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Is Clippy the Future? February 8, 2013

Posted by Andre Vellino in Artificial Intelligence, Collaborative filtering, Data Mining.

iwblogoThe student-led Information without Borders conference that I attended at Dalhousie yesterday was truly excellent – as much for its organization (all by students!) as for its diverse topics: the future of libraries, cloud computing, recommender systems, sciverse apps and the foundations for innovation.

At the panel discussion in which I participated, I suggested that to predict the future one need only look at the past. To predict the iPad one needed only look at the Apple Newton (which died in 1998). What was the analog, I wondered, for an information retrieval tool, now dead and buried, that might still evolve into something we all want in the field of information management?

I proposed that the future of information retrieval might be something like an evolved Office Assistant, (affectionately coined “Clippy”) – the infamous, now deceased Microsoft Paperclip that assisted you in understanding and navigating Microsoft products.

My vision for a next generation Clippy was clearly not well articulated since it prompted the following tweet from Stephen Abram:


I think that Siri, (about which I posted a few years ago) belongs to the old Clippy style of annoying and in-the-way-of-what-I-want-to-do applications. I am surprised it has survived so long and was promoted by Apple so strongly. I predict it will join Clippy, Google Wave and Google Glasses on the growing heap of unwanted technologies that were not ready for prime-time.

Watson (who is now going to medical school, and about which I also posted a couple of years ago) is, however, just the sort of Natural Language Understanding component technology that I have in mind for for an interactive, personal information assistant. When a computer that now costs three million dollars with15 terrabytes of RAM can fit in your pocket and cost $500, a Watson-like system that understands natural language queries will be an important component of Clippy++.

What neither Watson nor Siri have – and this is what I foresee in my crystal ball is the most significant attribute about “Clippy++” – is personalization and autonomy. What will make true personalization possible with “Clippy++” is our collective willingness to accept the intrusion of a mechanical supervisor that learns from our behaviour about what we want, need and expect.

This culture-shift is happening right now – we gladly and willingly disclose our information consumption habits to supervisory software and data-analytics engines in exchange for entertainment and social networking. It won’t be long before we’re willing to do that for serious, personalized information management purposes as well.

The key, though, is going to be the interaction – the dialog that we have with Clippy++ – and it will have to have explanations for its actions and recommendations. That’s going to be the hallmark of its evolution to Machina Sapiens.


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