels does not seem to be perfectly correlated with specific events; however, statistically, the behavior does seem predictable and we are able at the organismic level to make fine relative discriminations.

Can we then organize a system of human beings so that the individual human being does not need to be precisely correct but only statistically correct and do this in a manner which still results in the overall super-organismic behavior being correct?

One path that we might consider exploring would be the design and development of a language in which the symbol space mapped well into the referent space. In this way, if a person misspoke slightly or made a typo, there would be no measurable effect on system behavior because the overall meaning would be well preserved. It would be desirable, furthermore to design the written and spoken language so that basic meaning held up well over distance. In this way, readers and listeners at a great distance could still get the "gist" of what was being communicated though the details would not be present. This would allow the kind of many-layered and textured communication that Tufte (1990) shows in the three-dimensional maps of Paris and Manhattan constructed respectively by Bretez-Turgot and Constantine Anderson. Notice that music, to a much greater degree than spoken language has this property. As John Seely Brown and others have pointed out, people can use overall visual cues about a familiar genre such as the Wall Street Journal to help organize their search and reading behavior. With existing spoken language however, listening to a host of conversations simultaneously may give us some flavor of the emotional tone and energy in a room, but almost nothing about content. For that to happen, language would have to be designed to accommodate such a purpose rather than for single conversations.

Unfortunately, designing such a language and then getting a significant number of people to learn to speak, hear, read, and write it would be a monumental undertaking no more likely of success than Esperanto or the beautifully crafted and phonetic spelling system designed by George Bernard Shaw (who left his fortune to promulgate his system only to have the British courts set aside the will as ridiculous).

On the other hand, existing natural language search technologies such as the Latent Semantic Index (Dumais, 1998), are becoming sufficiently accurate, especially with iterative relevance feedback that we might consider having a powerful enough computer essentially provide such a mapping function, so that, even using natural English in a natural way, we would effectively have the illusion that we received the "essence" of far-away conversations and the "details" of close-in conversations.


It appears that humanity is already embarking on nascent experiments in the general direction of global intelligence systems. Some of these systems are reviewed below.

4.1 The case of the found prime factors and similar cases.

The search for Mersenne primes (primes of the form 2**n - 1) has been and is being carried out in a vastly parallel fashion across multiple computational resources by hundreds of investigators world-wide (see http://www.mersenne.org/prime.htm). So far a number of very large primes have been found. (In case it is not intuitively obvious, the largest as of January 31, 1999 is 2**3021377-1).

In this case however, a single intelligence was able to "partial out" various discrete non-interacting subparts to various individuals who are all using common software. We can imagine other problems that have similar well-defined structures and are similarly decomposable. Of course, some overhead and organization is required to pull off such an undertaking and it is definitely in the neighborhood of the thesis of this paper; however, it seems odd to speak of this as a kind of superintelligence. Yet, we should keep this model in mind for those problems that are luckily completely decomposable.

Science sometimes works in almost this way. Individual anthropologists can focus study on individual tribes; individual medical doctors can publish results on unusual specific patients (e.g., Tueber's HM who had severe Korsakov's syndrome or Luria's synthesthetic mnemonist); individual biologists can focus on particular species or even varieties. After years of study and many false paths, the findings can be published and others can learn the results of these studies at a much reduced cost. This is possible because, to the first approximation, the behavior of individual tribes, individuals, and species is decomposable.

4.2 The web.

Some ardent supporters of the web may say that it already provides a "million person interface." Massetti, White, and Spitler (1999) found no evidence that web use increased user's idea generation performance. Indeed, although the web is often portrayed as a place for democracy, extensive empirical studies (e.g., Whittaker, Terveen, Hill, and Cherny, 1998) indicate that in actuality, participation is extremely skewed.

In fact, many of the mechanisms that have evolved over several centuries for ensuring the accuracy and quality of information in print media are still lacking in the web. While the capacity to produce animation and grainy video is cheap and therefore widespread, the handling of content is uneven in quality and not very well-organized.

Nonetheless, there are special circumstances, such as the search for primes, in which the web, even now seems well-suited. I also predicted (Thomas, 1995) that HCI, by the year 2020 would be using distributed web-based heuristic evaluation. I received the first such request only a few weeks after that chapter was published!

4.3 Organizations.

Of course, large numbers of people do work together for larger goals. When the subtasks and the resources can each be separated into independent units productivity can be roughly linear with the number of people. For example, if 10,000 people each have a small plot of arable land, then 10,000 people can basically produce 10,000 times as much as one person. An army of ten thousand door-to-door sales people with non-overlapping territories can basically sell 10,000 times as much as one such sales person. This is essentially the same as the problem of finding the prime numbers. Notice also that the non-interactivity of subproblems also has an important motivational side-effect. Individual farmers are rewarded and therefore motivated by their individual efforts (unlike the failed experiments of Soviet collective farming). Individual sales people are generally paid largely on commission. Credit will accrue to those individuals who find the largest primes. This avoids the "tragedy of the commons" problem. Where interactions among subproblems do occur, such linearity may fail, sometimes spectacularly as when lack of any intervening vegetation and other factors produced the Dust Bowl in the much of United States earlier in this century.

We can imagine improving over linearity in some of these situations. If, for instance, the 10,000 sales people with non-overlapping territories try a number of variations on the sales pitch and keep track of and share results, we could expect 10,000 sales people to sell more than 10,000 times as much as one person through the spread of best practices. In addition, there may be other collective benefits. For example potential customers may move from place to place and help "sell" the product through word of mouth. There is a greater chance of a media promulgated story about the product if it is being sold by 10,000 people rather than one. Notice that in order to keep the motivational issues in balance, in order to share, sales people must truly believe that their territories are independent and that contributions to a common knowledge base will be reciprocated. Just as in the case of finding prime factors, it seems odd to use the term "emergent intelligence" applied to this linear increase in productivity that comes about by virtue of the clean decomposability of the problem.

We can imagine further increases above linearity due to specialization. So, for instance, rather than imagining potential customers as an undifferentiated mass, there might be 100 different types of customers who are more willing to buy with specifically geared pitches. Then, if we can arrange to have the "right" sales people matched with the "right" customers and these sales people can refine and target their audiences, they can be more than linearly productive. This begins to sound like the rudiments of emergent intelligence.

In the examples above, we have neatly hypothesized discrete territories, a minimum of controlled interaction, well-structured problems with non-interacting parts. In many real organizations, things are not nearly so cleanly partitioned. In a more typical social or business organization, the environment changes over time, the individuals change over time, and the nature of the task changes over time. Moreover, it is often the case that the subtasks that complex organizations engage in are not independent but highly interdependent. It often seems that the left and right "hands" of an organization are working at cross purposes. For instance, when I managed the Voice Dialing project at NYNEX, one of the computer scientists in the lab ordered the Voice Dialing service. He was given an install date. The date came and went but no voice dialing capability appeared. When he called up the Installation and Repair people to find out why his date had not been met, they told him that it was impossible to get voice dialing where he lived; the switch at his Central Office did not have the right system software. So, trying to be a good corporate citizen, he called back the Customer Service Rep who had sold him voice dialing to inform her. But she said, "Yes, you can!" Eventually, the Customer Service Rep and the Installation and Repair person were yelling at each other over the phone.

Whether it is software development, sales efforts, corporate strategy, or the weekly update meeting, I think it is fair to say that most of our experience with complex real-world organizations is that they seem far less than linearly productive and intelligent. A typical committee of even ten people does not seem ten times as smart as the average committee member. A Senate of 100 people seldom strikes one as 100 times as smart as one Senator. I will return to this issue later. Meantime, are there things known about complex organizations that can inform our design?

