Last year I predicted (which we know is really not possible) that this year would see us moving closer to a world being transformed by immersive reality, robotics, and machine learning– three things that more or less belong to the Internet of Things (IoT).
One of my coworkers got an Alexa-driven (or should I say Alexa-possessed?) Amazon Echo for Christmas–something I assume many of you found under your tree as well. This smart little device represents all three trends rolled into one. It gives us an alternate version of reality, is based on machine learning, and is in effect a little robot. And, like so many things, it sneaks into our lives and gradually chips away at our autonomy and decision-making skills. And, yes, I want an Echo or similar robotic voice assistant as soon as possible.
I was prompted to write this column after reading about two apps that allow us the luxury of forgetting to not forget. First up is the “Don’t Leave It!” app that I just installed on my iPad for curiosity’s sake–I plan on removing it as soon as this column is finished. Unless I forget to do this, that is. “Don’t Leave It!” is an app designed for those of us who occasionally–or frequently–forget to do things. A press release from Lifehacker describes the app’s purpose this way: “It’s admittedly a little silly to need an app to remind you to grab your key or wallet before leaving the house, or your lunch bag before leaving work for the day, but we all forget those things from time to time.” “Don’t Leave It!” was originally designed to assist those coping with dementia or other mental problems, but this app has quite understandably gained wider appeal among those who are merely forgetful. Like so many other devices and applications out there, this one uses geofencing to determine the location of our forgotten items as well as ourselves.
“Don’t Leave It!” allows you to define your parameters and location and to specify how many feet away you need to be before you receive a notification. As if we need more notifications in our lives. In any event, we can tell the app we want to be no more than 60 steps away from an item before receiving the notification. And, as you might have guessed, if we can’t seem to figure that one out, there is a “Help Me Choose” button that will let the app decide for you. How convenient. Needless to say, in order for this app to work well, you need to pair it up with your Fitbit or other similar tracking device. But what if I forget to do that? This neat little app also provides a list of items it will remind you to not forget. Included on the list are rings, scarves, shoes, sunglasses, tickets, tools, towels, USB drives, wine, lunch (wine with lunch?), money, passports, keys, leftovers, children (you would think most of us would remember these, wouldn’t you?), gloves, glasses, and beer (do we detect a theme here?). Even the cat is included on the list. So, if we have all these parameters set up correctly, we can forget to not forget. Just let the app do the work of our memories. The only item I listed on my soon-to-be-deleted app is a book–the app doesn’t allow me to specify which book. What if I forget which one? Is there an app for that?
The next app that addresses our tendency toward forgetfulness is the AI Scheduler–yes, that’s AI as in Artificial Intelligence. And what does this do? Here’s what a recent edition of CNET magazine has to say about this little marvel: “If arranging meetings has become a bothersome chore, Mimetic.ai’s Evie could be just the thing” [because] Evie “is capable of talking to the other party and scheduling the right meeting time convenient for both parties without your direct intervention.” After all, why should you make your own decisions when Evie–a cousin of Alexa and Siri, perhaps?–can do all that for you? From here it gets a little complicated. Once you take a look at your calendar you send an email to the person or people you want to meet with and then cc Evie on the message. “She then takes it from there by putting you into a bcc and chatting directly with the other person. Once a satisfactory time is confirmed, Evie will then drop you an email to check if it’s fine with you.” Wouldn’t it be easier just to make the call or send the email yourself? I guess not, when Evie has the ability to converse herself by using “natural language processing to decipher the words in your email and respond accordingly.”
And here’s where it gets pretty scary, because the folks at Mimetic.ai have “given Evie the shared context that we all carry around in our heads and so she knows, for example, that lunch is typically around the noon hours. This ontological lexicon gives Evie the power to parse, interpret and reason from natural language the way we humans do, so your interaction with Evie feels entirely natural.” Why then, you might be asking, do they need us to attend the meeting? Can’t we just let Evie do it?
I guess the moral of this story is that we might soon be relieved of the necessity of remembering to not forget. Maybe before long we will also be relieved of the burden of memory itself. I’m sure there will be an app for that as well. Just think–all of our childhood memories stored somewhere in the cloud, freeing up valuable brain space for more important things like Facebook status updates and wondering what our favorite celebrity is going to wear to the Golden Globes ceremony this year.
Before I go, let me remind you to read my column next week. That is, if I don’t forget to write it. Maybe I shouldn’t delete that Don’t Leave It app after all. And, just think, once I install Evie, I might convince her to write my column using her natural language and ontological lexicon. Maybe I’m not irreplaceable after all. Wonder if there’s an app that becomes me? I should be able to take a long refreshing nap while she gets my stuff done.
See you, in one way or the other, next week.