"What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? It's the gift of anticipation...I know when they'll be hungry...I know it before they know it themselves."
This quote from the 2001 movie Gosford Park reminds us of the greatest attribute of a servant/personal assistant - the ability to anticipate the wants and needs of his or her master before they are fully realized. This truism from early 20th century England still resonates today, and serves as the organizing principle around one of the hottest trends in marketing technology: anticipatory computing.
Imagine a world in which your mobile device is able to listen to and understand your conversations and, much like the silent, ever-present servant in the shadows, immediately act on them by providing relevant news, information, and recommendations?
Forget Ask Jeeves; your mobile device will have become Jeeves.
San Francisco-based Expect Labs looks to be on the verge of turning imagination into reality with its much-vaunted MindMeld iPad app, which is powered by an anticipatory search engine (ACE) that represents the perfect convergence of three emerging technologies: mobile, voice recognition, and big data.
PUTTING THE SMART IN SMARTPHONE
It seems as though Expect Labs recognizes the massive consumer shift to mobile has fundamentally changed information discovery. Typing in text-based queries is not as convenient on smartphones and tablets as it is on PCs and laptops. Instead, the company focuses on harnessing the ability of mobile devices to capture ambient audio, visual, and location-based information (so-called "soft signals") to interpret "meaning and intent from multiple different streams of sensor data."
To fully appreciate the implications of this, it's helpful to understand that one of the biggest challenges of using "big data" is to figure out how to elicit meaningful context out of a mountain of unstructured data. Thanks to advancements in cloud computing, context-based search engines, and data aggregation, we now have access to unprecedented levels of raw information. The difficulty lies in drawing useful meaning out of it all. In a way, it's like trying to understand what one person is saying when 1 billion other people are talking at the same time.
However, sophisticated machine learning algos are now enabling computer programs to analyze real-time conversations to derive intent. With time, and enough listening, these programs can even anticipate information that may be relevant in the future. Just like good old Jeeves- the longer he observes and listens, the better able he is to anticipate your wants and needs-often before you do.
A more technical term for this phenomenon is "continuous predictive modeling." When programs are able to access tons of Internet, social, mobile, and geo-local data, or ("Proactive Information Discovery"), and then filter and categorize it, they can predict or anticipate future actions.
Or, as Event Labs puts it, "analyzing and understanding a conversation over time can sometimes make it possible to anticipate information that may be relevant in the future."
According to Event Labs, ACE is merely the first step toward its over-arching goal of creating a general-purpose conversation assistant.
I especially like the last sentence in the "technology" section of the company website: As a result of these advances, we think that in just a few years, we may all look back and recall how old-fashioned it was that we had to type queries at our keyboard to find the information we needed.
I couldn't agree more.
NUANCED BUT FACTUAL
To make its anticipatory search engine more accurate, in December of 2012 Event Labs teamed up with voice recognition technology firm Nuance, whose software also powers the voice recognition systems Google Now and Siri; to make its anticipatory search engine smarter, Event Labs recently inked a deal with Factual, Inc, a big data darling that apparently has access to data on 58 million local businesses and points of interest in 50 countries.
The reason I point this out is that I think Event Labs is ahead of its time, representing the vanguard of what will eventually become the dominant paradigm for search: mobile + voice recognition + big data = ACE.
On a larger scale, the convergence of these technologies with robotics and artificial intelligence will eventually conspire to create very lifelike, robotic personal assistants that are smart as a whip and strong as an ox. Don't believe me? You might be surprised at the speed of advancement of human-like robots, or androids, which has been lead in large part by Japanese researchers.
Check out this brief YouTube video to see what I mean:
That's all well and good, you might say, but androids will never be as smart as humans. It's not like they have brains or anything, right?
Well, I'm not so sure about that either. A team of over 200 top-level researchers from 80 institutions worldwide has just secured $1.6 Billion in funding for the Human Brain Project, a colossal effort to artificially re-create the human brain. Located in Lausanne, Switzerland, it is already being called the "CERN for the brain." (Remember CERN, also located in Switzerland? It is home of the Large Hadron Collider, the last international effort to discover something seemingly undiscoverable, in that case the Higgs-boson, or "God particle." They did it in two years - with the machine at only half power).
The group hopes that the project will also speed up advancements in super computing, which I will go on record as saying it probably will. With advancements in such areas as parallel processing and quantum computing, it is not inconceivable that the Human Brain Project will be successful sooner rather than later.
If and when they are, the path will be cleared for the creation of the anatomically correct android PA. Heck, you'll probably be able to buy it on Amazon (I don't know about free shipping).
In the short run, I'm bullish on ACE; in the long run, on Android PAs. Why? As the last 30 years have borne out, technological advancement is more often than not exponential rather than linear.
Given that we are living in the now and not in the future, you may want to keep a close eye on the upcoming release of Event Lab's MindMeld app and give it a spin.
It may be the future of search.