A series of empirical studies of highly successful companies seems to indicate some consensus on factors that are correlated with financial success and longevity (Kotter and Heskett, 1992). De Gues (1997) found these common characteristics in large-scale organizations that had survived for more than a hundred years: 1. Sensitivity to the environment. 2. Cohesion and identity. 3. Tolerance and decentralization; an ability to build constructive relationships with other entities within and outside itself; and 4. conservative financing; being able to govern its own growth and evolution effectively. Collins and Porras (1994) infer a number of commonalities in highly successful companies including experimentation/diversity, building processes and mechanisms to support values, not being satisfied with "good-enough", and setting "big hairy audacious goals." For the most part, we are unable to experimentally manipulate organizational variables although a colleague of mine, Bart Burns, used the De Gues principles to run the "People Express" business simulation and managed to raise the stock price from $1 to over $400 in six simulated years. With the increase of business knowledge, modeling savvy, and computational power, it may soon be possible to run fairly realistic simulations of complex organizations (Prietula, Carley and Gaesser, 1998). Meanwhile, we can imagine that the development of "mutual trust" or "social capital" is important in bridging gaps of time and space in allowing reciprocation to take place. If mutual trust is low, for instance, in any effort at having sales people cooperatively build a data base for their mutual benefit, any lag in time between an individual's contribution and reciprocation will tend to produce cynicism and a felt punishment. This in turn will lead to lower levels of participation and less mutual trust. Conversely, high levels of mutual trust lead to higher participation and thus to higher levels of mutual trust. It is not surprising then that Putnam et als (1993) found early "social capital" to be a much better predictor of the later economic vitality of a region in Italy than was the earlier economic vitality of that region.

4.4 Using the Community of communities principle.

Perhaps one of the most compelling stories of large-scale semi-organized social action is the work of Karl-Henrik Robert in Sweden (See http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC35/Robert.htm). As a pediatric oncologist, Dr. Robert was convinced that increased pollution was contributing to the incidence of several kinds of cancer. Moreover, he became both frustrated and amazed at the apparent contradiction that people were so reluctant to make tiny changes in their behavior to prevent increased pollution and yet when parents found out their own child had cancer they were willing to make any sacrifice (of course, this is the "tragedy of the commons" again). When he went to conferences on pollution and cancer, experts kept disagreeing on details. Some thought that the levels of Chromium in the water were already giving people bladder cancer while others insisted the concentration would not be sufficient for another two years. In frustration, he began to delve down to a level of shared belief -- what is it that the experts did agree on. It took 22 iterations among various experts but he ended up with a set of four principles that they all agreed on. He also constructed a systems diagram showing the inter-relationship of important economic, behavioral, and physical variables. He got several major companies in Sweden to agree to the principles leading to a sustainable economy; then got the King of Sweden to order the principles printed up for everyone in the country. Then, he used a "community of communities" organization to further promulgate a move toward a sustainable economy. Now, in Sweden there are organizations such as "Computer scientists for a sustainable economy", "Church leaders for a sustainable economy" and so on. Each community best knows how to motivate and administer within its own domain.

Essentially, while all the communities agree on the basic principles, they are able to move in parallel in the domains they know best. If they can share best practices of processes and do better than chance at partialing out which contextual factors require modification across domains and which do not, and to the extent that there are few cross-domain negative interactions, they may be able to achieve approximate linearity (or better) in relating effects to effort. Again, precisely to the extent that they are successful because they really are simply applying parallel efforts, it seems odd to call this emergent intelligence though it may be a good model for effective social or political action. Having a simple system image that everyone can relate to helps not only in that it can guide collective action, but also because, by seeing how compelling the principles are, each individual becomes more trustful that others will also follow the principles. We can also imagine that relying on a community of communities approach further increases mutual trust because primarily and locally you are relying on individuals that you already trust and you only need trust in the other communities on a longer term basis.

4.5 Rock concerts, festivals, conferences, etc.

There are, of course, a large number of cases where large groups of people congregate and engage in various activities. They have various degrees of structure from a relatively undifferentiated mass of people in an audience watching a few performers to relatively well-structured subdomains. At a rock concert, certainly there is a degree of interaction and the communication of mood across the audience. However, it might be stretching the point to hold it up as a model of emergent intelligence.

Nevertheless, I would like to relate an incident that illustrates the possibility for the emergence of some degree of collective intelligence even at a concert. For the last seven or eight years, I have attended Ben and Jerry's Folk Festival in Newport Rhode Island. What I most enjoy about this outdoor event is that I can dance to the music. One year, we arrived and it poured down rain the entire time. Everyone was huddled, shivering under umbrellas and raingear. After a few hours of this, I thought, "Well, heck with this. I came here to dance!" So, I stripped down to my bathing suit and began dancing to the music. Alone. But I was having a great time -- and I was much warmer than I had been huddled down in wet clothes. Several people on stage made reference to my dancing. After awhile, a few more people began dancing. By the end of the day, nearly everyone was dancing. The truth was, especially in the rain, it was a much more enjoyable way to spend the time. And, although a concert is primarily a one-way broadcast event, the idea of dancing spread laterally through the audience. Without any explicit "tournament structure" people throughout the large audience gradually came to adopt the "best" idea for how to enjoy themselves in the pouring rain.

At a complex multi-event festival or conference, an intelligent participant can use a variety of printed and social cues to program their behavior so as to benefit more from the conference than a random sampling of venues and events. There is some chance for people to summarize "most notable experiences" for others who did not actually participate. Yet, it is hard to imagine that a conference achieves anything like a linear increase in group intelligence. Is either the outcome or the process of a 3000 person CHI conference 1000 times as "intelligent" as a good three-person conversation?

4.6 Religion and Custom

One could argue that much of religion and culture is the distillation over time of specific experiences, told and retold through stories that evolve and become more and more significant. Imagine, for example, that over many centuries, people again and again experienced that certain specific instances where deadly plagues were associated with certain dietary practices. Eventually, such stories might well come to take on the quality of "enforced" realities. "You MUST NOT do such and such." People, through the distillation of many many stories, may have come to realize that basically, murder does not work as a way to solve interpersonal problems. It seems to work at first, but eventually, there is revenge and counter-revenge, and it becomes antithetical to the survival of the whole community. Of course, there are many other views on religion and/or custom, but one view is that it is a form of collective intelligence.

4.7 Free Markets.

Some might consider the "invisible hand" of the marketplace as a kind of global intelligence. Through the individual decisions of many millions of consumers, the money flows to the "right" things more intelligently than it would if it were controlled even by an intelligent and benevolent dictator. Specifically, there might be something to be learned about the million-person interface from the open trading markets. They are highly interactive, highly multi-dimensional, semi-structured, and "liquid."

It is beyond the scope of this paper to do a detailed critique of unbridled capitalism, but suffice it to say that without any regulations whatsoever, numerous destructive, addictive drugs might be advertised, manufactured, bought and consumed. It is unclear, for example, that thousands of people dying of lung cancer constitutes a manifestation of global emergent intelligence.

4.8 Pervasive computing and other interesting things.

There are efforts afoot to embed computing devices more pervasively into the environment, to make architecture itself more "intelligent"; to provide people with augmented reality devices and active badges to help them understand dynamically their social relations to others. It is now possible to exchange information with another person simply by shaking hands (through small electrical signals conducted over the skin via a Personal Area Network). All of these trends seem to point toward the possibility of larger scale cooperation but it is not yet clear, at least to me, how to integrate them.

At a recent Institute for the Future meeting, people without musical training were taught small pieces and assembled eventually into a large coordinated improvisational jam session (Smoliar and Baker, 1999). In order to make this work, however, particular processes have to be followed. And, although this is a type of large scale cooperation, music "composes" well (see Section 3) compared with our existing symbol systems for meaning.

Although, as mentioned previously, the typical business meeting often seems much less than linearly productive, there have recently been some promising results with a technique called Dialogue (Bohm, 1990). The word "Dialogue" does not, as most people assume, come for words for "two" and "meaning" but from the Greek words for "through" and "meaning." Dialogue then, is not just a gentile alternative word for debate but connotes an entirely different group process. In a typical group meeting, while one person talks, other people listen briefly, categorize the remarks, determine whether they agree or disagree, and on that basis begin formulating and rehearsing their response carefully looking for an opportunity to state their case. Of course, the social and political dynamics are much more complex than that, but it is fair to say that the outline above describes many meetings. The best possible outcome one can expect is that the best individual idea is adopted.

