Sam Harrelson

Alexa, go buy me some milk.

In the shadow of Amazon’s offices in downtown Seattle, people enter a tiny grocery store, take whatever they want, and then walk out. And nobody runs after them screaming. This is what it’s like to shop at Amazon Go, the online retail giant’s vision for the future of brick-and-mortar stores. There are no checkout clerks, or even checkout stands. Instead, a smartphone app, hundreds of regular and infrared cameras on the ceiling (black on black, so they blend in), computer-vision algorithms, and machine learning work together to figure out what you’re picking up and charge you for it on a credit card connected to your Amazon account.

Source: Amazon’s Checkout-Free Grocery Store Is Opening to the Public – MIT Technology Review



AI Assistants and Important Meetings

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That’s a worry I’ve heard before. Whether you’re a job seeker meeting a recruiter, an account manager calling a customer, or a novice getting coffee with an industry veteran, handing off communications to an assistant might give you pause. You might worry that you’ll blow the opportunity, come off impersonal or worse, arrogant.

via How to use an AI assistant for important meetings – x.ai

I’ve been using Amy as my personal assistant to schedule meetings and add things to my calendar for a little over a year now. Amy is an “artificial intelligence powered assistant” that you act with as you would a person. The advantage is that Amy does all of the time-consuming email back-and-forths that come along with scheduling meetings.

There are a number of companies coming out with similar AI powered assistants, but x.ai has been my preference (I do test out others to keep up with things).

I schedule lots of meetings with clients, potential clients, boards, and colleagues (and podcasts), so anything that frees up my time while coming across with the same genuineness and kindness that I normally try to convey via email is a winner.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a good deal about how to deal with Amy as well as how to introduce or include Amy into an email thread with people who have no clue what AI is or why this personal assistant is not a real human being. I’m sure that will continue, but as a culture we are on an upward slope of awareness about AI (whether that’s because of interactions with Alexa and Siri or news stories) and the concept of having a personal assistant that is powered by AI won’t be such a novelty in a few short years.

I’ve not had anyone comment about my pretentiousness of having a personal assistant or tell me that they were annoyed or inconvenienced by the experience of working with Amy. So maybe we’re getting over our preconceptions about the role of personal assistants in a post-Siri world.

For now, I’m continually using Amy to power meetings and enjoy the experience of doing so!



Marsbot Is Your New Scarlett

But Marsbot is important for other reasons, too. She represents a different kind of bot than the ones you see in Facebook Messenger — one that’s proactive rather than passive. She’s not a chatbot, but an interruptive bot. Crowley says that most other bots are in the model of Aladdin’s lamp: you invoke them and the genie appears. Marsbot is more in the Jiminy Cricket mode, hanging over your shoulder and chiming in when needed.

Source: Marsbot Is Dreaming of You — Backchannel

I’ve been testing out Marsbot the last few days, and I’m seriously impressed. I’ve been using the Ozlo bot for my random food suggestions based on location, time, preferences etc… and I’ve been happy with Ozlo.

However, Marsbot has something unique going on… it’s not a bot that waits for you. Rather, it’s proactive. If you’ve seen Her, you know immediately what I’m talking about.

Plus, it’s based on Foursquare’s accumulated data over the years, which is immense. Plus, it works in your text messaging app (iMessage if on Apple) where you’re used to getting personal updates or messages rather than going into another app on your device.

Messaging bots are going to be big and change the way we do computing and think of computers.

Take notice, churches 🙂



Our AI Assisted (Near) Future

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Courtbot was built with the city of Atlanta in partnership with the Atlanta Committee for Progress to simplify the process of resolving a traffic citation. After receiving a citation, people are often unsure of what to do next. Should they should appear in court, when should they appear, how much will the fine cost, or how can they contend the citation? The default is often to show up at the courthouse and wait in line for hours. Courbot allows the public to find out more information and pay their citations

Source: CourtBot · Code for America

Merianna and I were just talking about the implications of artificial intelligence and interactions with personal assistants such as my beloved Amy.

