Anticipatory computing: Welcome to the Age of Efficiency

anticipatory computingTechnology powered by artificial intelligence is enhancing our daily routines; making us more efficient. Here are my thoughts on the coming Age of Efficiency.

Monitoring, tracking and anticipatory capabilities are the key functions offered by apps like Google Now that to do so require that we give them access to all of our data. A recent review of apps that aim to read our minds mentions a situation where tech pundit and author of The Age of Context, Robert Scoble, “won at life” because Google Now alerted him that one of his flights had a problem, it then showed him alternate flights to rebook; all through Google Now’s interface.

From the NY Times:

Apps that know who and where you are can be undeniably useful, said Robert Scoble, a co-author of a book about contextual technology, “Age of Context.”

If you give an app access to your email so it has your travel itinerary, for example, it can alert you when there’s a problem with a flight, show you alternate flights and let you tap one or two times to rebook — especially if the credit card information is stored in the app. That situation played out for Mr. Scoble recently, he said, and “that night, I won at life.”

Cool! I have a feeling that a lot of people will feel they are “winning at life” the more they start relying on apps like Google Now to help them run their life.

Welcome to the Age of Efficiency

Efficiency, innovation’s enemy. Yet, it’s a human’s best friend. Electric cars, apps that monitor our behavior and anticipate our needs, appliances that monitor our home, these technologies aim to make our daily lives more efficient by managing our daily routines like never before. And it is this “winning at life” part that in accumulation will get people to give up privacy concerns without restraint.

Potential Benefits

As humans we make mistakes. Or rather, we don’t like making decisions. This is where anticipatory computing will make its mark because there are plenty of decision-making routines that could be improved in tiny increments to provide long-term benefits. For example, being nudged toward eating better, spending more in-line with your financial goals, correcting bad habits. Minuscule nudges could add up to very real benefits in the long-term.

Also, we know that our brains have limited chemical energy for decision making, and that making decisions can impede our ability to make future decisions. Having some routine decisions taken off our plate leaves us with more energy for making the big decisions better.

It is these little things that when added up may benefit us more we can ever imagine.

Concerns

All of the above sounds really cool. But, I ask myself: is that all we’re asking of these technologies to do for us? Do we really want to outsource all of our decision making to Google and other providers?

For me the issue with these apps is that in knowing our likes and tendencies too much we run the risk of becoming too dependent on them. I see a similar scenario to how Facebook uses its algorithm to only show us what it wants, not what we might want to see. For example, if Facebook sees that we consistently interact with certain people, it will shows us more stuff about those specific people than others we might not interact with as much.

Similarly, a context aware app will act as personal assistant that only tells us what we need to know. And because it will be connected to everything we do, it will create a bubble around us which we’ll have to try to disrupt ourselves. We run the risk, if we let it, to be defined too narrow.

Also, much like at the beginning of Foursquare and its badges, anticipatory capable apps may be perceived as mere gimmicks. There is an illusion that an app making a context-sensitive ‘guess’ about what information I am likely to want next is nothing at all like ‘knowing what I need’. Of course, it will be a long time before computers get even close to that. But this is where it starts and expectations may be too high for most people.

Challenges

“Privacy vs. Convenience”. Sure, one word that obviously comes up is privacy. But people will be willing to trade privacy for better experiences. They already are…

And if not, unlike every innovation before it, it will not take as much time for adoption because this technology already comes integrated with most smartphones. Also, our smartphones, PC’s, tablets and wearables will connected to other devices around our homes, offices and cars. It will be too hard to pass up, and I think it will really be a case of full out embrace or completely disconnecting.

But…

With efficiency comes stupidity. All this efficiency will come with a price, if we let it. As stated above, Facebook has made relationship management more efficient, it’s also made news consumption somewhat more efficient. But this is wrong for it nudges people towards a narrow path that is being defined by an algorithm.

Like difficulty levels in video games, designers and developers may give us the option to modify how much monitoring and tracking we want individual apps to do, but that awareness must be tempered with judgment from companies who might have the clarity to see how easy it is to manipulate humans through the use of ones own data.

These are my thoughts, what are yours?

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  • JosePaez

    Efficiency as innovation’s enemy is a possible face of many, innovation can try to achieve efficiency or efficiency can be the goal of an innovative approach.

    One concern I have with anticipatory computing is not only being defined too narrow but being defined at a time and age I might not like very much, think of all the little girls who adore Justin Bieber today, I’m sure Google will keep reminding them about Mr. Bieber even when they are 40-50 years old and no longer care about that topic anymore.

    Privacy concerns I agree, the regular Joe and Jane Doe care too much on the simplicity of what they use to bother enough about whether they are giving away too much data.

    And while I am not a fan or Mr. Scoble, I do agree, it is those moments when the technology seem to be right next to you and helps you overcome those obstacles that you feel you live in a different world than your parents did when they were your age.

    All in all I have high hopes for this type of computing capabilities.

    • Good point! Changing likes and dislikes throughout time is a challenge algorithms are up against. It’s happening to Facebook, and their algorithm has constant human intervention!

      There will be many “winning at life” moments, and people will become addicted to that. Waiting to be surprised by their Personal Contextual Assistant.

      Cheers,

      Jorge

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