In Dialogue however, the process is different. People share some thought or experience. The others listen. After listening, they reflect for a moment. Then, someone else says something. Together, people try to build "in the center" a more comprehensive systems view of what is relevant to them. Some of the collectively developed knowledge is metaknowledge. "Isn't that interesting. Whenever someone mentions topic X, I immediately assume that they are really talking specifically about Y." "This group seems to have two factions with completely different ideas about our goals." Dialogue seems particularly useful in situations where people are engaged in a complex system but no one person (or even small group) understands the complete system. By "complete system" of course, I'm including the "rules" inside the heads of individuals. This technique has yielded some promising results (Isaacs and Smith, 1994; Isaacs, 1996).


5.1 Organizational issues

Since we are focusing on problems that exist in a complex and rapidly changing environment, and since we do not already have a long history of working with global intelligence, and since we are working on problems where the voluntary follow up actions of the participants are necessary in order to bring the proposed solution to fruition, a command and control environment would not seem to be an appropriate model. Rather, a sense and respond model of organizations might work better.

Clearly, it will be important to provide some sort of effective feedback to the group at various levels so that it can adapt and improve its performance over time. This proves to be a difficult issue, however. In the types of problems that we are suggesting, it may take a long time before the effectiveness of a solution can be measured and fed back to the group. For several iterations to take place, a very long time scale would be involved. Furthermore, even if the group were to receive timely feedback, how would the individual learn to modify their behavior? Or, would we assume that individuals would not need to learn and that all the learning would take place at the higher organizational level?

There are two suggested approaches to help meet these challenges. First, theater groups and sports teams do not come together for the first time to produce optimal performance. They practice. Sometimes they practice component skills and sometimes they practice with scrimmages. Similarly, it would make sense to have such a team "practice" on increasingly complex problems in which the "answer" although not obvious, is known.

Second, both the individuals and the team could learn via intrinsic learning. By "intrinsic" learning, I am referring to learning that can occur by comparing the results of a variety of different approaches or representations. So, for instance, in terms of a metaphor in individual learning, a person might work out a mathematical formula and also have a visualization of the approximate answer based on world experience. If the answer from the mathematical formula is totally at odds with his or her intuition, then that is a cue that the formula is either inapplicable or that he or she has made an error.

Similarly, in the case of the million person interface, individuals (and subgroups) would compare their outputs with those of many others and discrepancies would lead to resolution processes. If the resolution meant that the original output of the individual or group were ultimately wrong, that information can serve as information to "debug" the individual or group process and knowledge that led to the "wrong" answer.

5.2 Social issues

As in the guidelines that Issacs suggest for Dialogue (Isaacs and Smith, 1994), it is important that the participants have some knowledge of the matter at hand, that they care about the results and that they have some legitimate power to do something. Not all topics then are appropriate for this kind of enterprise. Below are some suggested problem areas that might meet these criteria and where multiple viewpoints would be useful contributions, where it is not clear exactly how to prestructure the problem.

Deciding how we go about avoiding global ecological disaster

Deciding what to do about the health care problems in the US

Deciding what to do about crime

Deciding whether and how to go about colonizing space

Deciding what to do about racism, sexism, ageism

Deciding how to improve the million-person interface

Deciding what to do about "drugs"

5.3 User interface design

Key to improving the mapping function among conversations to that which is relevant to the individual user would be providing the system with feedback on the relevance of particular conversations in real time so that the mapping algorithm could be continuously updating and improving itself. Today, this is accomplished in some web-based systems by having the user take a specific separate step of rating. In the envisioned system, however, the user's attentional mechanisms would be gauged automatically by noting head and eye movements.

5.4 Technological issues

As indicated by the analysis in Section 3 above, the main difficulty in extending natural language conversation, Dialogue, and story exchange to the million-person case is that language does not "compose" well. Ten stories might share a lot in meaning space, reflecting the same problem-solving pattern applied even in similar contexts with similar outcomes. The stories might even use many of the same words. But "played" to a human listener simultaneously, the result would largely be cacophony. A listener might attend to one story, or switch among them, but the experience would probably be less educational and less pleasant than simply listening to one story.

5.5 Ethical issues.

Is there a way to design the system so that, not only is the group more intelligent while functioning but also so that the individuals involved gain something qua individual? In other words, we want to avoid building a system that would have the effect of lessening the individual's capabilities. In a well-run supervisory therapy group, for instance, each of the individual therapists gains expertise from the feedback and suggestions of others thereby presumably becoming a more effective individual therapist. Similarly, in a well-run creative writing class, individuals improve from the feedback of others. In a tournament structure, people improve by playing their skills off against one another.


In order to visualize what such an interaction space might look like, imagine 100,000 people filing up the University of Michigan stadium (or the University of Colorado or the stadium of your own choosing). The participants are a large subset of the people of Ann Arbor and have come together to deal with the issues of maintaining economic growth and prosperity while also trying to maintain quality of life and ecological sustainability. They have the political power to enact whatever outcome or outcomes result from this large scale interaction.

Now, we can imagine that they are not in fact, at a physical stadium but at a virtual stadium (holding 1 million people) where an intelligent computer switching matrix can rapidly alter the mapping among individuals. In the center of the virtual stadium is a very large, semi-shared multimedia 3-dimensional graph structure that illustrates the problem space and solution space that they are exploring and building. Each person feels surrounded by sights, sounds, and a tactile environment every bit as exciting as when watching a football game. However, in this case, the people's actions directly influence what is happening "in the field" -- not just in a global manner (where, for instance, the loudness of cheering may hearten the team) but also in very specific ways.

A participant, at any given time, might be engaged in conversation, story-sharing, sensori-motor behavior, Dialogue, simulated motion through space, meta-cognition or any combination.

In conversation, the person would be hearing many voices simultaneously aligned by speech technology, perhaps so that multi-sentences could be perceived. In such a multi-sentence, common threads would be heard "as though from everywhere at once." For instance, a person working on health care might hear, "The thing I most hate about Medical Doctors is...." omnidirectionally as though from a huge choir. But the end of the sentence might appear as in many separate locations. Thus, "their snobishness," "The way they try to control your life," "the expense," "the cost," "their egotism," etc. seemingly from different points in space and in individual voices. In this way, the person who at that moment was listener might get an impression simultaneously of many things: 1. the emotional tone of the group; 2. the variety of backgrounds represented, 3. the variety of specific concerns, and 4. the correlation between background and concern. Presumably, some of the many concerns voiced would resonant most closely with his own either because he agreed and had experiences to share that supported that proposition or because he strongly disagreed and had experiences to share that would tend to contradict or build a fuller picture.

As the person began replying, it would be natural to turn slightly toward the voice of the person he or she was responding to. In effect, this would amplify the projected sound toward that person. Since, presumably, the "intelligent matrix" of computation would be putting like concerns nearby, the reply might be of interest to nearby people in addition to the one the person might be replying to. As the person began talking, the speech recognition engine would begin translating spoken words into an internal representation and dynamically matching the apparent topic of what was being said to the content of other on-going conversations. In this way, the apparent spatial matrix of the person might be somewhat fluid, extremely fluid, or fairly rigid depending on how quickly the tempo of that person's conversational topics changed relative to that of others.

As people began building stories that illustrated some aspect of their own experience with health care, we could further imagine the development of clusters of these stories based on "story values" -- that is, what happened that was emotionally charged for the person: life/death, health/disease, power/loss of control and so on -- as well as more specific substantive categories such as specific diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, outcome.

The experience of the user would be something like entering a gigantic agora in which many people were talking about thousands of different things -- then, almost magically, he or she would "find themselves" in a small corner talking to people with very similar concerns. Depending on the user's own behavior (and implied preferences), they might find themselves in heated debate, quiet chat, structured argumentation, story sharing, or an open Dialogue.

In Dialogue mode (see Section 4.8), we could imagine the computer could keep track of the various ideas and viewpoints that were generated, help build a representation of the inter-relationship of these ideas and viewpoints, and help arrange Dialogue groups so that those within a group were working on some theme or topic.

