I use my “AI” personal assistants intermittently, mostly because they aren’t very good assistants; yet. For these things to actually get useful, they need to be able to do more than build lists, order things, send reminders, and provide wayfinding.
Use Case: Adding a stop to my wayfinding
- Existing Functionality: I ask: “Dunkin Donuts along my route”. I’m told “Finding Dunkin Donuts along your route along your route.” and presented with a list of x number of locations that I have to scroll through, determine which is the best option, and add to the wayfinding while I’m driving.
- Better Functionality: I ask “Dunkin Donuts along my route.” and the assistant chooses from the options available and automatically adds the one with least impact on my travel time to the wayfinding.
- Best Functionality: I say “Order my usual from the nearest Dunkin Donuts on my route” and the assistant: finds that location, places an on-the-go order using information it already has, and schedules the pick-up based on travel time to that location.
Use Case: Reminders
- Existing Functionality: I say: “Remind me to get up at 1am on Sunday for the Orionid meteor shower”. I get a notification at 1am on Sunday. I sleep through it.
- Better Functionality: I say: “Remind me to get up at 1am on Sunday for the Orionid meteor shower”. An alarm is set instead of a push notification, because the assistant knows I’m usually asleep at this time.
- Best Functionality: I say: “Find me the best place and time to watch the Orionid meteor shower on Sunday.” The assistant knows my location, checks the Dark Sky database for nearby locations with lower light pollution, calculates travel time to that location for best viewing, and sets an alarm to wake me up so I can get there on time.
Other stuff that would be cool:
- “Pay my gas, electric, internet, and phone bills on Friday.” This finds the bills, and schedules payment with my bank.
- “Send $50 worth of flowers to my mom the Saturday before every Mother’s Day” Bonus points if it knows what kind of flowers to send.
- “Add ‘The History of Philosophy’ podcast to my morning drive Spotify playlist”
- “Schedule 3 days of weight training and 3 days of cardio, and adapt the schedule based on missed workouts.” This isn’t just putting something on the calendar, but is actively providing the workout details as well.
- “I want Italian for dinner twice this week.” This would find a recipe or two based on how much time it knows I have to prepare dinner, and automatically add the ingredients to my list. Bonus points if it can analyze past meal plans & predict what ingredients I already have on hand.
These AI assistants are way less capable than my child of understanding & interpreting conversational speech and using context & initiative to provide a quality return. If you don’t ask the question using the exact phrasing they know, you’re wasting their time. Assistants waste my time if I have to learn their language in order to get half-functional results from them.
They may get smart one day, but the walled-garden paradigm is going to make it a pain in the ass. My AI of choice should work with all of my other applications of choice, but I have a feeling it will be less by choice & more by necessity in the long run. I can’t see Google’s AI integrating with Apple to download something in iTunes. Or Alexa allowing you to order something from an Amazon competitor.
I posit that the event horizon of “historically important” as a quality of information is the point at which the dataset disappears from living memory. The magnitude of certain events ensures that they will be recorded for posterity, but even then, the reasons behind that recording fade as the people who experienced it die. I might be using the wrong terms here. Maybe it’s not history I’m talking about, but anthropology. History is “these are the things that happened”; anthropology is “these are the ways people acted.”
Living as I do, in a society where many people are arguably obsessed with recording and archiving every detail of their lives, I wonder what methods future historians/anthropologists will use to sift wheat from chaff — especially when, as this post is evidence for, so much of what is shared and saved is chaff.
That’s long-term historicity. If history is still being recorded 5,000 years from now, this whole epoch will likely be reduced to a one-liner: “An age of technological growth so rapid it’s effects threatened to destroy civilization.”
Specific to this is the rise of the automated autobiography. People have been posting things online so long now that there are services to show us and let us share what we were doing to the day, 1, 3, 5, or 10 years ago. Is there a broader desire to consume these mini-histories, or do they just exist to serve our need to feel more important than we are? It doesn’t have to be either/or. My bet is that it’s an admixture of onanism, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.
Signal to noise depends on your ears.
Trash is treasure.
Look, I know there are a thousand-and-one posts on the internet about the best smartphone apps. I’ve a bunch of apps on my phone, and I use some more frequently than others. However, I want to share the ones that I enjoy which might not be so ubiquitous.
- ConnectBot — This app connects you with a Unix terminal, remotely and securely to another IP address, and does the same thing locally. It works great if you’re tweaking the permissions of your phone.
- Advanced Task Killer — This app lets you quit programs that you’re running in the background or forget to exit, with just two taps. It really helps me save on battery life and showed me which programs keep turning on all the time. I used ConnectBot to disable them.
- Remote Desktop — Rather than have to plug my phone into my computer via USB to download photos, &c. or pay for a service to sync items, this application lets me connect to my phone via IP address when I’ve got it connected to my home wireless.
- Google Reader — This is a well known piece of the Google pie, but this app works so much better than using Reader on a computer that I find myself browsing through on my phone when there’s a computer within arm’s reach.
- iPaper — This is the Android app that allows access to InstaPaper, a bookmarklet service that allows you to archive web articles for reading at a later date. Perfect for when you’re stuck someplace with nothing worth reading nearby.
- Sit Ups — This app helps you set a sit up goal, assesses your physical condition and then tailors an iterative and timed workout to help you reach the goal. Pick a goal, input your starting ability, follow the workout prompts (a gym whistle blows when the rest period is over), and then input how difficult you found the workout. The next session will be changed slightly based on your feedback.
- Push Ups — Same deal, except for pushups.
- Star Traders — This is a space trading, turn-based economy RPG that’s pretty brutal. Small choices have cumulative impacts on how you can interact with the various planets you visit. It has really tough achievements too. The Élite version is $1.99 and gives access to better ship upgrades, more missions and more planets.
- Scrambled Net — A simply designed but addictive puzzle game. Connect the tubes from the server to the monitors to make sure everyone has some internets. I play this all the time.
- Geared — This is another puzzle game (with very pleasing graphics). With a limited number of gears of different sizes, and a limited amount of space to work with, you have to connect the moving yellow gear too all of the stationary blue gears.
- Color Note — Because of this app, I no longer walk about with little scraps of note paper fluttering about me like moths. The grocery checklist is my boon companion. I don’t forget stuff on the list anymore!
- Toddler Lock — This secures the phone so your offspring can play with it. I literally have to wrestle the phone away from Abraham when he uses it. Swiping lets you draw, tapping places shapes, and there are pleasant chimes playing all the while.