The technological dilemma

A bit less than 20 years ago, when I was working at City University, I started to think through some technology approaches that I initially called "the CHOICE system" (Common Human Online Information Correspondence Enquiry).

That developed some time later, through interaction with a couple of collaborators including Bruce Pullman, to "CHOICE Matching". Right at the beginning, I felt that the idea, though not yet quite "ripe", could make someone a lot of money in the next 5 to 10 years. I wrote this in a departmental presentation in 1994.

Why and how? Because essentially such a system would cut through the dilemma of (a) a small amount of verified information giving poor matches (b) the requirement for large amounts of information being impractical, demotivating, and against lazy human nature. Matching people, or person-sized opportunities, becomes really practical, efficient, and motivated. The system can thus facilitate one of the pillars of a choice society — to bring people together who share values, so that they can work, live, or otherwise interact together in ways that are in keeping with their values, making their lives more meaningful and fulfilling in ways that one can only start to imagine.

15 years passed, now nearly 20, and no money, no appearance of any other system that does what CHOICE could do. So where should I go? Seems to me like there are two alternative approaches to choose between — a dilemma for me.

  1. Keep the whole idea under my hat still, but keep my ears ever open for a chance to exploit the idea commercially. The main benefit of attracting income would be to facilitate people to work on the surrounding issues, for the benefit of people in common. Another benefit is that there is money to fend off any large corporate predatory interest that might want to interfere with the idea and its application. On the other hand, the danger is that it will never happen. Even if it happens later, what about all the people who could be helped in the meanwhile? I feel that pressure even now - should I already, say 10 years ago, have put all the ideas in the public domain?
  2. Which brings me to the other alternative. Give up any idea of focusing any kind of financial stream. Publish the ideas, the plans, the methods, the algorithms, as widely as possible, and try to draw people in, perhaps using open source and open standards approaches to ensuring that the IP remains free. The dangers here are both of subversion by commercial interests, and of rapacious claims to the IP (by the kinds of people serving corporate empires supporting SOPA, PIPA, etc.)

Ultimately, I don't know, and I can't tell which way to go. Perhaps it depends on the people who would accompany me on the journey. Who would that be, then? Of course, it would be so useful to have the CHOICE system to find people who have similar values to mine...


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