"I'm sorry," she replied, "I'll try to read the signs more carefully next time. Who was he?"
"He owns a company that is redesigning the whole internet, from the ground up," I replied, calmly.
Her eyes bugged out. "What!? Is he serious?"
"He's dead serious. Unfortunately, the Semantic Technology Conference attracts a lot of loonies. But you know, he's not the worst. There's a fellow speaking tomorrow who has a goal that is much more ambitious."
"What could be more ambitious than redesigning the whole Internet?" she asked, with a very puzzled look on her face.
"He's solving the problem of all Human Knowledge."
She blinked twice. "And just what sort of business plan do these folks have?"
"Oh, they don't have a business plan. They just expect that when they rebuild the net, or all knowledge, or whatever, that the world will just come to them. Better mousetrap, and all."
Those of us who have been hanging around AI and Semantics for a while have grown accustomed to these folks. They have grand ideas of how technology can replace human thought, or something like that. Often they are failed academics; since they couldn't convince a peer review board to accept their work, they instead turn to the commercial world. Usually, they get the sort of reception my PR agent gave them.
But oddly, they don't always. Some of them manage to gain some traction in some group or other. Conventional wisdom says that you can't convince someone to buy your ideas unless there is something in it for them; solve a problem they perceive, win them something they have been trying to win. So I have always been puzzled how someone with no notion of a business plan, no solution to a real problem, no measurable gain in sight, can get the time of day from anyone who is trying to get things done in the real world. And why there seems to be so many of them interested in Semantics.
My friend Irene gave me a clue about this. There is a certain kind of person who believes in "something for nothing," in some mystical power that will cause an important change in the world. Now, I am not one to discount mystic interpretations out of hand - I am quite attracted by the notion that there are things we can't understand. But not in a business plan; when it comes to solving problems, I want something that I do understand.