date: April - July 2015

role: Interaction Designer, User Researcher, Visual Designer, Prototyper

description: An application inspired by the Intelligence Amplification notion proposed by Vernor Vinge. iQuestion turns knowledge into an economy allowing users to contribute to a database of knowledge that other users can go to to learn. The full design process was used to create this, User Research, Case Studies, Usability Testing and a final prototype.


This is my capstone project for my Masters of Design in Interaction Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It was an individual design project where we had to come up with a concept and go through the design process, including research and the final prototype. We had the entirety of the final semester to work on this individually.


Intelligence Amplification

Beginning with an interest in Artificial Intelligence and its place in the world of Interaction Design I was interested in the idea of making a project that was a commentary on the way we use our technology.

My research into the implication of Artificial Intelligence, lead to a very interesting paper that I read by Vernor Vinge on “The coming Technological Singularity”. He came up with this idea of an alternative to AI he called IA (Intelligence Amplification). This was the improvement of our own intelligence by strengthening the way we communicate with computers and making it more seamless. In this way, we would be able to effectively “amplify” our intelligence, because the machines systems will become extensions of ourselves.

Query Applications

I was intrigued with how we search for information we were interested in. How did we learn on the internet? What were the “search” habits of users and how did they go about to gain knowledge on the internet? Services like Quora and StackExchange provided a platform where users could go to seek knowledge. As a designer who codes, I have spent hours lurking on websites like these in search for answers.

I based my research around learning about internet altruism and how people helped each other on the web.



I began my research by having candid conversations with the people around me about Artificial Intelligence. I also consumed as much media as I could about AI and read papers written by futurists and scientists about the idea of the coming singularity.

I learned a few key things from this:

During this preliminary investigation, I was also very curious as to how people treated their devices. One behavior, in particular, I was interested in was the personification of their devices.

I approached the idea of doing a critical design of an object that would in a sense poke fun of the fact that it was just a machine. I noticed that people often personified their devices when frustrated with it, I wanted to give our smart devices something that would bring them closer to being human, and that was the imperfections of making mistakes and awareness. HAL9000 one of the most famous AI in Science Fiction culture was anthropomorphized by the simple fact that it made a mistake and was trying to cover it up. This was the premise of this idea.

Eventually, I pulled away from this because I realized that I was becoming too focused on the technology of AI instead of the user.

My research, lead me to Vernor Vinge and his paper “The coming Technological Singularity” and intelligence amplification. It was at this point I decided to create an app to allow users to exchange knowledge as currency.


As part of my research I employed two methods to collect data to help inform my design.

  1. Interviews
  2. Surveys


I was doing my ideation while I was conducting research. In hindsight, this might have been a mistake because I started over a few times because of flawed reasoning. One of which was the realization that I was designing for a technological concept rather than the user.

I came up with 4 ideas to explore. The combination of some of them gave birth to the iQuestion concept.

  1. A query application that pitted humans versus machines. You’d ask a question and there would be sort of a leaderboard of whether machines were better at providing solution or humans.
  2. An evolving query app where the machines learns the users answers and feeds it back to the users.
  3. Sassy Translator would have been a translator that injects sarcastic humor into its responses. This was a critical design idea. I followed this thread for a while.
  4. Global translator would have been a query based application that connected people with the required linguistic knowledge together.

Stepping back, the initial concepts of iQuestion jumped out to me. The fundamental interaction between users and a machine often began with a question. I honed in on this idea.


This project was rife with obstacles. Most of which were encountered and overcome during the design process of iQuestion. At the start, the very premise of the project was flawed because I approached it with Artificial Intelligence in mind. I learned that AI was more of an engineering term and not something that I could treat as a “feature” of an application I was meant to design and prototype.

once something becomes useful enough and common enough it’s not labeled AI anymore

- Nick Bostrom -

As an advocate for user-centric design and empathetic design philosophy, I suddenly realized that I needed to take a huge step back from my project and re-evaluate the problem that I was trying to solve from a human focused approach. Instead of focusing on the technology, I should have been focused more on the user.

"Intelligence Amplification instead
of Artificial Intelligence"

Intelligence Amplification was a more user-centric approach to my design. I powered forward with this idea.


Question: What if there is a way to connect users together so that relying on “googling” something was a last resort? Let me ask a friend.



The application went through several iterations. I performed usability tests at different stages and modified the interface based on feedback from users.

The final prototype was a result of several iterations and modifications. I used Adobe Illustrator to create all the screens. I then used the online application inVision to make my prototype interactive.

I experimented with coding a web application with a database, but with the limited time and my limited backend web development background this wasn’t feasible at the time. I was very happy with the inVision prototype and it was enough for me to get user feedback for my application.

For the final presentation, I created walkthrough video with a voice over to explain my concept.

Reflection and Learnings


Final Notes:

I learned a great deal in the process of this project but I have since then grown as a designer and plan to revisit this project and perhaps go through with building a functional prototype.