Founder's Journal

Can Artificial Intelligence Create an Information Concierge?

William Gadea 04.25.2017

Living in 2017 means living in a jetstream of information that is predominantly noise. Does technology have a solution to the problem technology created?

The pain point was framed well in a recent Ezra Klein podcast interview with Cal Newport. Newport is the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. His thesis is that social media, email, news, and all the horsemen of our wired age are robbing us of the focus we need to do deep, creative work. Newport contends that this impacts our happiness, as well as the broad productivity of society. And he feels that it is even re-wiring our minds, training our attention span to get shorter and shorter.

Many of us intuit that Newport has a point, but still find it hard to do without the real-time intelligence and connections that our modern-day communication tools offer us. As Klein points out in the conversation, most emails he gets are not pressing, but every once in a while one comes in that truly requires an immediate and urgent response, so the prospect of such a message keeps him tethered to email when he might prefer not to be. The same can be said about social media: while most tweets and status lines are of little (or negative) value, FOMO keeps us coming back for more.

Newport has several practical solutions for prying yourself away from these distractions, but in terms of sorting through the noise, his approach is old school. He suggests that organizations hire interns to pick through the chaff and pass the important messages on to their bosses.

I believe this is a place where artificial intelligence might find its killer app.

What if there was one app that would compile the tweets and Facebook posts that really interest you, the email that matters, the news that has impact on you, the TV shows you would enjoy. And it does this in a way that is sensitive to your time constraints, interrupting you with something you really need to know about right away, but only if necessary. It might intuit your needs depending on time of day, behavior, and your location so that it serves you the right information at the right time: frothy entertainment, hard news, career tid-bits… or even nearby dining suggestion that fits your wallet and tastes.

The settings on such an application could be adjusted manually, but the app would also learn by observing the user’s behavior: what do they click on, for how long do they read it, what do they post. It might also look at what connections of the user (and people comparable to the user) find compelling.

An application like this would be a sort of information concierge. And incidentally, it would be a serious threat to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, since they don’t actually own the content they monetize. (Ironically, it could do to social media what social media did to publishing.) It might even be a threat to Google, if the information concierge became so good that it anticipated what we want to search for.

We are all trying to drink from a fire-hose! We need really a tool to that provides us with a straw.

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