We could also imagine a kind of sensori-motor visual interaction for certain kinds of problems in which rich, multilayered representations of data would be presented to people. If a person wished to, they could "zoom in" to a particular region or even a specific data point and hear "the story" behind that data point.


In addition to the above somewhat fanciful scenario of use, it might also be worthwhile to consider some scenarios of possible non-use or misuse. In this way, we can hopefully begin to see further implications for the design of the interface, the context, and the process.

6.2 Potential Problem: "If you build it, they won't come."

The first hurdle is getting a very large number of people to participate in something that might or might not work. This is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. People participated, for instance, in "Hands Across America" and actually paid money to do so. Nearly half of the eligible adults vote in national elections. Late each January, many millions of Americans tune in to watch low-fidelity images bounce about on a flat CRT (this is also known as the superbowl). If the million person interface is properly designed and implemented (and advertised) so that the individuals feel that they make a contribution and feel that there is some possibility for really addressing these fundamental problems, I believe that sufficient numbers would participate.

6.3 Potential Problem: "If you build it, they'll sit on their thumbs."

In this scenario, people will sign up, and show up, but people won't know what to do and will be reluctant to participate. In the service of preventing this problem, it would be important to teach people some of the component behaviors and set their expectations. In addition, by having a series of smaller successes, people will both learn what to do and gain some confidence in the system technology and in the other participants.

In a variant, people may know what to do, but be too unmotivated to do it. Again, the "tragedy of the commons" problems appears. As Huberman and Loch (1996) point out, the effectiveness of the group interacts with the motivation. As the group becomes more effective, it becomes more worthwhile for people (in their model) to participate. As the group becomes less effective, people may simply do as little as they can get away with. Again, this dilemma points to the importance of practice but also means that some degree of identifiability of effort needs to be incorporated into the system.

A hopeful note also comes from the research of Axelrod (1984) that shows that a "cooperative strategy with limited retribution" in prisonner's dilemma games "wins out" when played by computer programs or by human teams. As the work of Karl-Henrik Robert shows, there are ways to enhance this effect.

6.4 Potential Problem: "If you build it, they'll go numb."

In this scenario, people will attempt to do something but the stimulation will be so different and disconnected from previous experiences that they will "zone out."

Many people have the experience of being at a cocktail party or conference reception and focusing in on one or two conversations while there are literally hundreds of others in the background. By using a combination of spatial positioning, speaker identity, proximity (correlated with volume), lip reading, and meaning continuity, people can follow a conversation fairly well. It would seem that making the background noise more relevant, more synchronized, and making effective distance and positioning under the individual participants control would net out to an improved experience of coherence.

6.5 Potential Problem: "If you build it, they won't sum."

In this scenario, people will find some utility in the system but the output will be less than the sum of the individual contributions. While it makes sense to try to design such a system based on what we know about good HCI and CSCW as well as naturalistic events involving large numbers of people, ultimately such a system will have to be tried; probably there will be emergent properties that are hard to predict.

6.6 Potential Problem: "If you build it, they'll grow dumb."

In this scenario, people will find linear or superlinear utility but by being in such a rich environment, they may suffer some "withdrawal" -- that is, become dependent on the environment for thinking. In the theory of aging and the growth of the organism-environment bond proposed by Thomas, a smaller scale version of this actually happens today. As people live, they age and they are also adapting to their environment and adapting their environment to them. At least some of what we perceive to be the age-related effects of aging, are actually the natural result of increasing interdependence between an adapting, adaptive organism living in an environment over time. People come to rely on their social and technical context. If that context changes radically enough, people cannot be "as intelligent" in terms of measured effective output.

On the other hand, it is a common experience that participating in a group brainstorming meeting or attending a scientific or technical conference is often followed by a subsequent spurt of creative productivity on the part of the individuals. The social facilitation effect does not always seem to end coterminously with actual socialization. Therefore, it is also quite possible that people will leave such a "million-person interaction event" more motivated and intelligent than they otherwise would have been.


The following research questions will have to be answered before a million person interface will be effective.

First, what is the most effective sequencing of various interaction types? Are there new interaction types beyond those that smaller teams use that might emerge from a huge on-line group? What are the cues of behavior or time that mean it is time to move to another phase of interaction type?

Second, how can multiple conversations best be presented to people to balance the comprehensibility of a single thread and the awareness of multiple threads? How can tens, hundreds, or even thousands of conversations best be summarized ?

Third, how quickly should interest groups and communities be reorganized? Is there a way for people to trust and communicate in a non-disruptive fashion across fast-paced reorganizations?


There are problems that are crucial and time critical which are not being solved today. The confluence of technological trends in the cost of bandwidth, storage and processing and the increase in knowledge and experience with how to design and use technology for human purposes for individuals, small teams, and organizations leads us to believe that developing a million person interface will be doable in the first few decades of the next millennium.


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Thanks to interesting dialogue on this topic with Christine Halverson, Shelly Dews, Wendy Kellogg, Rachel Bellamy, Deborah Lawrence, Cynthia Kurtz, Peter Johnson-Lenz, Trudy Johnson-Lenz, and Thomas Erickson.

I'm managing a project at IBM Research to support the business use of stories. Debbie Lawrence and Shelly Dews are working with me! Recommended reading: Once upon a Number, John Allen Paulos, New York: Basic Books, 1998. Story, by Robert McKee, New York: Harper/Collins, 1997. The first, by the author of Innumeracy, explores the boundary between mathematics/science/statistics and its emphasis on the general and story which explores the specific (but also claims to reveal what is true). The second book, Story, is a how-to manual for screen-play writing, but is a fascinating read for anyone who likes to write, read, or watch movies.

I'm trying my hand at a continuing series of episodes. Each episode is supposed to be a story in and of itself. But each is also part of a longer story. Here are chapters ONE through FIVE:


The black glass giant cube of Bellocom R&D beamed with a single bleary eye in the foggy Sunday night.

"That's not right," Jim muttered. Finally get this blasted program working. Now this. Jim tilted back his chair, sighed, closed his eyes. Amy's image loomed. Concentrate. She's PO'd. Sure. After this works, after my promotion, we can go Jamaican. Enough of that. Back to the meta-model. First, a cuppa.

Jim's footsteps echoed in the long empty hall. One nice thing about this place, he mused. Free drugs. As long as it's caffeine. Actually, I'd love a good shot or two of Wild Turkey about now. Jim punched in his secret access code and shook his head while the machine clicked and hummed. Cost Bellocom five grand to put in a security system to prevent any unauthorized janitorial staff from stealing a dime's worth of java. Typical.

Back console-side, the keyboard clicked and the screen hummed. Work backwards this time. Find initial conditions not leading to global catastrophe. Then find path to current conditions. Colors kaleidoscoped. Minimal intervention. Promotion? Heck, they should make me Distinguished Scientist after I pull this off. Oil prices plummeting. There had been hints, rather broad hints, that R&D would be substantially cut. Jim knew just where those axes would fall. Square in Ecology. Shoot, half of management treats us like enemy infiltrators as it is.

Jim's brow furrowed. Doesn't match any existing weather pattern. This is stupid. Let the computer find it. Jim sighed, glanced at his watch. Two a.m. Nothing for it. He wrote an exec to let the computer explore the space, find solutions, and display them.

Jim Volvoed his way home. 3:17 a.m., finally stumbled toward bed. Amy lay there, so beautiful, so tempting. Getting her hot now would be tougher than finding escape from the coming Ice Age. Maybe in the morning, he told himself, knowing it was a lie.

"Coffee, Amy. Morning."

"You still live here?"

"Sorry, I know. I've just about got this solved...."

"And then we'll vacation. Someplace warm. Get away from the cold. Yeah. Right."

"Amy, I don't blame you. But, a promotion...."

"That'll do a lot of good after a heart-attack. Widowed at 33."

"Amy, let's talk tonight."

"You think I'll be here?"

"Amy, please. This is for all of us."

"Why not transfer to Exploration Tools? Wong'd take you in a flash. She works regular human hours, you know? Or, for that matter, transfer back to Seligman."

