The Next Leap in Smartphones
For over a decade, I’ve been saying that smartphones will begin to evolve into true assistants. I would call this the AI Butler, or I-Butler. The Google Assistant was a first attempt at this. It certainly won’t be the last.
TechCast Global recently published a forecast, Intelligent Interface, which addresses many related issues. Among my fellow experts, most concur with the statement that “People (will by 2021) converse with computers to handle 30 percent of routine mental tasks.” In this article, I will look a little further ahead, into the late 2020s. In my view, by then many non-routine tasks will also be handled by computers via our I-Butler interfaces.
As speech recognition becomes nearly perfected (there will still be issues with infections such as colds, background noise, and so forth, but fewer and fewer over time), one will converse naturally with the I-Butler. It will learn to anticipate your needs, ever deepening its involvement in your life according to:
- Its knowledge base of you, your activities, and what’s important to you.
- The tradeoffs between your desire to delegate activities vs. your need to retain control. (Example: Will you have it answer e-mails for you? Which ones? Or will it just screen and prioritize them for you?)
For most of us, as “anticipatory activities” of the I-Butler (i.e., "thinking" about things that matter in your life with the same values and considerations you would apply in thinking about them, though of course not via the same thinking process) increase in range and sophistication, I expect some software companies (NOT small app developers, but big AI leaders, which give you access to massive databases via an app) to begin offering this in very limited areas, such as automatic sorting, answering, and filing of emails.
Even then, to avoid serious mistakes and user outrage, I expect these initial offerings to come with significant caveats and very strong encouragement that the user monitor every such decision by the AI for an extended “training period.”
Still, some users won’t do that or will do it in a cavalier fashion. This will lead to well-publicized (often hilarious, and sometimes tragic) mistakes.
I-Butlers will book appointments for us, placing them on calendars and reminding us of what we need to do to prepare for each appointment. They will help us prepare for meetings, looking at the topic and helping to prepare agendas. They will keep track of the people with whom we interact, reminding us of particular considerations such as their styles of communication and personal issues.
As our homes and businesses become increasingly structured into the Internet of Things (IOT), the I-Butler will be increasingly able to automate how the “orchestra” of such devices integrates to serve us. This will operate with maximum flexibility, always ready to adjust as our needs change, and always subject to human override.
Over time, and not as much time as one might think, I-Butlers will gain the ability to converse with people in your voice. (The voice synthesis, including inflections, is already possible. The intelligence of response is what awaits further development.)
By the late 2020s, fewer and fewer people will be able to tell whether they’re talking to you on the “phone” or to your I-Butler. I expect this development to emerge amid controversy and would not be at all surprised to see a law passed requiring the AI to announce: “You are conversing with Jonathan’s I-Butler.” Its application will be constrained by social norms as well as users’ comfort level for many years to come. For a long time, I expect the I-Butler to have a setting “Press Zero at any time to cease talking to me and leave a message,” with an urgency setting, so that real people don’t become annoyed.)
Eventually, these AI assistants will talk to each other, though probably they’ll use texting for faster throughput.
As ever increasing parts of our lives and the electronic equivalent of our thought processes begin to be outsourced to computers, huge companies, and the cloud, there will be major sociological and—likely—legal implications. (I would expect Google to offer a paid version of I-Butler that sharply restricts company's access to personal files, but I could be wrong.)
We are entering fascinating times.
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