Imagination before Knowledge

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Albert Einstein

Few of us grown-ups exercise much imagination for our own futures. In my move back to the UK this year, I have heard many friends and family comment that “technology is stealing our jobs” (obviously immigrants are the easier target), but I still feel really passionately that our future is still up for discussion (and without all of this “make UK / America / Spain / Italy / Austria / Germany / France great again” noise). You might not be able to code, but everyone, every single person on the planet, can think of ways their life can be improved through intention, by invention.

What began here as a desire to celebrate feminine power in a tender, humorous and imaginative way has become the pursuit of a technological alternative to porn. I want to know if we can create an algorithm for arousal that isn’t based on novelty alone? Or develop an erotic Artificial Intelligence (AI) which helps us bond as humans, rather than to bots? What if AI met QS (Quantified Self) which in turn stimulated machine learning? What is humans and machines learned together?

Not least importantly (though it is trivial to the moral obligation of humane tech), can and should I be able to make money from this initiative? Friends have told me that this sounds like a PhD topic or an art project, but I’m adamant that this needs to be a sustainable business. Look at the bravado with which guys tackle social technology in Silicon Valley, without any qualifications other than the technical ability to ship product quickly. OK Cupid was started by maths grads. I don’t think it’s appropriate to wait for permission or to try and perfect this from an academic perspective, because even if I was a suitable PhD candidate (any for many reasons I’m not), I could spend the next decade in social science research and still fail as a champion of a more diverse lens on pleasure. Facebook is already performing social science research at a rate inaccessible to universities. Informed, ethical research matters, absolutely and I honestly believe that if we are serious about diluting and broadening the male lens on sex, innovation here needs to be driven by women, or a human more nuanced than the than the Silicon Valley male.

“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.”

Tim Berners-Lee

Given the scale of capitalist ambition beyond the design of social networks, online dating and porn, I’m not sure it’s appropriate anymore for women to be passive about around the implicit role of technology in misogynistic culture. It means being hands-on with the tech, raising girls to be brave and not perfect and giving them full support and encouragement in STEM subjects at school, regardless of their perceived strengths.

We must accept that we can have sexual ambition without being branded harlots and that straight women can respect each other regardless of how men choose to distribute attention at us. This adventure into unfamiliar territory is certainly stretching my boundaries and inviting lots of questions, it would be great if this enquiry did the same for others too.

In the words of Marya Mannes, American Journalist (1904–1990):

“It is not enough to show people how to live better: there is a mandate for any group with enormous powers of communication to show people how to be better.”


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