Crystal Knows: A Letter to Myself

Hey Paddy,

It’s been such a fun year, and I have sincerely enjoyed watching the team succeed. Your guidance has helped me tremendously, and I’d like to thank you for having a true impact on my career.

You know this already, but I have some big career aspirations, and I’ve been working very hard to move closer and closer to those goals. I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes, but each one has give me a chance to learn and improve.

Here’s the thing.

I didn’t write this. Crystal did.

Crystal has looked at all of my online data and built a profile of me using natural language processing, psychology models, and statistical analysis on massive datasets. It purports to let others know how I think, what I want to hear, and how our relationship can be optimized.

It’s a bit creepy. Even the URL is creepy: www.crystalknows.com Cry: Stalk Now. Cry. Stalk. Now. Cry, stalk now. But it’s also fascinating. To peer into one’s one personality, as determined by machine learning, is the digital equivalent to the Narcissus myth. If you have those tendencies, which I guess I do, you end up falling in love with your online reflection to the point where you risk losing perspective on who you really are. It got so bad for our boy Narcissus, that he died; Obsessed with an image of who he appeared to be.

The other story that comes to mind is Schrödinger. It starts out like a bad joke: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source walk into a bar… sorry… are placed in a sealed box.

If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e., a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. Wikipedia.

That poor cat lives in a state of purgatory between life and death. The idea is that as soon as an observer opens the box they release cyanide that kills the cat. The question is: before opening the box, is the cat dead or alive? The only way to know is to open the box, which definitely kills the cat. The act of measuring changes the observed outcome.

Furthermore, according to Schrödinger’s model, the cat exists in a state of quantum superimposition. That is to say, at any given time, it may be both alive and dead. And that’s the thing. Crystal turns me into that cat. Am I an immutable being, fixed in time? Is my personality a life sentence? Or am I a dynamic human being, who will evolve and shift. This feeling of looking at a definitive image of who you are has the effect of deadening the sense of who you might still become.

So, I’ve learned that I should approach Paddy with a friendly tone and offer a bit of information about myself, including why I need help. I should give a gentle call to action, making it comfortable for me while letting me know that my schedule is open.

And it turns out that I’m very loyal, considerate, openly express emotion, and rely more on instincts than logic to make decisions.

Crystal is useful. It’s amazing to learn about the peers who have joined the platform already and allowed it to sift through their online data. There are no big surprises, just nuances that are informative and probably helpful when communicating with people you may not know too well.

But there’s a steady pull back to your own profile. And what I’m not sure about is whether or not I’ve just opened the box to check on myself, because I feel a little dead inside.

Paddy & Paddy