How A Spoons Engine Works

Granted, this is a first stab at this kind of thing. Which means I’m relying on some programming that I’ve done in the past. My original prototype SAD Blender used the weather to create its mood. But one thing that really bothered me, is that it doesn’t HOLD its mood during the day, and relies a lot on random numbers. I realized I wasn’t going to get AWAY from using random numbers totally, but maybe I could jig the spoons engine to rely on them a little less, or at the very least, in a more controlled manner.

A lot of the programming I did was mostly augmenting numbers through if/else statements. I realize its not elegant, and that maybe in v2.0 I’ll look into some more data science based techniques, but for now, if/else works pretty consistently. It was also the method I used in SAD Blender.

As it stands, the first end of the engine is done, which is the set state. Or the part of it that runs at the start of the day and sets the buckets (stress, physical state, mood, perception, and eventually spoons).

The Spoons Engine output

In the case of stress. I’m defining stress as EXTERNAL stressors. These are things that happen outside of your own body. I’m doing a few things to generate this score. I still start with a somewhat random base number, and I’m still looking at the weather to influence stress. But I’m also checking what events and unread emails I have waiting for me currently. This adds to a busy function, which further augments it. All my buckets are out of 10, which is a bit arbitrary, but mostly because it makes it easy for me to adjust the number (eg: if shit is terrible, upgrade your stress by 2, etc). Except for spoons, which is out of 100 and based on percentage. I’ll get to that later.

Physical State is a combination of internal influences based on your body, in particular sleep and illness. Again I start w/ a random base number, and augment it based on those states. But Physical state is also influenced by stress. And so I’m using the stress score to further augment the physical score.

I think by now you can catch the drift of what I’m doing and how. I continue to pass stress and physical state into a mood function. Mood isn’t random, it starts as neutral each time (so 5). And is augmented by stress and physical.

After that I pass all three into perception. And this is where I assign a rating scale of good / bad / terrible. There’s some weird language moments like “stress: [6,’low’]” is bad…but y’know first stab, because I had to keep the descriptors the same for further functions.

When we get to spoons I kinda flip to generating a percentage out of 100. My reasoning for that was, when considering actions or tasks that the device will have to perform throughout the day, it might be easier to adjust the variables based on 10, but the overall spoons on a percentage of X number. So for example, if you’re starting with 40 spoons (or basically operating at 40% capacity), it might make more sense to say that “automating the lights needs 5% of your spoons). I could be wrong, and in practice it might change. But for now, I’m going to try it. In this case, I’m not really looking at increasing spoons. Just taking from them, as when you’re sick, even GOOD things take their toll, and the idea is that you have to decide what to spend the spoons on.

I’m just starting to think about how this is going to work. Which is going to be my update in week three.

Making a Spoons Engine

When I was working on my thesis last year, one of the thing that really stuck out for me was Norm White talking about his project The Helpless Robot. I remember reading a text in which he stated that when you’re creating a personality, you’re just never really finished, and that really stuck home with me when I started working with personal assistants. They exist in a current state of constant flux. Never really done, growing, but incomplete. And their personalities, well, they leave a lot to be desired. So rather than focusing on trying to GIVE an Alexa a personality, so to speak, I decided to try and focus on moods. Lots of things can have moods. Moods are, to a degree, attainable, at least from a systems approach. There can be many things that affect a base mood.

Before leaving, my lab head Alexis Morris gave me two articles to consider. the first was Depression as a systemic syndrome: mapping the feedback loops of major depressive disorder and the second was an older article of his called A System Dynamics View of Stress. Both dealt with the concepts of stress and depression, but from a systems dynamics approach. It was interesting seeing a system dynamics map, and without even really knowing HOW it was put together having it click. I decided I would give this a shot in making the depressed alexa while at Banff.

I started off with just whiteboarding some ideas, and trying my hand at some loops. That was alright, though I do admit, I’ve never been a great planner. I tend to sort of do a little planning and then when I feel I have enough to start, I start, letting things kind of develop from there. But here were some of the thoughts I had going into this.

Starting to think about loops
Thinking about flow or how to start
Thoughts around influences

Eventually I settled on some basic buckets like Stress, Perception (negative, positive, or neutral outlook), Physical State (things like illness, and sleep), Mood (good / bad etc), which would all contribute to the overall idea of Spoons. Or basically how resilient the device will be during the day. Spoon Theory comes from a 2003 article written by Christine Miserandino as a way to describe Lupus to someone who doesn’t have it. Its since been used to describe the struggles involved with many kinds of invisible illnesses.

The basic idea around spoons is: You only have so many spoons to spend in a day. So things like waking up, brushing your teeth, going to work etc, all cost spoons. Once you’re out of spoons, you’re pretty much done. Some days you might have a lot of spoons, other days, not so much.

Taking this idea, I decided spoons would be an interesting way to influence what my depressed alexa would be able to handle during the course of 24 hours. So I set about in the second week of Banff to make a spoons engine.