Artificial intelligence technology is working its way ever deeper into our lives.
However a new breed of startups hope to take our relationship with AI even further. These startups want to allow AI to make decisions for us: organising meetings, responding to our messages or even buying things on our behalf.
One such startup, called Unloop, bills itself as "your personal lifestyle enhancement AI", founder Noach Ben-Haim tells Techworld.
It works by generating a personality profile based on questions, feedback and suggestions, then suggests restaurants, bars or events to go to, people to meet and can even book tickets for gigs you might like.
"It's like a combination between your crazy best friend saying 'I found this cool place, you'll like it, let's check it out' and a friend with a really knowledgeable network, someone who lives where you have gone on holiday and knows what sort of thing you like," he says.
Another startup, called Asteria, is building an AI companion device which it says 'sees what you see, hears what you hear, takes in life as you do, and gets smarter all along the way', connecting the dots between your physical and digital life.
Cofounder and COO Nathan Ross tells Techworld that Asteria is "about being a device, a companion, which is able to predict your needs".
The idea of an AI that knows you better than you know yourself might seem far-fetched. Alarming, even.
Ross admits "there is a lot of trust that needs to be built up and a lot we need to figure out with these systems. For example do autonomous agents have their own wallets, can they transact on your behalf?"
He foresees a future where these AI 'companions' work with each other independently to make our lives as comfortable as possible: for example your driverless car communicating with your garage door so it opens just as you get home, without you doing anything.
AI making decisions for us
Is this what people want? Startups and tech companies within the field insist, unsurprisingly, that it is. A recent survey found 71 percent of UK consumers want intelligent robots, cars and medical electronics to help them – but they drew the line at AI taking over their own decisions.
The crucial point is convenience, according to Matty Mariansky, cofounder of Meekan, an AI scheduling tool recently acquired by Doodle.
“Ultimately, people are time poor. If AI technology can save time that can be better spent with friends and family, then people will use it," he says.
Misha Nestor, CEO of AI-based mobile task manager LifeTracker, agrees. "Your diary remembers your schedule and phone numbers better than you, but you're not afraid of it, right?" he says. "When people see just what personal AI companions can give them in return, the question of how 'comfortable' people are will quickly disappear," he predicts.
Adoption will depend on how good the technology is at serving needs, predicts Kriti Sharma, VP of bots and AI at Sage.
"For AI to comfortably and effectively organise our lives, the bots we are developing need to be meaningful and relevant to the user. They also need to work well – people have a short attention span and if technology doesn’t perform or ‘does what it says on the tin’ then they are very quick to disengage," she says.
Mariansky says Meekhan users are starting to treat the bot as if it were a person – for example feeling guilty if they use rude or curt voice commands, a phenomenon that has been observed among users of other AI tools like Amazon Echo and Siri.
He says that eventually bot assistants will know us better than we know ourselves.
"Learning habits and preferences, for example; when you like to meet, if you’re a morning person, which meetings or people are more important than others. This coupled with AI being given the chance to prove itself to a user, (e.g. it organises a meeting with your colleagues around different diary clashes), will mean people beginning to trust AI and our bots more," Mariansky says.
Nestor says this desire for 'intelligent companions' is part of a deep-seated need "for someone who understands you fully, who is reliable and will never let you down".
"Even for very unsophisticated things and appliances we often invent names…we become sentimental about things, and we project our ideas and hopes on them, often anthropomorphising things, gadgets and animals," he says.
"The biggest challenge and expectation from the world is actually some kind of conversational companion, not just something that handles the automation of your daily routine...As we have advances in this field, we will see more and more products that drive attachment and have personality," Nestor adds.