Why Bots Need Standards

Mark Stephen Meadows
Aug 31, 2018

Standards support progress

Without standards, we can’t build very complex things. While competition is decried by every business program as the driver of diversity and opportunity, it’s actually cooperation that allows us to drive complexity. Without cooperating on standards, we wouldn’t be able to support innovation, as every company would have to recreate every system for themselves — or support every variation in existence.

Before 1948, Los Angeles’ power grid ran on a different frequency — 50hz — than the rest of the U.S., which ran on 60hz. Read all about it here. Image courtesy of WaterandPower.org.

For example, in North America, it’s the 110V alternating current home power standard, with its characteristic plug, that actually enables innovation in home appliances and consumer electronics. It’s bad enough that manufacturers have to support a few, differing power standards and plug shapes worldwide in order to make things. Imagine if they had to support hundreds of differing specifications across the same geography. You wouldn’t have specialized appliances and a diversity of stereos because manufacturers wouldn’t have the capital to develop all of the variations. We would have far less complexity and innovation.

This is why standards are important. We can’t compete by building more interesting and more sophisticated solutions and services if we have to support an exhaustive variety of variations in deployments. And, it puts a few companies large enough to try, in a tremendously powerful position to reap all of the rewards and stifle competition.

Standards support a modern, technologically-enriched lifestyle. Drive a car and you’re anticipating a standard level of functionality and behavior. In most of the world, everyone drives on the right side of the road, so it’s easy for automakers of all kinds to produce a bigger variety of cars with more options and opportunities to customize. Developing Android apps is much more difficult and costly than developing iOS apps since the plethora of hardware and software variations quickly gets unmanageable. Make a mobile phone call and, behind the scenes, a set of standards including GSM, CDMA and TDMA ensures your call goes to the right number. The same is true of texts with SMS, MIME, and MMS. Without standards we’d have little technical innovation or safety. When it comes to the design of bots and smart payment systems on blockchain, standards are crucial to developing trust, innovating sophisticated solutions, and laying the foundation for an industry that will be worth billions.

Good standards enable collaboration

Without a standard like HTML and the work of the people behind the standards-setting World Wide Web Consortium, there would be no Web. HTML and open standards allow people to collaborate. Working with people is more productive than working against them.

At Seed Vault, that means we have a collaborative advantage, not a competitive advantage.

With standards based on open source, we can all benefit, share our contributions, and share the rewards. But, before we get there, specifications must first be agreed upon. Consensus needs to be built. A standard allows that.

Good standards enable value and expand functionality

To use the metaphor of an electrical utility, your local electric company has built a networked infrastructure to generate, deliver, and meter the electricity you use. While the grid is proprietary, the utility has open-sourced the edge of their network. The points where they interface with electricity — the plugs, cords, outlets, and light sockets, the wiring in your walls — it’s all standardized. Buy a light bulb from any manufacturer, and you know it will fit the light socket in your home without blowing it up or burning it down. The fact that there are agreed-upon standards allows an economy of electrical appliances and services to be built around the utility of electricity and extend its functionality and value. Few would bemoan the lack of competition at such a low-level (different electrical companies generating different types of electricity) of service and most would prefer the competition at these higher levels of appliances and solutions.

By specifying the standards around the bot economy, Seed Vault is helping to build an economy of shared value and compensation.

Good standards can determine ethical behavior

At the same time, we can address ethical standards to guarantee that no one gets hurt by bots, and that bots are used for the purposes they are intended. Why is that important? For only one example, consider that with every new election, we’re just beginning to get our minds around how bots have skewed elections in the USA and around the world. We need to be able to trust the bots we interact with — and know when we’re interacting with them.

Standards allow expectations to be met. This allows people to maintain control, and gets us back to a fair and trustworthy society. We’ve seen how automation scales-up the means of communication (and miscommunication) on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Standards allow people’s expectations to be met. This allows people to maintain control, and gets us back to a fair and trustworthy society.

We believe that standards shouldn’t say what is right or wrong. Customers, constituents, and citizens should determine that. At the same time, different types of bots will adhere to different levels of standardization. A healthcare bot, for example, will naturally use more standards (and be more regulated) than a cooking bot.

Good standards declare intent

Inside the Seed Token, we’re building licensing terms into its components. A bot will declare what its intended for. In other words, if you have a bot that makes avocado recipes, for example, it shouldn’t be used to diagnose mental illness, or collect personal information about your location. That’s a bad bot. It is definitively bad, not because of prohibited content or actions but because it violates its intended and declared function.

Code should determine a bot’s personality and behaviors. Standardized code and standardized tokens allow services to interoperate and collaborate via APIs. It allows developers’ plugs to fit our platform’s sockets.

Good standards are built on agreed specifications

From a developer’s perspective, we fully anticipate that we will work with WC3, ISO, and technical committees, as well as organizations that oversee legal standards (like KYC/AML). This is part of our strategy. These standards will further help developers create bots and bot services without having to invent these aspects themselves — every time they need to deploy a bot. For now, our APIs use JSON-RESTful calls, since this is currently the,most common spec. But, we’re already planning for evolution as the number of bots and bot developers explodes over the next few years.

We want bot code to be human readable, just like HTML. Functional elements from a bot description should be readable, copyable, and pastable to facilitate collaboration though this will require us to determine limits around copy and paste within the framework. Implicitly, some IP (like low-level functions) should be sharable while other IP (with more sophisticated functions) should be protected. We are working with the developer communities to determine where the line should be in order to establish cooperation as well as enable competition. And, we’re confident that blockchain-enabled fractional payments and micro-contributions of SEED Token will help us address questions of IP infringement, and compensation.

Standards for the design and creation of conversational bots include lexical components, bot sound design, the way they talk, and scores of other details. These standards will be emergent, and, over time, fracture, grow, and evolve around modalities like reading, speaking, seeing, writing, listening, and producing imagery.

.BOT standard coming soon

Interested in helping define the standards that will define the next economy? Join us on GitHub at https://github.com/SeedVault/. Several communities of bot developers have already joined Seed Vault and its Seed Token Project,including PandoraBots, Brillig Understanding, Bottish, and ChatBotsLife with many others coming online after launch. We will announce additional partnerships with other bot communities representing the largest consortium of bot developers in the world.

Our strategy is to enlist these development communities in defining the .BOT description language to make it as useful and robust as possible for all, so that developers can collaborate on the features and tools most needed (and their associated priorities). Our goal is to build a developer community that will ensure maximum utility, and to help outline which features, tools, and services are needed to quickly evolve the capabilities available to bot developers and deployers. This process has already begun so we need you now.

Mark Stephen Meadows is the Founder & CEO of Botanic.io, Co-founder and Trustee of seedtoken.io (and Author, Inventor, Illustrator, Sailor).

ABOUT SEED

SEED is an open, independent, and decentralized marketplace for developers, publishers and users of conversational user interfaces (CUIs) or “bots”, that democratizes AI. The SEED platform provides development tools, intellectual property, and a tokenized network for delivering front-ends to AI technologies.

To learn more you can find SEED on Telegram, or visit the SEED website and sign up for email updates at https://seedtoken.io/

If you have specific questions about the project, please contact ask@seedtoken.io. You can also find SEED on Discord, on Twitter, on Reddit and on Medium.

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