I’m all for our computer systems trying to be helpful, especially if they actually are helpful. For example, the current versions of the applications in Microsoft Office (Outlook, Word…) make suggestions as you’re typing as to what they think you might want to say. You can ignore such a suggestion and keep on typing, or you can click the <tab> key or the <right-arrow> key to accept the suggestion.
By comparison, the “trying to be helpful” but “more often deranged” auto-correct feature on Apple products like iPhones often has me pulling what little is left of my hair out (I’m not alone as you can see on DamnYouAutocorrect.com).
There are certainly ways in which I think computers could be more accommodating. For example, I keep a separate folder for each of my work projects, where such a folder contains everything associated with that project. When I resume work on a Word document that’s already stored in a particular folder and I select the Insert > Pictures > From This Device command, the system always defaults to my main Pictures folder, which I can understand, but which I never use. When I think of all the projects I work on, it would make my life so much easier if the system defaulted to the folder containing the Word document with which I was currently working.
Of course, the programmers who originally created the Word application did their best. They selected a reasonably intuitive default mode of operation. There’s no way they could accommodate all the various ways in which different users wish to work. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) could come into the picture. It could watch the way I work and then tailor the ways in which commands like Insert > Pictures > From This Device perform their magic to support my modus operandi.
This form of AI enhancement could be extended to a wide variety of boring, time-consuming, repetitive tasks. I often find myself doing something over and over again—oftentimes this involves some base task augmented with slight modifications on each iteration. For example, resizing 100 images, changing their size and resolution, treating portrait mode different to landscape mode. It’s possible to set up a script to do this sort of thing, if you know what you are doing, which I don’t. It would be awesome if the system could observe me doing the first couple of images and then say, “Do you want me to do this with the remaining images in this folder?”
Having said this… I recently started receiving emails from something called Microsoft Viva with the subject line “Your Daily Briefing.” I’ve been deleting these without looking at them because the first ones I saw didn’t appear to contain anything interesting.
This morning (November 4), however, I happened to glance at today’s offering, and I was somewhat taken aback by what I saw. Under a section entitled “Commitments and follow-ups” I found two entries. The first was titled “Re your idea to increase media coverage,” where this title was a link to a previous email. The body of this entry read as follows:
9 days ago you said, “That’s a great topic. I will get it to you by Nov 3.”
The second entry, which was associated with the first, was titled “I still owe you an article.” Once again, this title was a link to an email that I’d sent yesterday. The body of this entry read as follows:
Yesterday you said, “I’m running behind—I’ll try to get it to you tomorrow.”
There’s an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” I’m not sure if what my system is doing falls under the AI umbrella, but there’s no doubt it’s reading my emails and extracting contextual information out of them. On the one hand, this is obviously helpful (I’m poised to start work on the promised prose). On the other hand, I have to say that it seems a bit creepy, like someone rooting through one’s personal belongings.
What are your thoughts on this? Are you for or against? And what do you think we might see next along these lines?