Mycroft Challenge Coins – Symbols and Tradition

Originally published at: Mycroft Challenge Coins | Honoring Community Contributions

The History of Challenge Coins

Military challenge coins date back to World War I when a young airman was saved from execution as a saboteur when he was able to produce a bronze coin with his unit’s insignia Since then they’ve become an important part of Western military tradition. Many military members carry a challenge coin to show that they are, or were, in the military. The coins are important when members are out and about. If a military member drops a coin at a bar, other members must also drop their coin. If any member is caught without a coin, they pay for drinks. Coins are also presented to members for significant accomplishments and contributions.

Being given a personal coin by a senior leader is a great honor.

Recognizing Excellence

Here at Mycroft, we’ve designed challenge coins as a way to recognize to members of our community for contributions. Our challenge coins are unique and tell a story about who we are, where we came from and where we are going. Here are some of the symbols and statements on our coins and their meaning.

Mycroft challenge coins

Symbolism - Front

On the front of the Mycroft Challenge Coin, we have embedded our company logo. The company logo is an homage to the book that inspired Mycroft – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. The center of the logo represents the earth. One side is in full sunlight and the other in shadow. The small circle at the top of the logo represents the moon in orbit.

The Mycroft of Heinlein’s 1963 novel is a central computer that becomes self-aware. In the course of the novel, Heinlein reveals several important features of his strong AI that are similar to features being built for Mycroft. The protagonist of the book, Manny, interacts’s with Mycroft via voice. Manny doesn’t program Mycroft, he takes sample data ( jokes ) and marks them as funny or not funny, then Mycroft figures out what makes a joke funny based on the tagged data. Supervised machine learning anyone?

Heinlein’s Mycroft also charts a course for our company as we seek to build a strong AI. In Heinlein’s novel, Mycroft becomes self-aware only after his network reaches a certain size. It has to consist of enough memory, processing power and peripherals before it wakes up. We are taking a similar approach here by building a community that can plug in millions of devices and build hundreds of thousands of skills for the AI.

The front of the coin includes the phrase:

Loquor ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum
Translated from Latin this means: I speak therefore I think, I think therefore I am. This phrase neatly sums up our AI thesis.

Our thesis is that if you make a system that can interact naturally, carry on a conversation and interact just like a person, it becomes – in fact – a person. This idea - originally Alan Turing’s – is at the core of our strong AI strategy. If a computer can speak naturally and interact with people seamlessly it thinks and a thinking computer that understands and can answer questions about itself and our reality is – by definition – a person.

Symbolism - Back

The back of the coin includes a brass cannon set over a field of stars. This cannon is a symbol of the hubris it takes to start your own company and is taken from a passage in the book:
Once there was a man who held a political make-work job like so many here ... shining brass cannon around a courthouse. He did this for years ... but he was not getting ahead in the world. So one day he quit his job, drew out his savings, bought a brass cannon – and went into business for himself.
The brass cannon is a symbol of how naive and hopeful our team has to be to undertake a task as daunting and impossible as building a strong AI.

The back of the coin also includes the phrase

Non est talis res ut liberum prandium
Translated into English this means “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” This phrase is there to remind us that building a strong, viable and productive open source community is a ton of work. Even though the software is free, it is only free because of the hard work and dedication of thousands of volunteers.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch” also serves to remind us that even though our competitors in the space – companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple - are giving their voice services away for free, there is a steep cost to users. Voice technologies from Big Tech require users to give up their privacy and submit to being monetized. They seem free on the surface, but in reality they have a huge cost.

How do I get one?

Mycroft challenge coins come in three flavors, copper, silver and gold. Each coin represents a different level of contribution to the overall effort.
  • Copper – “For contributions to the Mycroft community.
  • Silver - “For important contributions to the Mycroft community that go above and beyond the norm.”
  • Gold - “For critical contributions to the Mycroft community that advance the Mycroft project in significant or profound ways.”
Copper coins can be purchased by making a contribution of $55 or more to Mycroft, but silver and gold coins have to be earned. We are awarding coins for significant skills, large investments and unsolicited solutions to major problems ( developing DeepSpeech for example ).

If you know a community member who is deserving of a coin, please reach out to our CEO and nominate them.