"Amy. I gotta go. Be home on time tonight, I swear."

"Yeah, right."

Jim, like everyone else at Bellocom, tried to play the game of "arrive at the office one minute before bossman." This morning, he lost.

"Rough night, Jim?" Jack glanced at his watch.

"As a matter of fact...." The rules didn't allow Jim the excuse he'd been here till nearly three. "I've got -- I'll have something big soon, real soon."

"Yeah, sure, well, don't forget our ISO 9000 kickoff today, nine to five.

Jack smiled, turned, and strode down the hall.

Jim had an almost overpowering urge to rush after Jack, tackle him and smash his face. I'm losing it, he thought, striding to his office. It'll all be okay once I get the solution. Which should be right on my display. Jim flopped into his chair, hit the space bar to disable the screen saver, and waited.

The display screamed a swirl of orange and red. Jim swallowed hard. I can't -- I won't believe this. Even if I did, no-one else would. He glanced at his watch. 8:45. That meant only 6:45 in Boulder. Shoot. Worth a try. Jim went to the pay phone and dialed Sally Aldwell's home number. He wondered if the company had the line bugged. Well, I'm toast anyway.

Blast. No answer. Come on. Finally, the phone clicked. "Sally?"

"Who --- Jim? Is that you? I'm in the shower. Just a sec." Jim thought about Sally nude and wet -- and beautiful. He thought back to the time they roomed together in grad school, swallowed hard.

"Okay, Jim. What?"

Jim quickly explained his results.


"Jim, you do realize that you'll never publish. Not the message Bellocom wants."

"I know, but you can replicate. You can publish."


"Why doubtful?"

"Jim, if you're right, and it's too late to do anything, or at least anything practical.... the government's not going to let people know."

"Sally! That's just why -- what do you mean, practical? I'm tired of this crap! Is it practical to let the world snap from global warming to Ice Age?"

"You don't have to shout at me, Jim. But you know how it goes. They'll be all this noise about panicking people, about the impact on the economy."

"Sally we don't have time"....time...Jim glanced at this watch. 9:05. "Sheer luck I caught this when I did. We've got one month. We're on the cusp here. Once you see these simulations..."

"Jim, what world are you living in? I publish these on our web-site, and everyone will say we need more time to study it, to double-check. Our own credibility will be called into question."

"Sally. Please. I'll come there and beg on my knees if that will help. And stay there."

"Jim, you're married for God's sake. Is that what this is about? You're trying to seduce me? Screw you!"



Jim stared at the silent receiver.

Hours of ISO 9000 lectures and exercises.



Jim went home early, energy drained. Ice. Wild Turkey. On the bottle, the note. From Amy. Good-bye.

The phone. "Yes."

"Mr. James Tidewell?"


"This is lab ops. I'm sorry but there seems to have been a power surge. Your workstation got zapped."

"Just reload the back-ups for me."

"That's just it, Mr. Tidewell. Worst luck. They seem to be lost somehow."

"Fine. Just reload the weeklies."

"They are all lost, Mr. Tidewell. Sorry. Have a nice day."

Jim broke out in a sweat -- and then shivered.




Jim stared at the phone; cradled it

Company policy strictly forbid private back-ups. Their trust was underlined twice each day when Jim walked through the giant demagnetizing ring at the main entrance.

He smiled as he walked toward his personal PC and fired it up. Fortunately, he mused, the policy said nothing about a WORM drive. Jim fired up Netscape, read in his CD's and began FTPing the most telling data and models to his personal web-site. He tested it out. Telling. Beautiful. But slow. Who would have the patience? I need a dedicated server.

He sighed; picked up the phone and dialed.

"Sally, it's Jim. Don't hang up. I'm sorry about the -- misunderstanding. I need help."

"You need help all right."

"Okay. I'm sorry. Look, I need your help."

"Is this about those findings of yours?"

Jim didn't like the way she said "findings." "Yes. It is."

"I did a little checking. It's plausible...more than plausible. Several investigators here have reached the same conclusions."

"Why haven't they said anything then! Time is critical."

"Sensible, I guess. Even Galileo recanted, Jim. Maybe you should forget it."

"Sally, you think -- ? ... when Galileo recanted, the earth still orbited the sun. We've got a chance to stop this flip-flop before it's too late!"

"Jim, I have a feeling I'm going to regret this more than moving in with you, but, how can I help?"

"I've got it all on my web-site, but it's molasses. Can you download it to a dedicated server?"

"Yeah, technically. It's against Atmospheric Research rules to use facilities...."

"Ice Age, Sally. Christ! Bend the stupid rules!"

"Swearing and yelling don't do much for me, Jim. I tried to explain that to you in grad school."

"I'm sorry. Just.....please go to my web-site; take a look. Then decide."

"Here's a better idea. I'll banner it on our home page. We get a couple 100K hits a day for weather. I'm checking your page now, Snake. DNS not found."

"What? It's right here in front of me. Wait." Jim pushed the reload icon. DNS not found.

Click. Hum.

"Jim? You there?"

"Yeah, but, I can't get to my web-site."


"This means.... Sally, I'm coming out there with my CD's. I'll grab the first plane out of LaGuardia; call you Denver-side."

"Sounds a bit extreme. Maybe your ISP's just having problems."

"I can ping it fine. Look, it'll take me a couple hours to get everything together."

"Okay, Jim. See you."

Click. Hum.

Sally turned to the two blue suits. "How'd I do?"

"Next time don't improvise. Stick to climate forecasting."

"Go easy, agent Moore. Anyway, there won't be a next time. If he slips us at LAG, we'll nab him at the off-ramp. Thanks again, Ms. Arnold. The funding agency will look quite favorably, I think you find, on your next level 8 proposal."

"Right. But what, Ms. Arnold is this business about "Snake?"

"Oh. That's a -- a pet name."

"Real cute. Why 'Snake', Ms. Arnold?"

"Use your imagination, agent. Geez."

The two agents stared at each other blankly for just a moment before pulling out their mobile phones.


Jim scanned his Driver's License, edited and printed. Won't fool police but it might do Avis. Jim covered the CD's with underwear and socks and left; south on 9K; stopped at an ATM. "Come on babe." 300 bucks. The limit. Don't deny me. The crisp green bills shuffled out. They haven't got me yet. Amy! How much had he told her? Too much. Would they? Shoot, of course they would. They had gotten to Sally.

He dialed her sister's number. How could he explain this?

"Hello? Amy? Uh, Joelle? May I please speak to Amy? She doesn't? Well. Please take a message. It's urgent. I -- I found termites in the house and it's being fumigated. Tell her not to go in till we get the all-clear from the exterminators, okay?" Click. Hum.

Jim swung the Volvo north toward Stewart. It was warm for December. Too warm. And somewhere far, far to the north, far beyond Newburg was another new berg. There would be plenty of new bergs this season. And more the next. Fresh water changing the salinity of ocean currents. Like a loaded gun. Like a badly built Saturday night special, this one was going to explode in the hand of the perpetrator. He fantasized the headlines. Ice Age comes to Europe. But not if I get there first. He looked at the speedometer. The last thing he needed was to get pulled over. But the plane for Rochester left in thirty minutes. Crap. He might have to stop for gas. 31.2 miles/gallon. .9 gallons. 30.7 miles to go.

Jim pulled behind an 18-wheeler and drafted, a practice he had pointed out to Amy many times with a headshake and a lecture. "What a jerk! If that trucker slams on the air brakes for a deer -- or just for the sheer joy of it -- that guy's head will be shredded hamburger inside the semi's transmission." He had always used the same words. A comforting kind of road-mantra. Now, he was the jerk, ready to have his brains shredded.

He clicked on the radio. It hummed and squeaked till he found "All Weather All the Time" which basically meant about 75% commercials. Weather sounded good all the way to Rochester, to Toronto, to Amsterdam. Lucky. This time of year, either Toronto or Rochester was likely to be snowed in. But not lately, he reminded himself. How about some news, some good news. Jim found the news, all right, but not good news. "Police are on the look-out for Dr. James Tidewell, prime suspect in the double rape and murder of two little girls, residents of Rye. He is known to be armed and dangerous. Police describe him as a little over six foot, athletic build, black hair and blue eyes, with a scar on his chin."

