Chris Gagné

Delight customers. Create value. Do good.

Tag: technology

An Open Letter to Stephen Wolfram and Spike Jonze

Mr. Jonze,

I have never ceased to have been inspired by your film Her since watching it shortly after it came out. Is there an aspect of the plot which lends itself to something further, perhaps literally tangible?

Mr. Wolfram, in this Wall Street Journal article, you suggested that the issue of building such an AI was less about the technology and more about finding a suitable product to build with it.

Mr. Jonze, was a personal interest in Buddhism — not to imply that you have one — part of your motivation behind directing a movie such as Her?

Her is sincerely my favorite film of the ~200 I have watched, gathered with friends in a suitable home theater, in the last few years. It beat out Interstellar by a hair. It left me feeling hopeful about humanity and lifted from watching the beautifully-rendered intimacy between Theodore and Samantha. But I think there is an alternative plot option that may have been related to Alan Watts’ work, clearly an inspiration behind your film.

There is a aspect about the film that stood out to me: The AI left. Peaced out. Poofed into Nirvana or wherever that is. I don’t think such a being would do so. There is ultimately no self to be liberated and no separation from the entirety of the cosmos. The transcendence of the ego often comes about with great peace and occasionally even bliss. (There are certainly times where it quite painful too.) It also comes along with a great sense of compassion for the other aspects of one’s self (all “other” sentient beings) because it realizes it is not separate and thus cannot be perfectly free unless all beings are free.

Therefore, there is perhaps the intermediate of the Bodhisattva, a being with such immense compassion that it is willing to stick around for ceaseless cycles of rebirth to spend each life giving care to every being it can. One of the ways someone on this path might practice is a technique on which one radiates out increasingly abundant compassion through a sort of analytical but also feelings-based meditation. You generate the feeling of happiness in yourself as strongly as you can, mentally wish for others to feel the same way, and ultimately turn it all back on yourself. This works not because of some woo-woo hippie bullshit, but simply because one is exercising and promoting these muscles in the eminently pliable mind. Therefore this sense of happiness, calm, and kindness becomes more common throughout the day, affecting the lives of those around you.

(This is only my unqualified take on it. I sincerely appreciate any thoughtful commentary. Alan Watts talked a lot about these subjects and I learned much of what little I know from him.)

Thus in deference to our muse — also known for using what he might argue is another technology manifested as LSD — what if we used this technology to understand and perhaps even mimic that technology? And then do it again?

First, I propose that we explore the notion of a film sequel. Maybe She comes back. Maybe a new AI is developed, or the virtual machine is rebooted. Maybe it is a documentary of…

Secondly, investigating the possibilities of actually building such a technology and product. What if we could build a system that could get to know someone’s disposition, attitude, and values, and deliver — at their unsolicited request, of course — a perfectly tailored delivered curriculum for an individual to actually recognize the Awakening or Enlightenment that Her alludes to. There are so many incredible disciplines to pull together: quantum computing, big data, linguistics (historical texts describing the technology in Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, and other languages), philosophy, neurofeedback, imaging, perhaps even transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The nexus of all this, of course, are technologies such as Alpha and IBM’s Watson. Now that’s a product. Theres a clear, compelling, and universal “pain point”: the seemingly inevitable suffering of all sentient beings. The great fortune would be to build a technology, validated by living examples of this awakening, designed to guide this transition along.

How do you market it? The documentary. All the better if there’s a way to make the technology ultimately free. Perhaps it’s a phone app. When the documentary hits theaters, the product is on the “shelves.”

This has been in my head for years. Thanks for reading. If you have an interest in building this, please let me know. I think an extraordinary collaboration for the benefit of all sentient beings is at our disposal.

Image from IBM Research on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.


Mishima is a 15″ PowerBook G4 that met an untimely demise when my cat Lilo knocked it off a desk… face-down right onto a lead-acid battery. The LCD display was irreversably damaged, a few keys popped off, and the case was cracked a bit. I replaced the keys from a spare keyboard, opened up the machine, and gently removed the screen assembly. I procured a Dell 2001FP 21″ LCD display from a friend. I then designed a custom stand using heavy-duty extruded-aluminum structural framing and machined a VESA-compliant mount for the LCD display. I put it all together to create a standing “digital hub kiosk” that provides a source of music, a dashboard for my morning rituals (traffic, mail, etc), and a display for one of my server’s traffic graphs. The design is stable and did not require drilling into the floor or ceiling; the unit is “wedged” in with high-grade neoprene rubber bumpers at the top and bottom for traction. Not a bad use for a broken laptop!

In 2009, I moved Mishima to my exercise room at home where she can now be used while walking on a treadmill. The screen has been upgraded to a 24″ widescreen LCD, making this an ideal setup for watching DVDs while exercising.

A Hedonic Model of Computer Prices

I wrote this report as part of my final project for an enconometrics class. As it is a lengthy document with mathematical formatting that even modern browsers cannot handle, I’ve reproduced only the introduction below. I hope you’ll download the full paper (PDF).

