Not everyone is a gifted writer. I became aware of my own deficiencies after some of my emails resulted in unexpectedly defensive responses. At first I would solve the problems the old fashioned way - go and talk to the person - without giving it much thought. Then, I realized that there seemed to be a pattern in my own writing, which would become most acute in the more pressured contexts like debates, putting down fires, and the like. I was sounding terse, rude, and, as a result, rubbing people the wrong way. My relationships suffered.
Everyone who knows me well knows I am a friendly, often jovial person who also happens to be analytical and action-oriented. I like to speak my mind and engage in a logical debate. Much of my writing is similar to how I think and speak - identify the problem, engage interlocutors, exchange ideas, and derive the steps needed to resolve it. No extra word is spilled and no escape route remains. This does not always lead to a friendly and inviting exchange, as you can imagine. I had to change.
I started re-reading my messages, often catching egregious emotional gaffes. I started paying more attention to how I phrased things when I wrote emails. The new awareness gave me reason to pause and paraphrase things which led to markedly better rapport with the addressees. People in my family, friends started to notice. They sought my advice on things ranging from how to write important emails to strategizing about emotionally-loaded matters.
This got me thinking. Many people have this same problem or worse, yet few are aware of it. The aggressive fast-charging A-types get a lot done but also find themselves dumbfounded when people around them leave. Gregarious and empathetic people are fun to be around and talk to but switch to email - and it will take forever to arrive at a decision. Or, how about interactions between different cultures - try to have a Japanese and an Israeli negotiate a business deal. You may as well go fishing.
This problem can be solved. Why not distill this analysis into algorithms? It would be useful to formalize this type of thinking and deliver it contextually to anyone willing to improve their communication and collaboration abilities. Why not have a machine helper, that watches your communication in its actual form, however abridged for digital delivery, detects problems that the writer may not be aware of, and produces personalized insights on how to improve? In other words, why not have a homunculus sitting on your shoulder and coaching you in private on all matters relating to your communication? Just imagine how many misunderstandings, conflicts, failed pitches, or heated exchanges can be solved or avoided altogether? Talk about changing the world.
And thus I set off on the quest to do some funky NLU and inject emotional intelligence “back” into digital communication. I say “back”, because EI is something inherent to human communication. It is direly missing in the digital space, stripped by technologists’ noble attempt to focus on the information exchange while naively ignoring and, sometimes, hiding the underlying human motivations. Can software give a 100% guarantee of accuracy? No. Not even a human can. But only software can match other software on the scale of delivery and consistency of dealing with the internet-era stream of digital knowledge going through the pipes. Rome was not built in a day. Small improvements can one day help us wield full control over how well we communicate with each other leading to unimaginable levels of creativity and collaboration.