A question of character

29 Aug 2014

A previous post mentioned that names in CosmicOS were not being encoded in as useful a form as they could be. For example, addition (+) was encoded as the number 10, meaning:

“the 10th thing on an imaginary list of things.”

This reduced the complexity of the language the message was written in, since everything was just a list of numbers. This was very helpful especially in the parts of the message that change that language programmatically, a handy kind of bootstrapping. But there’s a downside.

The number 10 is not a very useful thing to search for. There will be a lot of chaff if you search the message for all instances of 10. In a previous post I suggested just using much bigger numbers, like 345391. Any user of a search engine knows it is more productive to search for something long and quirky than something short and generic.

Ideally, we’d like names to be quirky and easy to search for and recognize directly in a recording of whatever stream the receiver gets. We want names that are distinctive on as low a level as possible in the medium being used. For just about any model of the receiver’s intelligence, this will help them out. Distinctive numbers are okay, but maybe we can do better with pops and squeals and gurgles and who knows what? We have to at some point consider error correction and compression, but that can be something we bootstrap to once the essentials of communication are in place.

To summarize: In the past, CosmicOS assumed that the lowest level representation would be a small number of basic symbols into which the message is encoded. We no longer assume that. If there’s space in the physical medium for more expression, let’s use it in order to reduce the cognitive burden on the receiving end. Hammering this out will require careful thought on the details of error probabilities and error correction. CosmicOS should offer flexibility so the message can be better adapted to the opportunities afforded by the medium.

As a visualization of this on paper/screen, I’m working on a re-rendering of the message using goofy icons drawn from The Noun Project. Here’s a fragment:

iconifying cosmicos

More fun will be to also build an acoustic version. You can hear an acoustic rendition of any phrase of the message already on the plain-text message page, but it’ll sound way more interesting with character-ful names.

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