OPINION

In Search of the App That Could Save the World

I’m a moderate Republican, which means that if I actually think about platforms, Obama, as a moderate Democrat, is closer to where I am than any of the folks running in my own party. What absolutely flabbergasts me is that these candidates don’t seem to realize there is something called “the Internet,” which points out with incredible glee every instance when they don’t tell the truth or punt on a question they don’t know the answer to. Or that the result will likely then become a gag on the Jon Stewart show, which is a guilty pleasure for most of us.

In the end, I don’t see things actually getting better, because the hard liners who appear to drive both parties don’t seem to care about accuracy or the truth. Given that we live in a nuclear age with the increasing likelihood that someone we hit might hit us back with a dirty bomb, and given that I’m fond of living, I figured it was time to pitch the idea that there might be an app for that.

Last week has been a quiet week for products, but I’ve become a recent convert to eBay as a way to finish my 1997 Jaguar XK8 project car, so I’m going to make eBay my product of the week.

In Search of the World Killer Problem

This actually came out of a short story idea that I’m fleshing out, but think it could become more than fiction. My idea of a perfect app is a location- and context-aware proactive decision app.

Here is my premise. We all suffer from something called “Confirmation Bias” and “Argumentative Theory.” The first suggests that once we make a decision, we actively pursue information that agrees with it and are blind to warning signs. An example of this is someone who repeatedly marries really good-looking but nasty people, or folks who are constantly disappointed in the candidates they pick (more on this later).

Argumentative Theory suggests that as we evolved, those who won arguments got the best of everything regardless of whether they were right. As a result, we have a tendency to disagree with folks as a dominance trait — not because we are right — and a tendency to defend to the death our position, even if we are wrong, to retain or gain dominance.

Kind of explains the mess in the U.S. Government, right? It’s run by a bunch of powerful and increasingly wrong folks focused on winning arguments but not caring at all about actually being right.

Or put another way, we are hardwired to argue successfully with no real regard for whether we are right or wrong. I used to call this the “biggest ass at the table rule,” where the most dominant person would seem to win a corporate argument, right or wrong.

In the end, it is my belief that the majority of the world’s problems — and some of the stupidest products (Zune for instance) — resulted from this hardwired tendency to treat truth and accuracy as unimportant. You likely see this in your own family when, after watching a political debate, members are split on which candidate did the best job. Chances are everyone is simply arguing to support a conclusion they had carried into the debate and what actually was argued was secondary.

You also see this in a lot of court cases where both sides come in equally convinced they are right and, as an independent outside observer, it appears clear that one side isn’t living in reality. Although many times I’ve watched one of these things, and both sides seemed incapable of spelling reality — let alone acknowledging it exists. I think attorneys are going to hate my app.

The Killer App for Saving the Human Race

So I think the killer app is one that tells you, and you alone, when you are being an ass. For instance, your wife has just found out you have had an affair. Before you could suggest an open marriage, this app would suggest a far safer path — like just shutting up. Knowing a bit about you and your goals, it might also estimate the chances of advocating open marriage and winning a primary on a conservative ticket as slim to none.

In short, what the app would do is combine the power of Siri with an open microphone listening to your voice. It would be your own personal advisor, alerting you as you’re making a mistake and giving you ideas on how to get out of it.

Let’s say it determined you were buying a car. It could either listen, ask you to photograph it or provide the VIN number, and before your overeager hand signed the contract, it could make some suggestions. It could tell you about problems you didn’t know existed, better deals online or at another dealer, or give you a sense of what your wife might do to you when you got home — all before you finish making a mistake.

Now multiply these smarter decision makers times the employees in a company or the citizens in a country and — as long as no one compromised the app — it would lead to fewer stupid wars, fewer chances of saying or doing something that would get you divorced or fired, and a lower likelihood of you looking stupid to yourself or others. As a result, you’d spend more time enjoying life and less running your mistakes through your head over and over and over again. Not that this ever happens to me.

Wrapping Up

Currently we are hardwired to favor inaccuracy, and it appears to be reflected in our political system. It ensures that both Republicans and Democrats behave like children fighting to be right, at the expense of the country and constituents. My idea of a perfect app would be one that had us focus more on actually being right than on winning an argument.

Given that I expect the last thing said by either a politician or scientist when the world ends will be “oops,” I think this thing could save the world. Now the only real questions are who will develop it first and whether we, as a race are smart enough to use it and avoid corrupting it. On that last, I’m not very confident.

Of course, I’m half convinced if we had this app, we’d all end up voting for Ron Paul as the only guy who has mostly stayed on topic and focused on the economy. Clearly some don’t agree — but then I think Bill Kristol is the perfect candidate to use my app. It looks like he could really use it badly.

Product of the Week: eBay

Product of the Week

A week ago Sunday I was banned from eBay as a buyer. That is unusual enough that I think I should have a T-Shirt made. Thanks to a lot of nice people there, I was unbanned — but the entire experience taught me a number of lessons. I won’t go into that here; instead, I’ll go into why this Amazon fan has been using eBay far more often of late.

That is because “used” is actually often just as good as, and one heck of a lot cheaper than, “new.” This is particularly true when it comes to working on an older car. For instance, one recent part was US$230 new and only $116 used, and the only real difference was the used one needed cleaning.

ebay

eBay has actually been a good source for some new products as well. For instance, I got new seat covers for my project car in leather for about $550 from an upholstery shop in LA — from the factory, they were close to $2,500.

My hope is that someday eBay will improve to become as good as Amazon is — but it has become a critical aspect of my car hobbies, and it has saved me several thousand dollars so far, so eBay is my product of the week.

And though eBay did piss me off to near epic levels for a time, I’m still a fan.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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