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Human Operating System (HOS)

Imagine designing the control mechanism of a robot that would behave in much the same way as a human. The robot’s operating system would be based on the same principles and mechanisms that people use as they go about their daily lives, integrating their activities with others.

This is a far more ambitious design task than is typical in current artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Current AI normally only tries to address highly specific tasks, whether that be playing chess, image recognition or composing music. It is the high level control mechanism that manages the recruitment of these far more specific capabilities and interleaves them to manage the reality of interactions with a highly complex, uncertain, ambiguous and changing world.


The Human Operating System is conceived of as a control mechanism that manages multiple intentions with limited resources; in real time; in a complex, ambiguous, uncertain and changing world; and integrates with other human operating systems.

Broadly, intentions arise out of needs that are structured, more or less, in accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (‘Wellbeing is not just the Satisfaction of Needs‘). Many of these needs are recurring, whether they are basic needs (such as the need to eat and sleep) or higher in the hierarchy (such as social, esteem and self actualisation). Needs have priorities that are continuously changing leading to frequent switching between tasks.

The satisfaction of needs takes place in a changing environment of obstacles and distractions, rights and duties to others, ambiguities and uncertainties that trigger emotional and cognitive states that in turn modulate the priorities on intentions.

Human Operating System 1 – The Fragmentation of Experience
‘Human Operating System 1 – The Fragmentation of Experience’ introduces the idea of the human operating system to describe the interface between mind and body.

Human Operating System 2 – Managing Demands
‘Human Operating System 2 – Managing Demands’ introduces how we deal with the complex web of intentions (our own and those externally imposed) that form part of our complex daily lives.

Human Operating System 3 – The Executive Function
‘Human Operating System 3 – Executive Function’ sets out seven stages in the development of executive function including self-awareness, self-restraint, imagery, theory of mind, private speech, management of own emotions and motivations and internalised play. It relates these to both individual and organisational development.

Human Operating System 4 – Ways of Knowing
How do we know what we know? ‘Human Operating System 4 – Ways of Knowing’ considers the ways in which we come to believe what we think we know, the many issues with the validation of our beliefs, and the implications for building artificial intelligence and robots based on the human operating system.