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John Lam's Blog


How can we build better computational assistants?

There is a lot of ceremony in note-taking systems. Some examples:

A lot of the ceremony is due to the need to maintain the system itself. Yes, there are tools like Obsidian and Roam Research that help to maintain these systems, but they are largely tools that make it more efficient to maintain the system.

Perhaps an interesting thought experiment (I don't have solutions here, I'm just trying to write down the right questions to ask) would be to imagine what a Star Trek like conversation with a super-intelligent machine could look like?

ME: Hey Jarvis, teach me about super intelligence JAVIS: How does it feel like to be standing here?

Human Progress over Time

JARVIS: {more smart things}

That drawing is from the beginning of Tim Urban's excellent 95,000 word magnum opus of a 4-part blog post. I've been obsessed (over the past hour or so) with Tim's storytelling virtuosity. What Tim seems to do extremely well is take very complex systems and boil them down into simple, accessible, yet entertaining stories. As I think about what a super-intelligent note taking system could be, could it be something that could take our boring notes about something and synthesize it into something incredibly interesting and entertaining like what Tim is capable of creating? Could we have our own "Tim in a Box"?

I must say that this is just one possible take, but I'm pretty sure that whatever our future hyper-intelligent assistants will be, it won't look like a VS Code interface.

Incidentally, this idea came about when I was watching Tim's Google Talk this morning:


This is a beautiful picture of what a myelinated axon looks like: