Sunday, May 13, 2012

The limits of AI, or, I'm getting a little worried about Jim*

Apple are running ads for the new iphone which feature its voice recognition technology. This may well be truly staggering and innovative. What makes me genuinely sad for the future of this great company is the utter banality of the examples. I choose as my text the one headed "What's my day look like" - presumably this is what the proud owner says into his phone. The phone is shown displaying "Another busy day today, Jim" and then it lists his calendar. This features a "status meeting", a "project briefing", lunch "with Emily", a "development call" and a "production update". Wow, what a busy and fulfilling life you lead, Jim. All those meetings. No wonder you need to relax by lunching with Emily, you little rogue. And how supportive your phone is, telling you warmly that it is another busy day. What, you had a round of meetings and lunchtime entertainment yesterday as well? Careful Jim, you don't want to overdo it, do you. Or your phone will use face recognition technology to say "Looking a bit peaky today Jim, better have an early night".

My point is that the ultra sophisticated technology (and I understand that all the processing is done on Apple's servers, so they are obviously keeping close tabs on Jim), is drawing what may be an utterly false conclusion. Just because Jim has put put in four meetings that does not mean he is busy - we all know that meetings are a way to avoid doing work - and furthermore the idea that the more appointments, the busier is utterly stupid. Jim might be incredibly busy working all day on his computer, or visiting clients, or designing a product, or in the lab testing things, or driving a bus, or operating on patients or teaching. None of these might warrant any entry in the calendar. So his stupid phone will conclude he is idle and then when he puts in a few facile meetings where he does nothing but doodle, drink coffee and keep his eyes lowered, it thinks he is doing some real work. What happens when he goes on holiday and marks all his time as occupied? Does the phone go "Wow Jim, you really rock" or whatever the current Californese expression is for showing awe?

I await with interest what Emily's phone will say when she enters her lunchtime date. "Jim again? That loser? You can do better than that, girl".  And will her phone then link to Jim's phone and try and sabotage the date, or maybe try to encourage it by wiping out Jim's 13:30 so that he spends a lot more time in the restaurant than he had planned. You have to watch these devices. Who knows what they might get up to, once you start asking them for their opinions.

*if you don't remember BBC Radio's long running soap Mrs. Dale's Diary, don't worry about it

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