The most ordinary conversations are fraught with life and all its meanings.
— John Haugeland, Having Thought

Season two

How does one design a conversation?

In 1969, the pioneering Artificial Intelligence researcher Herbert Simon called design, “courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.”

But every human situation involves other human beings. What are the courses of action when what we want to change is a person’s mind?

Well almost invariably, those courses of action involve a conversation.

A boss, a parent, a teacher, or a clinician is not likely to influence behavior by directly manipulating another's genes, brain tissue, or motor functioning. Instead, behavioral outcomes are most easily changed by appealing to the person's motives, goals, and expectations or by altering the proximal features of social environments that give rise to them.
— Richard Ryan & Ed Deci, Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness

For Season Two of the bettercast, I’m going to be focusing on how one can “design” a conversation. Luckily for me, this is not a new question. I’ll be talking to:

  • Researchers trying to figure out what conversations are and how they work.
  • Philosophers exploring why conversation is such a vital part of the human experience.
  • Psychologists designing therapeutic conversations to improve people’s mental health.
  • Chatbot designers and developers making human-computer interfaces entirely with words.
  • Playwrights designing fictional conversations that show us more than just the existing situations we find ourselves in.

I am collecting the material for these episodes now. If you are interested in learning more about the bettercast, check out Season One. If you are interested in being on Season Two, sign up for a 15 minute chat with Stevo and he’ll talk you through the logistics.