Monday, 8 June 2020

INTERACTION SUPPORT PROCESSOR – And why the patenting system is broken

by Dirk Helbing

One day, in late 2012, I decided to write a patent application. It wasn't the first time. I had already successfully patented the idea for a self-organized traffic control system with a colleague.[1] However, I was not very satisfied with the patent attorney. So, I asked a colleague, who was familiar with such things, whom he recommended to me. It was a patent attorney from the USA, who certainly knew more about digitalization than most lawyers in Europe. He also worked closely with my university. Thus, I decided to go with him. At that time, I believed this was a good decision. But I did not expect it would cost me 100.000 Dollars – and it’s perhaps not over, yet!

The patent application was for an "Interaction Support Processor".[2] It described the concept of digital assistants that would not only lead to better individual decisions, but – above all – they would better coordinate people's decisions so that systemic instabilities and conflicts would be avoided. The invention was about generating individual advantages, but not at the expense of others. Rather, everyone should benefit!

The patent application proposed a "social mirror",[3] which would be a digital representation of how certain decisions would affect the environment and others. My goal was to achieve better decisions, through greater "awareness". And to make people want to "behave in a more beautiful way". Similar to how a mirror makes them want to "look more beautiful".

The patent application also explained how people could be protected from adverse decisions – by a "social protector". And how they could be made aware of favorable opportunities that they would otherwise overlook. Namely, through a further kind of digital assistant, a "social guide". This would also ensure that, as far as possible, "win-lose" situations would be turned into "win-win" situations (by means of compensation payments), so that all parties would benefit from the interaction. For this purpose, the patent application proposed "social money" – new types of money that could, for example, depend on reputation or measurements.

The ultimate goal, which could be achieved by the invention, was a world without manipulation, exploitation and coercion. A world where people and the environment would benefit from digitally assisted, considerate behavior, and from actions that would benefit us all. All this would happen in a way that would use digital technology for personal empowerment, while protecting our privacy.

The patent would have offered a way into a utopian digital future, and a way out of the current dystopia. With the patent, I wanted to be able to give priority to people, who really cared about the world, and not just about profit.
Let me make a bit clearer how the invention would work, so that, in future, not only a few would benefit, as it had been the case so far, but everyone. To do this, I need to elaborate a little on the idea of "social money". Imagine that we would have measurement methods that measure CO2, noise, or toxins, but also good things such as resources of all kinds: glass, plastic, metals – or health, knowledge, social or cultural values. Moreover, imagine we don't give them a price in Dollars or Euros, but they are measured in different currencies that cannot be easily exchanged for each other – only with a high fee. So, in a sense, we would manage different kinds of values with separate accounts.

Instead of a one-dimensional monetary system, where everything can be converted in an almost frictionless way into Dollars or Euros – and where everything can be bought with one kind of money – a multi-dimensional monetary system would be created.[4] This system would no longer be primarily about profit maximization. Social values would matter, too. Ecological values as well. And one could also consider cultural values.

Everyone could contribute to the system by various kinds of value creation – in whatever way it suits their talents and interests. When we buy goods or services, we would pay with a mix of currencies to compensate for their social, environmental and cultural values. So, we would have to commit not only to profit maximization, but also to achieving social, environmental and cultural goals, in order to earn the currencies we need. Otherwise we would have to pay a considerable exchange rate to get the currencies we lack. With a mobile phone app, however, all payment processes would be very easy
A multi-dimensional monetary system as described above would create a multi-dimensional real-time feedback system. This would be much more suitable for the control – or even self-organisation (!) – of complex systems than the basically one-dimensional monetary system of today.[5] Instead of the current economic organization, which wastes a lot of resources, a system would emerge that would work similar to nature: a resource-saving circular economy.[6] It would be a new system made possible by a new approach: through multi-dimensional co-evolution instead of one-dimensional optimization. Through coordination instead of control. A new kind of economy that would create a sustainable world and thus perhaps save millions of lives. So, I told my patent attorney in the end of 2019, to remind him of the importance of the invention – and to motivate him to give everything.

With such a multi-dimensional system, the economy could be much better steered in directions that serve the environment and humanity. Several goals could be pursued simultaneously – not just profit maximization. The world would continue to improve through a co-evolutionary process. And we could all participate in it.

Sounds too good to be true? Unfortunately, it seems the idea cannot be patented, it is being claimed, even though the world is looking into the abyss. Obviously, the idea is new, because we have run the world in a very different way so far. But innovations that question the current system, even though it is failing, do not seem to be welcome. Even though – with the Corona Virus in front of our door – people have claimed that we would have to take tough triage decisions, who would have to die and who could live on.

Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the patent system is totally broken. It obstructs innovations rather than promoting them. It is time to abolish this system and to share our ideas with everyone – to save our planet. This is, why I am writing this piece – to share my ideas with the world (because in contrast to what I demanded, the patent office does not seem to disclose the patent-related communication).

Perhaps, there is still a good side of all the trouble I had. After all my investments, it seems to me that nobody else should be able to get any similar patents approved, and, hence, nobody should be able to put new obstacles into the way of anyone, who wants to use these ideas to improve the state of the world... So, go ahead and let me know!


The invention is focused on interactions among smart system components capable of sensing, information processing, valuation and information exchange, which could be smart devices such as AI systems, intelligent machines, bots, or robots, with sensors etc.

or also

people using smart devices (i.e. networks of system components, where the components comprise people AND technology: for example, the interaction support processor would be a particular, novel kind of personal digital assistant). This specification is fully compatible with the main body of the patent (see [0024]f, [0047], [0117]).

Sensing (sensor measurements) play(s) a role:
  • to determine and valuate the local context of the prospective actions and interactions, and of alternative actions and interactions, where possible interventions or possible value exchanges have been added. (Throughout the main body of the patent, many ways of determining context by means of modern digital technologies have been described.)
  • for the measurement of the actions and interactions in the system and their effects, i.e. for data-driven valuation, 
  • and for data-driven modeling and simulation of the action and interaction effects, 
  • potentially also for the sensor-measurement-based kind of value exchanges.

Information processing plays a role for data management, the determination of possible interventions and possible value exchanges, and the valuation of actions and interactions with and without these.

Valuation is needed to compare a scenario given by prospective actions and interactions with scenarios given by these prospective actions and interactions when possible interventions and possible value exchanges are added to them.

Information exchange is needed to communicate between different system components, particularly in a distributed, privacy-protecting implementation.

In contrast to what we have today, we are talking here mainly about a multi-dimensional value exchange system (see [0062], [0146]ff, [0156]ff). This is important as it increases the optimization space and, therefore, the set of possible solutions, and hence allows for better solutions than without the consideration of this multi-dimensional value exchange system. It creates additional possibilities to improve the system as compared to today’s scenario analysis techniques or current monetary compensation schemes in our economy. The proposed multi-dimensionality of value exchange is the main reason why the invention allows to find solutions that benefit all system components – in contrast to the systems known today.

The invention focuses on interventions that consider a PLURALITY of value exchanges. This statement requires that not only feedback effects are being considered, as this is being done by applied “scenario analysis”, but that additionally value exchanges are explored. The consideration of MULTI-DIMENSIONAL DIGITALLY BASED VALUE EXCHANGES (see [0062], [0146]ff, [0156]ff) is one of the concrete restrictions, which sets the patent apart from the state-of-the art in technological, social or economic systems at the time this patent was submitted.

For further illustration, note that what is proposed in the patent application is very different from what is being discussed today, where each thing, e.g. CO2, glass bottles for recycling, poisons or any other kind of externalities is given a certain value or price in, say, Dollars, and where there is quite frictionless exchange between different kinds of currencies or assets, which makes todays money-based feedback system effectively one-dimensional (i.e. there is one overall price). In contrast, the system proposed here is designed in such a way that it is a MULTI-DIMENSIONAL real-time feedback system IN AN ACTION SPACE THAT HAS BEEN EXTENDED BY THE POSSIBILITY TO EXCHANGE MULTIPLE KINDS OF VALUES. MOREOVER, THE PATENT SPECIFIES NOVEL KINDS OF VALUES, WHICH ARE DEFINED ON THE BASIS OF REPUTATION VALUES, FOR EXAMPLE. We consider these significant and practically relevant inventions.

Further aspects can be explained for the case where a system component’s valuation of a prospective action and prospective interactions is done via a goal function G. In classical optimization, a goal function G(x) is optimized as a function of some variables x. As G is a one-dimensional quantity, one can always say whether a solution G(x1) is better (>), worse (<), or equal (=) in quality. Otherwise (i.e. for a multi-dimensional goal function), the classical method of optimization does not work.

If you have two or more goal functions G1, G2 …, this kind of >, <, = comparison cannot be done. As one changes x, one goal may be better achieved and the other one may take on a worse value [i.e. G1(x1)>G1(x), while G2(x1)<G2(x)]. The patent describes what to do in order to achieve solutions where two or more goal functions are simultaneously improved. Such a solution often does not exist with one kind of value exchange. It requires a MULTI-DIMENSIONAL value exchange system.

[1] Method for coordination of competing processes or for control of the transport of mobile units within a network

[2] Interaction support processor

[3] Social mirror: More success through awareness and coordination,


[5] Qualified Money – A better financial system for the future,


Below is the claim set which has been submitted last:

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