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Monday, February 1, 2010

Avatars, Agents, Web Automation

Two weeks ago, Motorcycle Dan the blogger explained that he is waiting for an avatar to handle his email, scour the web for things that interest him, figure out who to let through on his phone, handle the administrivia of his life.

As I listened, I realized I had most of those functions in Gmail, Google Reader, Google Voice and LinkedIn. He said he did too, but he didn’t want to have to manage them. He wanted them to manage themselves. I had a new concept to look for.

In 2006, Ray Kurzweil wrote The Singularity is Near, about leveraging computing to benefit humans, gradually taking over more and more functioning, until consciousness could inhabit and use a machine. He starts with tools that have been in common use for centuries, then adds layer after layer of functionality, until he reaches an unbelievable conclusion, believably.

Last week I got a tour of Intelligent Office in Alexandria. Beth, a distant niece, is the agent, operating their internet and phone convergence station - taking calls, making appointments, and answering questions for fifty organizations. The owner of that two person rug cleaning service who was getting business while he was on vacation, has set up his avatar and I saw it work. Just like the Wizard of Oz (“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”)

The immediate barrier is breaking down work into repeatable tasks, knowing the outcomes and then assembling for automation. Beth operating her station extends the existing technology while we are waiting for the next generation, just like Ernestine, who was running the phone board before direct dial.

I read that Clay Shirky says we don’t have information overload, we have a filtering problem. If it’s not actionable, I drop it. However, currently there is a lot more that is actionable than I get to.

What are your best avatars, agents, and web automation?