AI lessons from the Avengers: Tony’s LUI is better than your GUI

Check out my LUI, Bruce.

I was watching The Avengers: Age of Ultron for the 10th time last night. In a scene where Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are debating whether or not to utilize Loki’s scepter to complete the Ultron Program, Tony comments to Bruce that his current digital assistant JARVIS “started out as just a natural language UI. Now he runs the Iron Legion. He runs more of the business than anyone besides Pepper”. If you saw the movie, you will of course know that things didn’t go so well from there.

Yes, I’m a Marvel fan as much as I am an AI nerd. And this comment got my nerd juices flowing.

I talk a lot about practical applications of artificial intelligence. One area where we’ve seen significant improvement over the past few years is natural language processing (NLP). Specifically, in natural language understanding, where technology is applied to listen to or read human language, understand it, and processes it for various purposes. Think of Siri, Alexa or Cortana. Or that nameless Comcast robot that answers the customer support line and directs you to an endless list of other nameless robots. JARVIS, for “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System”, is the same thing. Jarvis also happens to be connected into many more other systems including an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which we may not want to connect Siri or Alexa to just yet.

These types of NLP systems can be called Natural Language User Interfaces, as Tony put it, or Linguistic User Interfaces (LUI) for short. LUI, pronounced like “Louie”, has a nice ring to it and is alternative to a GUI, or Graphic User Interface, which is what you see in your web browser, on your smart phone, or on that fancy screen in your internet-connected refrigerator. Not only do these Louie Gooey acronyms start to sound like Donald Duck’s nephews, but they represent what I believe to be the natural evolution of how we’ll interact with technology in the future.

NLP technology is smarter and more capable today than it was last year, and will be even smarter 12 months from now. And by “smarter”, I mean better at listening, reading, writing and understanding human language like we do. And very likely better than many actual humans do today (have you read your presidential Twitter stream today?).

I clearly envision a technology future, including in the business and practice of law where I spend most of my time these days, where GUIs will ultimately be enhanced and sometimes replaced by LUIs. Instead of filling out forms, clicking buttons, fumbling through menus or swiping left, right up and down, we’ll simply ask the machine to do things. We’ll ask for information like we’d ask any capable assistant, financial analyst, billing specialist, marketing coordinator, paralegal, or…where does the list end? At “1st year associate”, or “my lawyer”? That depends less on the LUI and more on the gooey guts behind the LUI. But those parts will get smarter too.

JARVIS may be a fictitious computer/character today, but I don’t think it’ll take long before the things he/it is capable of doing on screen will appear in the real world. And not just in the consumer market currently talking to Siri or Alexa. We’ll see advanced LUIs to business systems and processes. Will it be “Hello LOUIE” and goodbye word processing department, helpdesk, secretarial pool or the assistant you share with 14 other lawyers? These LUIs may very well change how we work with other humans who’s jobs partially exist because the current GUIs are too complex and burdensome for other humans to bother with.

Want to read more about LUIs and GUIs? Check out this post titled “A Natural Language User Interface is Just a User Interface” from 2016. Great analogies and examples of how computer systems will evolve with AI on the front end.