Click of radio.

Hum of wheels.

Chapter Three......

"My God, Jim. You look awful!"

"Thanks, Amy. That's just what I needed to hear when I haven't seen you for six months."

"I'm sorry. It's just -- a shock. Somewhere under all that blond hair and beard, I'm sure there's my handsome Jim. Somewhere."

"Amy, we don't have much time. What's the news from Eric? How's my case look?"

"We'll get to that. First, I've got a few questions of my own, Jim. Like, why the hell did you run off and not tell me where you were -- whether you were all right?"

"I thought Sally explained all that. They were after me, Amy. Your phone was bugged. I had to go underground. I had to get the news out."

"Yeah. You did that big time. But what about us, Jim? What about me? Was I worth anything?"

"Of course -- you mean -- Amy, I'm so glad to see you. Oh, Amy, I want to touch you so bad, to hold you."

"Uh-huh. Is that the same line you used with Maddy?"

"Maddy! How'd you find out about her?"

"Jim, you are so naive sometimes. You worked at Bellocomp for eight years. Didn't you understand how ruthless they were?"

Jim's eyes dropped. He had been blind. If he had stopped to think about it, the evidence of their ruthlessness surrounded him; he swam in it on a daily basis. When he finally opened his eyes, it was too late. He was in too deep. But what choice had he had? Just button his lip and walk into endless winter with all humanity? "Look, Amy. What should I have done? Just kept my mouth shut? We'd be headed down a --"

"Yeah, I know. 'An inevitable slide into another Ice Age.' You told me. And if that didn't burn in into my poor, pathetic little brain, the headlines and news stories since would have. What I want to know about is how exactly it is that screwing Maddy helped prevent an Ice Age, okay? That's the one differential equation, or Monte Carlo simulation, or whatever that's just a bit beyond my comprehension, Herr Professor Big Shot Scientist!"

Jim stared at her and sighed.

"Amy. It was wrong. Of course. But, do you have any idea what it was like for me?"

"Do you have any idea what it was like for me?!"

"I know it was hard on you too. I thought about you all the time....."

"Even when you were in bed with her?"

"I didn't know whether I'd ever see you again. Figured most likely I wouldn't, in fact. I was scared..."

"And stoned. Right? Let's not forget that. Stoned. A pot-head."

"Stoned. Not a pot-head. If it weren't for Michael, I'd have never gotten the story out. He owned the place. The Grasshopper was my Amsterdam hideout, and on a couple of --- look, Amy, please. I'll make it up to you. Time's almost up. I need to know the news from Eric. When does he think I'm getting out of here? When am I seeing him? Why hasn't he called?"

The dark clouds of anger sailed off Amy's face. She bit her lip and looked away. Jim had seen that distant far-away look before. Bad news. Really bad news.

What? Has he dropped the case?"

"Jim -- Eric's dead."

"What!? Dead! How?"

"His body -- what was left -- he drove over -- the Palisades -- into the Hudson. An accident. Supposedly."

"No way! They killed him! Oh, man." Jim put his head in his hands and cried silently, cried mostly for his life-long friend. He looked up finally, his red eyes staring into Amy's blue ones, the ones that he had fallen in love with a lifetime ago. "Amy, you've got to find another lawyer."

"With what, Jim? In case you didn't notice, you're not getting a paycheck any more from Bellocomp. Our savings and investments are about gone. I spent them trying to find you. Stupid, eh? I could have just waited six months and let our government do the work."

"Time's up, Mrs. Tidewell." The burly guard pointed his fat hand at the plain round clock on the wall.

"Amy, I need a lawyer! There's got to be a way!"

"Good-bye, Jim. I'll -- I'll see you around."

Jim stumbled back to his cell, hardly feeling the hands of the guards, the icy steel of the cuffs. He sat motionless on the edge of his bed until exercise time. Still in a daze, he shuffled around the outside of the rectangle, ninety eight steps to a side. Amy. Amy. Will she help me? Can she help me? Jim stopped suddenly. What's the point? If they can kill a famous and successful Manhattan lawyer and get away with it, what chance do I have in here? A sharpened spoon between the ribs. It happened all the time. What's one more con killing another con? No-one will have seen a thing. Good God! I'm toast. I'm really toast. Jim shivered and pulled his coat tighter. Snow began to drift into the prison yard. The first snow of the year.

Jim let a single flake fall on the back of his sleeve. A miracle. He smiled. Every snowflake another miracle. Each different, yet perfect in its own way.

"Hey, Professor Jim! Whatcha smilin' about? You like cold, maybe?"

"No, not especially, Joe. But this winter will pass. Spring will come again. Thanks to the miracle of water."

"Yeah? Water's a miracle, Professor?"

"Yeah. If it sunk when it froze, see, we'd be in a permanent Ice Age anyway, without any help from the Greenhouse effect."

"So lemme asks you somethin.' You really believe all that stuff, Jim, 'bout there woulda' been an Ice Age an all? You really believe that?"

Jim laughed. "Oh, I believe it all right. I know it."

"Well, ain't that just the damnest thing then."

Jim shivered again. "Yes, Joe. I think you're right. That's just the damnest thing."


Today at least, the hostile undertone vanished. More than a few faces smiled. Meager sprigs of white pine swayed with the rhythm. Outside, the carolers wore stripes. Inside, some were striped and some were pure. But all had been touched by Jim's talk.

It had been Joe's idea. Most of Cell Block 5 scoffed and shook their heads. But they came around, and not just because Joe rippled with 270 pounds of muscle. When the guards caught wind of the idea, they had reflexively rebelled though it broke no rule or regulation. Gradually, they too realized it offered a welcome alternative to goldbricking and fights.

When they presented Jim his Citation for "Bravery in Keeping away the Big Chill," he had glowed as though he himself were the Christmas tree. He pinned the Medal over his heart. Beneath the Medal, tucked safely in his shirt lay Amy's letter, unopened. He kept that for Midnight; a secret Christmas gift.


Black crepe decorated banisters and curtains. Eric's wife stared at the television which now spewed snow and static into the pale room. "Eric's dead." "Eric cannot be dead. Eric's too smart to be dead. Too fine." "Eric's dead. Not smart enough to stay away from Jim. Damn him. It's his fault he's dead!" "Eric can't be dead!" "Eric IS dead."

Susan grasped at anger; she tugged at hatred. She struck her hand out to grab the image of Eric's murders. But they had no face; her fingers slipped through the mist. She snatched the one thing substantive enough to hold her from slipping away forever and that one thing was Jim. He was real. He was alive. And Eric was dead. She couldn't bring Eric back. But, she could reunite that life-long friendship.


The laboratory sang with clicking keyboards; glowed with swirling colored phosphors. Sally's colleague leaned over, whispered, pointed and then returned to his own monitor. It was an odd kind of Christmas present, this. But Sally knew in her heart that it was the one present Jim most wanted, so on through the night they labored. The world still tottered at the brink; might plunge into an ice age in revulsion at the mindless decades of wasteful plunder.


Amy sat by her perfectly trimmed tree. Maybe, she had thought, I can plunge myself into the spirit by doing things. So, after she had written and posted the letter, she had indeed plunged herself into shopping, bringing out the old decorations, fixing dinner for Sam. Of course, Sam never came, never would come. It was clear as a snow-crunchy morning that Sam had only been part of the Bellocomp plan; had only met, befriended, and then seduced Amy to get information and ammunition against Jim. Amy wanted Christmas. The calendar said Christmas. She had decorated for Christmas. The clock ticked. But no Christmas came. "I should have told him in person, face to face. The letter had been my coward's way out."


At the Grasshopper, the Nederlanders sang festively, partly due to the Holiday season. "This Christmas, there is good reason to rejoice. The world, at least the human world, has been turned back from the brink of self-destruction. Cheer up, Maddy!"

"You're right, Mike, but -- I can't really celebrate while Jim is in that -- that place."

