In order to write the story on The Brain (in Spanish) I asked a few questions to Harlan Hugh, President, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder. He could not answer them in time and they did not appear in the story. Nevertheless, Harlan was kind enough to email his thoughts a few days later, and it seems a good idea to share them with you.
FP – How many copies of The Brain have been sold? Who is using it?
HH – Over 500,000 copies of TheBrain have been distributed around the world, with many well known innovators, writers, researchers, thinkers, and leading business people among them. All types of people use TheBrain and the ways that they apply it continue to surprise and intrigue us. In addition to individuals, many companies and government organizations have purchased TheBrain for use across large groups of people. Corporate customers include leading high technology, financial services, consumer products, and government intelligence and defense organizations.
FP – Would you explain the difficulties met by such a program in its search for recognition and acceptance? Besides market, programming and funding realities, does it suffer from the way we are trained (as opposed to the way we think)?
HH – With any innovation, there is always change involved and change is harder for some than others. For TheBrain, this aspect of innovation is most clearly evident in people’s expectations of how they can organize information. Since some people have very low expectations of what the best way to organize information is, they don’t realize how much they are missing out on.
The problem goes back to what people are trained to do with information created using paper and ink – desktops, filing cabinets, and other physical ways of storing and organizing data just don’t allow for much connectivity between ideas and concepts. With the relatively recent advent of the computer, the lack of expressive ways of organizing information has persisted into the digital realm with the exception of TheBrain. TheBrain’s powerful capability to connect all the information you use and relate it in the same ways that you think about it is a new concept and one that changes what’s possible for a computer user.
In TheBrain you can make your computer’s way of presenting information match the way you think about it. People are used to doing the reverse. Instead of expecting that the computer would match the way they think, people actually expect to have to change the way they think to match their computer. Fortunately, this change and the realization that there is a better way to work with the computer is a pleasant one and it is the reason why users of TheBrain are so enthusiastic about the software and its power to revolutionize the way you use your computer.
FP – In The Brain you draw the associations by hand, do you think it would be possible to have a software do it for you? What would be the interest, and the limits?
HH – The associations between information are the key organizing principle behind TheBrain and as such are very important. It is indeed possible and in some cases desirable to have this done automatically by software and we provide solutions that enable this, which I’ll describe below. The benefits of an automated approach are mainly in order to quickly build up a picture of a large amount of information and secondly to create connections free from personal biases. However, it must be kept in mind that when a person makes these connections, they can decide what is important and what is not using a vast amount of context and experience. Software can also be designed to create connections, but since we are a long way from creating artificial intelligence that is comparable to that of human judgment, it has to be done in such a way that the relationships created by people are distinct from those that are automatically created.
TheBrain offers several methods of creating associations automatically. There are three basic approaches: 1) The software can analyze databases or other repositories of information and create connections based on existing information. 2) The software can analyze the content of documents to determine what it should be connected to according to the most common concepts. 3) The software can analyze the patterns of usage by people and draw associations based on recurring themes.
Another variation on these approaches that should be noted is the collaborative method, where mutliple users all participate in creating a shared Brain. Each user contributes in their areas of expertise and can instantaneously share the contributions of others. Building on each other’s ideas, the results are more powerful and comprehensive than what any one person could create.
FP – What would you think of a program that could index like X1 and allow association with the elegance of The Brain? Do you think it’s technically feaseable today?
HH – Our corporate solution already offers the combined power a very fast fully indexed search and the associative connectivity that is unique to TheBrain. We will be introducing these capabilities in our personal solution in the future.
The benefits of a fully indexed search are even more powerful when combined with the associative power and elegance of TheBrain. We call this combination “relational search”. The problem with search is that if you don’t know what keyword to enter, you can’t find what you need. Relational search makes finding things much easier since you don’t need to know exactly what you are searching for. When you do a search, you are taken into the area of related topics so that you can visually narrow down your search. Additionally, the graphical interface enables greater understanding and quick evaluation of search results. The outcome is that people get what need and decide which results are most useful faster. Leveraging the connections between the information enables understanding how to take action on the information they receive and discovery of relevant content that could never be found using search alone.