Or more simply - "Living in an increasingly noisy digital world"
Over the course of the last few years I have experienced a massive growth in the amount of “Digital Noise” that I am attracting. Whether this be Facebook updates, Tweets, LinkedIn requests / posts, IFTTT events or just plain old e-mail I am reaching (in fact have probably reached in the case of e-mail) saturation point. This shouldn’t really be a surprise for me as as far back as the naughties I began to realise that I would reach the point where my digital life would mirror the position IT systems found them selves in back in the 80’s/90’s (if not earlier) where the volume of logging information exceeded the capacity for humans to process and so the age of automation began.
The shape of this automation has evolved from the initial log filtering to the more sophisticated world of predictive and automated (as was envisioned by IBM in the 90’s as Autonomic computing). This evolution began to make me think about what a similar process may look like for humans in order to help stop them drowning in digital information and this led me to the concept of a “Cognitive Concierge”. Before I explain this concept in more detail let me fill in little bit more back ground on my thought process.
A key catalyst for this concept came to me in about 2001 when I was working on a project with a small team one of whom I noticed was very busy managing her bank accounts at the start and end of the month. This wasn’t impacting the project as it was during lunch but the process intrigued me so I enquired about what was going on. It turned out that this person was leveraging free overdrafts and other free lending facilities across a range of accounts and depositing this money in a savings account to earn interest. At the end of the month this process was reversed to pay off the loans and given the way interest rates were an amount of money was generated via the savings. Now I could see the reasoning behind the process but the level of work to achieve it seemed excessive but “What if this could be automated???” crossed my mind.
This seed idea began to grow with me and with the advent of technologies like NodeRED and IFTTT I could see how right logical flows could start to be constructed by the general public but there was still the issue the even though these tools simplified things to reach the more sophisticated level that I felt was needed for a “Cognitive Concierge” a more natural way to represent the goals needed to be found.
As we wind forward to the current time we see the rise of “voice assistants” like Siri, Google Home and Alexa. These are all great devices and they have simplified some of the ways in which to interact with automation but they haven’t really gone much beyond the ability to capture some input and trigger actions. What I feel is really needed is the ability to converse about a goal, aspiration or requirement and have this realised in to an automation to attempt to achieve it. With this as an objective in June I spent 2 days with the IBM Emerging Technology Team to explore if it was possible to create a solution to meet this goal and I am pleased to say that it was. The use case we focused on was “I would like to buy…” where the conversation flow was around the goal of buying something within a date range using money in a bank account and be able to ensure a specified amount of money remained in the account. For example “I would like to buy a Sony PlayStation 4 which costs £300. I’d like to buy it in the next 2 weeks and I want to make sure I have £200 left in my account”. The technology we used to implement the hack was Watson Conversation (using an existing chatbot code base), Controlled English (see https://goo.gl/2USnJx ) and NodeRED as shown below:
Using this architecture we were able to show that we could handle a conversation flow like the example above and from that generate a Controlled English model to represent the purchase goal. Then by simulating bank account events we could show how the model was evaluated at that point to determine if the goal could be met.
Although this was a very simple example I have managed to demonstrate that the concept is technically feasible. The technology is still evolving but I feel we are at the point where true “Cognitive Concierge” capabilities can be created to help us humans better manage the amount of digital noise we are subjected to and the firehose can be transformed into a gentle water fountain.