"We both know that Jim would want you to -- celebrate. Would want you to have a good time." Mike grinned, tilted his head, and peered over his Heineken with his bedroom eyes glaring at Maddy's sweet red lips.

"Thanks, Mike. I know you're right -- at least about Jim, but I'm really not in the mood, to -- uh -- celebrate."

Mike took another long hit. "Here's something to celebrate. Amnesty International has agreed to take on Jim's case."

"What? You rat! When were you going to tell me?" Maddy laughed and pushed back her chair. She yanked Mike up and hugged him hard.


Melvin Mescaline, the Bellocomp CFO, poured his fourth round of 25-year old MacCallister, neat. His cheeks reddened as he scanned his party for likely prey. He had ordered his wife to hang mistletoe in at least twenty spots. Stretching the point, he could pretty much claim anywhere as an excuse for kissing. But the game was to radar in on a woman somewhere strategic, a place where she could be pinned into a corner or against a table top.

"Hey Joyce! Happy Holidays!" Mel performed one of his well-known back-benders as Joyce tried vainly to wriggle free from between his clumsy whiskey-soaked mouth and the sharp corner of the hutch. Finally, she struggled one hand free enough to knock the drink onto the plush white carpet. "Damn, woman, that's good scotch!"

"Sorry, Mel, my hand must have slipped. Too much Christmas spirit, I guess."

The two police officers knocked again, louder. Finally, Mel heard the knocks and swaggered to the door, hoping for more prey. He blinked when he saw the policemen. "What seems to be the problem officers?"

"Mr. Mescaline, I'll come to the point. It's 2 am and you've got about 20,000 large bulbs glaring away outside and about 150 watts of music blaring away inside. A party's a party, but you gotta tune down the music and turn out the lights. In case you haven't heard, there's an energy quota, right?"

"Energy quota! Do you know who I am?"

"Yes, Sir. We certainly do."

"Well, you can -- --- uh, look officers. I'm sorry. Things are winding down. I'll turn things down in -- how about ten minutes, okay?"

They looked at each other. "Okay. No more than ten minutes."

"Great. And, Merry Christmas, Officers." Mel turned back and poured himself another drink, scanned the room, plotting who to maneuver into his study for serious sex. "Blasted Jim Tidewell," he muttered to himself. "It ain't over yet, you idiot. A few well-placed bribes and we'll be using up energy again like there's no tomorrow."

Just in Time Discover -- Five -- Ringing In, Ringing Out.

As earth continued its smooth circle around Sol, that arbitrary section of the trip we call New Year's Day came to Attica. Because the hippie programmer who originally programmed the automatic lock emergency override software in 1965 figured the world would end long before 1999, he used 99 as a special signal value. Come 12:01 A.M. January 1, 1999 and every door and gate at Attica unlocked. Dazed at first, the prisoners soon streamed out of the buildings, heedless of the warnings of the guards.

Everyone but Jim seemed to have forgotten the multiple rings of security, the whirls of razorwire that adorned the walltops like swirls of metallic Christmas ivy.

"For God's sake, Joe, don't go! Guards are panicking and you know what that means. Hailing bullets. If you do make it to the wall and don't get shot, you'll be cut to ribbons!"

"Jim, you be out of here soon but I'm for life, man. Knife wounds aplenty I've survived. No little razorwire gonna stop Joe!" On he ran into the courtyard; cut down with a spray of bullets long before his chance to slice himself to bacon on the razorwire.


Pushover, Maddy scolded herself as she peered in the steamy bathroom mirror. Quite the little slut, aren't you Maddy? Reefer, a couple drinks, a happy moment and I'm back sleeping with Michael again despite my promise to Jim -- and myself. She watched the faucet drip into the pool of water she had run to cleanse herself completely. The drop rippled out to the edges, bounced off the porcelain and returned to the center.

"Understand, Maddy," Jim had told her as they strolled along the King's Canal that autumn day not so long ago, "everything we do has impact, has a widening influence on the environment, on others, and eventually those effects come back to us." "Very true, Jim, very true indeed," Maddy answered across the miles and months while Michael's snoring blended with the buzz in her own head. "Where are the razor blades, I wonder?"


X-rays showed no broken bones for Jim. "You'll be fine," the prison doc had said. Zebra stripes of pain flared across Jim's back as he sat up on the edge of his cot. Zebra stripes of light flicked across his face from the sodium glare shadowed through the bars of that solitary cell. "You'll be out of here soon, man," Joe had said. X-ed out, more likely, now without Joe's protection. When the guards had finally regained control, they seemed helpless not to vent their rage on everyone in sight. Violent criminals, of course, needed to be controlled with violence. Undoubtedly. The disturbing thing is, I'm not a violent criminal -- or a criminal at all. Set up and framed; now beaten and probably soon to die, friendless and alone, a shim beneath the ribs, in the prison yard beneath the ice-ringed haze of a New York winter sun.


"Ridiculous" Mel screamed at the phone. "Question anyone else at the party. Paula wanted it just as bad as I did; in fact. Oh? Not Paula?" Mel searched his memory for a woman that might have objected to his party fun and games. "Let me guess. Kiara? Joyce??!! I just gave her one kiss for crying out loud! How could that be harassment? Groping?? Fine, whatever. Effective when? Damn!"

Crying softly, Mrs. Mescaline listened from the hallway. "Bastard. As soon as I can.... As soon as I can...." But here she stopped. "Can't he just behave? Damn him." Every muscle in her body suddenly felt very tired, and very old. "Find a way, Rita, find a way to get him back for all this pain. Got to be a way. However long it takes. I will get that son-of-a-"

Just then Mel's iron grip snapped onto her wrist and spun her around, nearly tearing her arm from the socket. "Keep your nose out of my business, Rita!! Listening in on my private phone calls, eh? Mind your own business! Never sneak around like that again. Okay?"

Pushed roughly down onto the shiny maple floor, Rita glared up at Mel, wondered if he would take her right then and there, force her to kneel and --. Quit thinking about it! Rita looked down at the red welts on her wrists and saw that golden band wrapping her finger, and for one brief moment remembered how happy had been their wedding day, how much she loved her ring, her band of protection and comfort. She had once truly loved him. Trusted him. Until, pinch by pinch, indignity piled on pain, she truly hated him. Very soon, he would find out just how very much.


Winter swirled a mean wind outside while Jim tried to calm his breathing. X me out. Yes, that was the next logical step for Bellocomp's cover-up. Zero in. Zero out. You could count on their strategy. X and T though, the secret parameters of their tactics. When and who? Very soon, most likely, before the personnel from Amnesty began taking a personal interest in my case.

Understandably, the riot postponed their meeting. Tick - tock went the clock inside Jim's head, a head with eyes evolved in front for hunting, for jumping tree branches, but not for sensing danger on every side. Some momentary lapse, some silent steps, some quick slip. Revenge would be theirs. Quite short-sighted, of course. Personal revenge and global warming. Or, perhaps they'd wise up and see things for what they were. No, not likely. Men like that were prisoners inside the worlds they built in their heads; prisoners inside the comfort of their little protected worlds. Like so many before, they believed they could isolate themselves from the consequences of their acts. Kings had ringed their towns with castles. Just as surely as savages breached those walls, crumbled castles to dust, so too would the empires of commerce fall if they didn't wake up to ecological reality. If only they do it in time.


A goodbye poem, a love poem, for my friends at Bell Atlantic --
Whether stayed, strayed, or slain.
(This was a featured poem in March, 1998, in Soul to Soul, http://www.quicklink.com/~joneve/sub.html)

The Knights are mostly scattered now;
And Arthur Pendragon long since dead;
A Kingdom ruled by shadows instead.

The castle lies in broken rubble.
The fields, fallow, untended and bare.
Our Flag doesn't ripple in cold blue air.

The maimed, the stunned, stumble, grumble
Of what was once so full of grace,
And now is gone without a trace.

A grain of wheat is blown by wind,
I seize and touch, and then I see,
Those fields and fields wave goldenly.

