Thoughts on Motivation and Self-Motivated Software

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Being raised by a non traditional Latin mother, I learned from an early age how to help doing the housework, I hated it nonetheless. Being married to a non traditional Vietnamese woman, she made sure that the housework was almost equally distributed between the two. At home I am in charge of washing the dishes and clothes, and cleaning the floors and toilets. I love being useful almost as much as I hate the tasks that I have to do. That’s why every time I see my one-year-old son sporting a wide smile while using his bibs to clean his toys, walls, and basically everything in his way, I get shocked. How can he enjoy so much something that I have to push myself to do?

My wife quickly explained to me that in order to keep a clean environment in my son’s daycare center, the teachers are always cleaning the walls, floors, and toys. One of the main ways in which babies learn is imitation, so it makes perfect sense that my son tries to replicate what the people taking care of him do. When anyone sees my son cleaning they applaud and laugh, and he also bursts in laughter. He seems to enjoy all these smiles, probably motivating him to keep cleaning. The same seems to be true in adults, we often behave in ways that tend to increase the acceptance by our peers, usually perceived in the forms of smiles and flattering.

It is said that state of the art emotion detection technologies can now achieve human-like accuracy at detecting happiness and sadness from facial expressions, tone of voice, and content of our words. I wonder why no one has tried to replicate the motivation shown by babies to create better software. Something as simple as letting a virtual home assistant automatically play music or TV shows that it has detected we like by reading our smiles through a home camera, or by what we tweet or post on Facebook. Is it really that difficult? Artificial Intelligence has already beaten the world champions at Chess, Jeopardy, and Go, so why can’t it beat a one-year-old at showing empathy.

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