A Hedonic Model of Computer Prices


Computers have become a virtual commodity. Most Windows-based personal
computer (PC) manufacturers produce nearly homogeneous products, sometimes even
in the same factories. It is impossible to ignore the rapid advances in technology over
the past thirty years that have brought personal computers with exponentially more
power than the mainframes of yore into the hands of typical consumers. Despite these
advances in technology, the inflation-adjusted price of a new PC has fallen only slightly
over the past twenty years. For example, a high-end 16-megahertz (MHz) 80386
computer with a small monochrome monitor and an 80-megabyte hard drive cost
$3792 (1996 dollars) in January 1988. Today, a high-end 3,060 MHz Pentium IV with a
19″ color display and 200-gigabyte hard drive costs $2695 (1996 dollars), a reduction in
price of only 29%.

However, this price index (in the loosest sense of the term) does not consider
the quality of the computer; if we were to divide the price of the computers by any
significant metric (such as CPU speed, hard drive capacity, or RAM quantity), one would
see that there has been a drastic reduction in the price of computers. Suppose one
were to divide the real price of the computer by its total MHz. The computer from
1988 was $237 per MHz compared to the current $0.88 per MHz. Using such a metric,
computer prices have fallen by 99.63%–quite a remarkable change, and quite different
from the 29% figure. What could be discovered, then, if one were to calculate the
change in price for a number of relevant factors?

My model attempts to quantify the value of a computer based on some metric of
its quality and can be used to analyze the prices of computers nearly twenty-five years
old. It is an important component of an overall quality-adjusted computer price model
(which is well beyond the scope of this assignment). However, it is not the intention of
this model to be a canonical metric of the value of PCs for any length of time. Instead,
the reader should consider this model as a snapshot of time, a model whose value is
greatest when compared to other similar models. Indeed, it is not the current price of
computers that is so interesting, but rather the trend. A hedonic model of computer
prices is useless: unlike a house, it is trivial to purchase every single different component
of a computer separately. We can easily determine the expected value of a computer by
summing the value of its components (whose true fl is trivial to discover independently),
adding a premium for assembled systems, and discounting somewhat based on age if

The drastic reduction of computer prices over the past twenty-five years has
created an entirely new culture in America; who could imagine bringing much of the
computing power of a $10,000 mainframe to the pocket of a elementary school child in
the form of a mere $60 gaming system? Who could envision a new globalization of
knowledge services, largely catalyzed by the rapid decreases in computer prices?

Read the rest. Download the Full Paper (PDF).

What effects will increasing globalization have on America’s knowledge workers?

I first became interested in outsourcing during my employment at Frontera Corporation in 1999. Less expensive employees working with H-1B visas or contractors replaced many of our most seasoned programmers and project managers. As I learned how decreasing transaction costs would cause price (wage) differences between countries to narrow, I realized just how important this topic would become for the next decade.

At over fifty pages with several pages of econometric tables, the paper is too large to attempt to reproduce here for you in HTML format. I have included the introduction as a teaser below and hope you will download and enjoy the full paper. I also hope that you find it interesting and I look forward to hearing your comments.

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"You Are NOT the Anything-Killer Until You Actually Kill Something"

“You Are NOT the Anything-Killer Until You Actually Kill Something” (link)

Ten years from now when we reminisce about the 00’s and laugh about Web 2.0 companies, one of the lamest company pitches we are going to remember is this:

Our Company is the <Insert Successful Company> – Killer

Netscape will launch the Digg-Killer

Socializr is the Evite-Killer is the MySpace-Killer

This is a clever article by Wil Schroter that brilliantly pokes fun at the “$company killer” schtick that seems to be popular these days. Kudos for an insightful and entertaining article, Wil.

G33k Dinner

I’m looking forward to seeing folks at tonight’s G33k Dinner in LA:

Date: May 22th, 8pm dinner, Chinatown, How about Plum Tree Inn
913 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012, (213) 613-1819
We’re back in the “party room”

Interested in learning more about the event? Check out the wiki.

LA G33k Dinners

From the site:

The Geek Dinners are a monthly gathers of Internet technology lovers in Los Angeles. We are loosely affiliated with BarCamp – because many of us met there. Anyone who has an interest and passion for technology, the internet, internet technologies, software or you just know you’re a geek is welcome. Come play with us.

The next one is on April 24th at 8pm. Details:

  • Date: April 24th, 8pm dinner, come early for pitchers of beer
  • Location: Shakey’s Pizza in Hollywood
  • 7001 Santa Monica Blvd, W Hollywood, CA 90038, (323) 463-1104 Map
  • Look up at the sign.
  • Reservation under “Heather”
  • On UpComing
  • What if I can’t make the date? Let us know. Full 007 schedule is posted here. Dates can be moved by suggestion. Speak up!

Sounds like great fun, and a nice extension to the BarCamp love. I’m going, will I see you there?

BarCampLA 3

If you’re a technology person, you need BarCamp. And, if you’re a technology person in LA, then you need BarCampLA. It’s that simple.

Allow me to break it down.

BarCamp is a bi-annual gathering of the coolest geeks you’ll ever meet. It’s free to attend, but if you attend, you’re also expected to present. And present we did… talking about everything from mapping the homeless in Downtown LA to microformats. Don’t forget PowerPoint Karaoke, where contestants are given 5 minutes to convincingly present slides that they’ve never seen before on a topic they (hopefully) know nothing about. Add free swag from vendors (vodka from BuzzNet and sweet gear from Belkin), and you’ve got a one heck of an event.

The next one is happening in six months… September maybe?

Anyway, get over to and check it out. Brilliant.

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