Upon the ground, a hunk of brick --
Its one of hundreds, standing tall
And thickly building castle wall.

Beside the fallen orchard trunks --
A rotten apple laced with bees;
Inside that core are apple trees!

Not in warfare, not in plans,
Not in science, not in art,
Not in numbers, not in chart,


My friends,

Is in your heart.

Here's a satire I recently wrote -- imagine that the current fad of "Corporate Downsizing" spread to major league baseball....

Process Re-engineering Moves to Baseball

-- truthtable@aol.com

In a surprise move today, the take-0ver executive known affectionately as B. S. announced a take-over of the New York Yankees.


B.S.: "The Yankees are facing new competitive pressures, and we will be bringing our management skills to the team to help them deal with those pressures and increase shareholder value while maintaining player morale and improving customer service."

Reporter: "So, what exactly will you be doing?"

B.S.: "First, we brought in an outside Management Consulting Firm. Just between you and me, we paid them big bucks! But it was worth it."

Reporter:"Worth it how? What will you be doing?"

B.S.:"Well, for starters, we're downsizing the on-the-field team from nine to six players."

Reporter:"Uh....did these management consultants actually know how to play baseball?"

B.S."Probably. Maybe. I don't really know. But that's not the point. They are top-notch accountants. We plan to increase our operating efficiency 33%."

Reporter:"Fascinating. Any other plans."

B.S.:"We have to be willing to change, you know, flow with the times. Once, spring training made sense. But in today's highly competitive economy, we won't be able to afford frills like that."

Reporter: "Cool. No training. That should save some bucks!"

B.S.:"You said it! We have to pay for our big executive bonuses somehow. After all, we're responsible."

Reporter: "Any other productivity measures?"

B.S.: "Well, this inventory of bats, balls, mitts -- I mean that has just gotten out of hand. Sure, I suppose we should keep a bat for the team, but having all those individual bats? Nonsense. And, don't get me started on mitts!"

Reporter:"No mitts? Won't that decrease your fielding effectiveness?"

B.S.:"No, we have a Quality Process to improve our fielding effectiveness. Besides our management consultants pointed out that cricket fielders don't use mitts."

Reporter: "Well, Mr. B.S., I think the Yankee fans are in for a real -- a really different experience this season."

B.S.: "Thanks! And, believe me, Wall Street has already taken notice. The Market to Book value is up 10% already. Just wait till we move into the football market."

Reporter: "Football?"

B.S.:"Sure. There's no reason at all these ball-players can't make themselves useful in the off-season by playing football."

Reporter:"Well, with a few exceptions, it takes a different set of skills -- and a different body type even to ---"

B.S.:"B*** S***! That's what those nambly-pambly unions would like you to believe. Didn't you play football and baseball when you were a kid? Huh?"

Reporter: "Well, yes, but not at a professional level. I mean...."

B.S."Well, we're going to increase shareholder value. Period. End of discussion."


Reporter: "So, B.S., how is your plan going?"

B.S.: "Great! Fantastic!"

Reporter: "So, you're winning ball games then?"

B.S. "We are meeting all our financial targets for cost-containment. In fact, our top-notch accounting team has uncovered another big cost savings."

Reporter: "Really? What?"

B.S.:"We're going to outsource our pitching. No more high-paid prima donnas! Nope. We've found a vendor who can provide pitching for 1/10 of our current costs!"

Reporter: "Hmmm. I don't know. They say, pitching is 80% of baseball."

B.S.: "Exactly, my point, boy!"

Reporter: "Well, are you actually winning games?"

B. S. "I already told you, our costs are down significantly!"

Reporter: "Yes, but when you actually get out on the field, do you score more points than your opponents?"

B.S. "There are some temporary performance anomalies -- mostly due to bad weather -- and the lack of cooperation on the part of the Umpire's Union."

Reporter: "Lack of cooperation?"

B.S. "Yes, the Umpire's haven't quite adjusted to the new realities of competition. Once they make the proper adjustments to the strike zone, I have every confidence that we will be fully compatible run-wise with others in our segment of the league."

Reporter: "I see...."

B.S.:"Meanwhile, we're also improving and upgrading our capital infrastructure."

Reporter: "You mean...the stadium?"

B.S."Exactly. We're replacing the concrete with much newer high-tech polypropylene glycol embedded stryene."

Reporter: "Oh. Will you be replacing those hard seats?"

B.S. "Seats? Don't be ridiculous. That would be way too expensive."

Reporter: "Well, how will the stadium be different -- from the fan's perspective?"

B.S.: "Fans? Oh, fans. It will be a much more modern, more high-tech stadium."

Reporter: "So, how will the actual experience of the fans be different?"

B.S. "Did I mention that our stock price has risen 5%? Wall Street knows what's best for baseball!"

Reporter: "Perhaps, but according to our wire service, you lost last night to Cleveland, 26-0. That's...."

B.S.:"That's a temporary abberation! I told you! The Umpires have got to get on board here. We're only asking a proportional shrinkage in the strike zone to match our cost-containment figures. Our new policies are a success. We don't need to be questioned by nay-sayers spouting statistics. This interview is over!"


Reporter: "So, BS, I hear your team has surpassed the opening losing streak record of the Pittsburg...."

BS:"Bah! Our expenses are down! Our stock price is UP!"

Reporter: "How about the fans? How's the attendance?"

BS: "Attendance? It takes time for our end users to adjust to the interface changes, but they will. After all, what are they going to do, take a ride to Seattle just to watch a live ballgame?"

Reporter: "Well -- or, maybe across town."

BS: "Get serious. It takes less time to get to Seattle. Anyway, we have taken some of the surplus and hired some systems analysts to help us out. We should be on a winning streak in no time!"

Reporter: "Wouldn't it maybe make more sense to hire some -- you know, outfielders, say?"

BS: "You obviously don't know anything about business. That's why they hired me. Ever hear of the expression 'a level playing field'?"

Reporter: "Yes, but what ... ?"

BS: "Well, we are not going to have one! Not much longer! Our system analysts have designed a system to tilt the entire stadium on command. So -- in short, our ball-players will be hiting DOWNSLOPE while the opposition will be hitting UPHILL! Come on. Tell me I'm brilliant!"

Reporter: "Uh, you're brilliant, but -- ah -- won't your opponents object?"

BS: "Who cares? Our lawyers have combed the rule book and the UCC and NOWHERE does it mention anything about not tilting the earth!"

Reporter: "Well, maybe not specifically, but surely on the basic principles of fair play...."

BS: "Ha hah hahahahhh! Oh, you really crack me up! 'Basic Principles of Fair Play!' Oh, that's rich. That's realllllly rich. Yes. Good one. Listen, sucker, if you can get away with it, it's what you do! Have you been asleep? Ever hear of tobacco companies? How about the Ford Pinto? Billionaire Milliken? Get real!"

Reporter: "Still....somehow, I always thought of baseball as a sport."

BS: "Oh, right. And, I always thought of Howard Stern as Marilyn Monroe. Geez. Our profits will soar! Our profits will soar! Oh, so many plans. Fewer squares! Fewer innings! Fines for foul balls! Fines for run homes! Fines...."

Reporter: "Excuse me, did you say 'run homes'?"

BS: "Yeah, those things -- don't you call them run homes -- where the guy loses the baseball? Talk about waste!"

Reporter: "Those are Home Runs. That's one good way to win ball games."

BS: "Yeah, whatever. Maybe to you. To me, they are an unnecessary waste. Just like second square."

Reporter: "Second square? You mean, 'second base'?"

BS: "Whatever. That little square bag out there in the middle of the sandyfield."

Reporter: "Have you ever actually played baseball?"

BS: "Me? I was too busy for frills, my friend. Too busy making my first million. And I did it through hard work and ingenuity. I did it in high school. It wasn't easy either. Do you know how many of those little first grade brats you have to shake down for lunch money just to get a thousand bucks?"

Now, on a cheerier note --

Here's a reference to the "Natural Step Program" in the United States. http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC41/Hawken2.htm


To contact the author: truthtable@aol.com
Last modified: Dec. 12, 2002