After a book series, a museum visit and a beer, Loveland resident Kai Staats had an ah-ha moment about creating a universal communication system. In 2002, Staats, founder of Over the Sun LLC, read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series, a set of science fiction stories about a futuristic interconnected world that is almost entirely of concrete and steel.
Five years later, he visited a modern art museum exhibit called the “Listening Post,” a live data stream of thousands of conversations over the Internet.
A year later in 2008, Staats met with a friend at a Denver pub, where he shared his developing idea for a new kind of communication system that could bridge the gaps between cultures worldwide.
“A few more meetings, a few more beers and iConji was born,” Staats said on his website, www.iconji.com.
IConji is a type of digital pictographic communication system that
is not spoken and has free applications for iPhone, Facebook, Twitter and email.
“IConji is just a fun way of communicating,” said Staats, an inventor and business consultant. “It allows you to send quick messages.”
In May 2010, Staats, the principal inventor of the communication system, launched iConji with a vocabulary of 1,187 pictographs or characters, which mean the same thing across cultures. He created it in such a way that anyone worldwide can contribute to the system, he said.
So far, the characters support 12 different languages, Staats said.
“Anybody from any language can look at those pictures and understand what they’re saying,” Staats said.
In his research, Staats found that there have been 900 attempts to invent languages, including Esperanto, which has 1 million speakers today, he said.
“IConji is not a language. It’s a communication system,” Staats said. “It may evolve and grow into a new language.”
Over the Sun, which provides business development consultant services, collaborated with
Colorado State University’s Office of International Programs to host the first ever iConji workshop.
Forty students representing
20 different countries attended the workshop, held in early April, to learn how to use iConji.
“IConji is a foundation for discussion around personal and cultural identity, and that’s what we’re doing with the workshops,” Staats said.
Staats wanted the attendees to think outside of their own cultures, he said.
“Each of us brings to communication a different (cultural) foundation,” Staats said. “It comes through in the way we talk, think and react to other people.”
Staats provided a lesson on how to create characters that mean the same things across cultures, as well as a list of words that are not part of iConji.
The workshop attendees came up with more than 120 characters that will be added to the communication system.
They worked on several word pairings, like victory-defeat, hungry-full and dead-alive, to ponder their meanings and come up with characters, said Jenn Christ, program coordinator for the Office of International Programs.
“It was interesting because (students from) several different cultures came up with the same drawings for a lot of these,” Christ said. “How can you create a picture that’s the same for all cultures that doesn’t bring in additional subcultures?”
The meaning of concepts such as death can vary across cultures, but the essence that a living thing stops living is the same, Christ said.
“The cross-cultural aspects of the event brought interesting insights into image associations as they varied within cultures,” said Megan Schoenecker, a workshop attendee and CSU graduate with a degree in international studies.
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