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.