The conversation came about after we decided to “quickly” stop by a Verizon store and upgrade her phone (she went with the iPhone SE btw… tiny but impressive). We ended up waiting for 45 mins in a relatively sparse store before being helped with a process that took all of 5 minutes. With a 7 month old baby, that’s not a fun way to spend a lunch hour break.

The AI Assistant Talk

We were in a part of town that we don’t usually visit, so I opened up the Ozlo app on my phone and decided to see what it recommended for lunch. Ozlo is a “friendly AI sidekick” that, for now, recommends meals based on user preferences in a messaging format. It’s in a closed beta, but if you’re up for experimenting, it’s not steered me wrong over the last few weeks of travel and in-town meal spots. It suggested a place that neither one of us had ever heard of, and I was quite frankly skeptical. But with the wait and a grumpy baby, we decided to try it out. Ozlo didn’t disappoint. The place was tremendous and we both loved it and promised to return often. Thanks, Ozlo.

Over lunch, we discussed Ozlo and Amy, and how personal AI assistants were going to rapidly replace the tortured experience of having to do something like visit a cell provider store for a device upgrade (of course, we could have just gone to a Best Buy or ordered straight from Apple as I do for my own devices, but most people visit their cell provider’s storefront). I said that I couldn’t wait to message Amy and tell her to find the best price on the iPhone SE 64 gig Space Grey version, order it, have it delivered next day, and hook it up to my Verizon account. Or message Amy and ask her to take care of my traffic ticket with the bank account she has access to. These are menial tasks that can somewhat be accomplished with “human” powered services like TaskRabbit, Fancy Hands, or the new Scale API. However, I’d like for my assistant to be virtual in nature because I’m an only child and I’m not very good at trusting other people to get things done in the way I want them done (working on that one!). Plus, it “feels” weird for me to hire out something that I “don’t really have time to do” even if they are willing and more than ready to accept my money in order to do it.

Ideally, I can see these personal AI assistants interfacing with the human services like Fancy Hands when something requires an actual phone call or physical world interaction that AI simply can’t (yet) perform such as picking up dry cleaning.

I don’t see this type of work flow or production flow being something just for elites or geeks, either. Slowly but surely with innovations like Siri or Google Now or just voice assisted computing, a large swath of the population (in the U.S.) is becoming familiar and engaging with the training wheels of AI driven personal assistants. It’s not unimaginable to think that very soon, my Amy will be interacting with Merianna’s Amy to help us figure out a good place and time to meet for lunch (Google Calendar is already quasi doing this, though without the personal assistant portion). Once Amy or Alexa or Siri or Cortana or whatever personality Google Home’s device will have is able to tap into services like Amy or Scale, we’re going to see some very interesting innovations in “how we get things done.” If you have a mobile device (which most adults and growing number of young people do), you will have an AI assistant that helps you get very real things done in ways that you wouldn’t think possible now.

“Nah, this is just buzzword futurisms. I’ll never do that or have that kind of technology in my life. I don’t want it.” People said the same thing about buying groceries or couches or coffee on their phones in 2005. We said the same thing about having a mobile phone in 1995. We said the same thing about having a computer in our homes in 1985. We said the same thing about ever using a computer to do anything productive in 1975. We said the same thing about using a pocket calculator in 1965.

In the very near future of compatible API’s and interconnected services, I’ll be able to message this to my AI assistant (saving me hours):

“Amy, my client needs a new website. Get that set up for me on the agency Media Temple’s account as a new WordPress install and set up four email accounts with the following names. Also, go ahead and link the site to Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, and install Yoast to make sure the SEO is ok. I’ll send over some tags and content but pull the pictures you need from their existing account. They like having lots of white space on the site as well.”

That won’t put me out of a job, but it will make what I do even more specialized.

Whole sectors of jobs and service related positions will disappear while new jobs that we can’t think of yet will be created. If we look at the grand scheme of history, we’re just at the very beginning of the “computing revolution” or “internet revolution” and the keyboard / mouse / screen paradigm of interacting with the web and computers themselves are certainly going to change (soon, I hope).