We manage our work calendars and our home calendars, we read social media feeds, we obediently respond to emails and text messages and dismiss push notifications. But as the volume of data we are expected to process and react to in our personal and professional lives balloons, we have started to run up against basic limitations of our brain’s biological wiring.
At its core, the human brain evolved in the pleistocene age to handle that era’s challenges, and while we are immensely adaptable creatures, we still lack true multitasking or extensive short term memories.
While we can’t expect our fundamental biology to change anytime soon, we live in an era of abundant data and processing power, with a rapidly developing landscape of machine intelligence technologies. The next generation of mobile devices and software will expand the human-machine partnership, helping us process and prioritize the volumes of data accessible to us through our smartphones, helping figure out what’s most important to us, while serving as gatekeepers and agents to handle delegated tasks and jobs.
While many of the first generation “personal assistant” apps are starting to learn more about what we need and proactively connect us with resources or content, more fundamental changes in user interfaces and tools are needed to help manage the flow of information between human and the many apps and devices that serve as our computer delegates. As our mobile and eventually wearable devices become extensions of ourselves, our wishes, and our interests, we will start functioning as if we have a digital coprocessor for our brain. As a cohesive unit of biological and digital, we’ll be able to transcend some of the limitations of both.
Is this shift something to fear? It’s worth considering that we are already deeply engaged in partnerships with technology that have forever changed our capabilities. We fly in airplanes, calculate in spreadsheets, and access search engines for on demand information. In context, having our smartphones proactively manage more of our busy lives for us, and filtering the volumes of information at our fingertips is just one more evolutionary step in the partnership of human and machine, but one that stands to propel us beyond some of the most basic limitations of our physiology, giving us back more time and propelling us toward the next generation of productivity gains.
True “artificial intelligence” always seems like it’s a generation away. There’s a huge gap between cars that drive themselves and personal assistant apps and machines that truly think and anticipate like humans. But the reality is, the future is here. An already robust ecosystem of companies are taking serious strides towards bringing the next generation of personal assistant and machine learning apps to market. Google Now, Glean, x.ai, and 24me are leading an industry poised to change how we interact with the world.
Handwringing about the end of the human dominion over the earth is probably somewhat premature. The more important question in the short run is not whether our smarter computers and devices are taking over our lives or the world, but what we can do with the new, better, more capable version of ourselves.
Raefer Gabriel is cofounder of Delvv.