Practical Uses for A.I.

close up photo of toy bot
Photo by Kindel Media on

Recently, the New York Times Magazine had a long article on artificial intelligence: “A.I. Is Mastering Language. Should We Trust What It Says?” by Steven Johnson. The focus of much of the article was on how A.I. has evolved to the point where it can produce human-sounding prose. Give GPT-3 some text and it will continue writing along the theme you’ve selected. Indeed, I frequently see ads for services like Jasper, which touts itself as artificial intelligence that “makes it fast & easy to create content for your blog, social media, website, and more!”

This is a depressing turn for artificial intelligence. Who would have thought that the focus of “practical” A.I. would be on organizing photo albums (identifying objects and people) and writing blog posts. I want to write my own blog posts. Indeed, I wish I had more time to do it. Why isn’t artificial intelligence helping out with any of that?

It seems to me that practical uses for A.I. include activities that free up time in our day so that we can spend more time on activities that we enjoy. Consider some examples typical from my own day.

I find myself frequently filling out forms. Whether it is to pay a medical bill–the payment websites for these are always different and never simple–or completing online forms for school, or kids’ activities, or camps, or passport applications–I’m not sure a day goes by when I don’t fill out a form of one kind or another. What I’d like to see is an A.I. that can fill out these forms for me. There are millions of forms on the Internet with which to train such an A.I. I could have a personal repository of information that the A.I. could use to complete the forms. In a rare instance where the A. I. can’t answer a question, it can ask me. Once I answer, it knows that answer forever. Then, whenever I need to fill out a form, I can set the A. I. on it.

Searching for the least expensive airfare or hotel is time-consuming and never fun. Why can’t an A. I. do this for me? I’d give the A. I. some criteria: date ranges, flexibility, locations, etc. My A. I. can “negotiate” with the airline and hotel A.I.s, seeking out the best deal. When it finds something, it can present the options to me and I can sign off on one. And since booking the hotel or flight usually involves filling out a form, once I approve, the A. I. can handle that as well.

One of my least favorite things is calling customer support. Why can’t my A. I. handle this? Whether it actually “calls” or interacts with a bot of some kind, if I am having a problem, my A. I. should be able to handle it. If it is software-related, it could even perform the necessary fixes that the technical support suggests. I think an A. I. would be good at things like requesting information, or making updates to various service accounts.

In my day job, I frequently have to deal with contractors. Outside of work, I sometimes have to do this as well. Finding a good contractor and then figuring out if their quotes are reasonable is always tricky, especially in areas where I don’t have a lot of experience. For instance, say I want to put an addition on my house. It would be great if I could have an A. I. go out and evaluate contractors based on my requirements, narrow the field, and set up meetings. After I meet with the contractors, the A. I. could take their proposals, compare them against millions of other proposals looking for ones that are similar, identify problems, figure out the most reasonable pricing, and ultimately come back to me with a set of recommendations on which contractor I should choose and why.

For that matter, it would be great if an A. I. could help manage our daily calendars. An A. I. could optimize our calendars, scheduling events for our kids so that they don’t overlap, or overlap in such a way as to make sure we can reasonably make the events. It could accept or decline invitations based on our schedule and preferences. If I needed to schedule a meeting with some people, the A. I. would take care of it, finding a time that worked for everyone.

I’d like an A. I. that would read and reply to most of my email, passing to me those ones from friends and family that require a personal response.

If I had an A.I. that could do all of these things — a digital chief-of-staff — I’d have a lot more time to spend doing the things I enjoy doing, like writing my own blog posts. If there are any entrepreneurs out there, the niche you should be looking for, the one that just might make someone the first trillionaire, is the bureaucracy layer. Put artificial intelligence to work on bringing down artificial barriers. If personal A.I.s could tackle the bureaucracy layer, I think my life would get a lot easier. I can organize my own photos and write my own tweets. What I am really looking for are practical uses for artificial intelligence.

Written on April 20, 2022.

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