Supercharging Productivity: The Brill.app story

Greg Taylor
Oct 8, 2019 · 5 min read

Your keyboard is from the 1800s. Welcome to a new dawn.

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One day I was in a meeting. A collaborative face-to-face one. There was plenty of talking and a lot of note-taking.

The end result was a huge whiteboard full of musings and sticky notes. Sound familiar?

It was a productive session, and when it came to a close, naturally the question was:

“Can someone please type this up?”

SILENCE.
AWKWARD SILENCE.

We thought to ourselves there must be a faster way than typing.

The hunt began, but we could not find anything that made it fast and easy to digitise handwritten notes.

Typing was too slow. It’s not convenient to take down all the notes, or just take photos, to then later type them all out. Nobody got time for that.

This problem then turned into an obsession. We wondered how technology could help us make the onerous task of typing up notes fast and fun.

Brill.app was born.

Our vision became that digitising analog content should be as easy as waving a wand, which saves people lots of time from typing, so they can get onto the work that really matters. That would be brill-iant! (sorry).

Digitising sticky notes using computer vision and AI

What magical powers would this wand have?

Over the last decade we’ve seen staggering leaps in Computational Power. Network Speeds. The ongoing democratisation of AI. These trends are advancing.

Photons are set to eventually replace electrons as information carriers, there’s the continued rollout of 5G networks, and continual advancements in neural networks powering A.I.

The fact is, there are many powers to pick and choose from.

Who benefits from the magic?

Imagine if you were able to instantly digitize and categorise any number of handwritten outputs, or meeting notes, in an instant, or even as they’re being created in real-time.

If you’re interested in this concept and/or are reading this you’re either my mother, or more likely, you’re a ‘non-routine cognitive worker’ AKA a ‘knowledge worker’.

If you’re in that group, then you might also be feeling the pressure to be more efficient, and drive more results, with the same resources (or less) as businesses come under increasing pressure to perform.

In short, emerging technologies can help you, the humble knowledge worker, save time from tasks that don’t advance the cause — like typing — so you can spend that time on more important things.

Solving problems, thinking deeply, communicating well with others, getting results, stuff like that. Have you ever seen a job ad with “must be proficient with a QWERTY keyboard”? No, neither have I.

Keyboards work just fine?

Arguably one of our favourite digitization tools, the QWERTY keyboard, has an interesting past. The perpetual myth of course, is that the QWERTY keyboard was arranged in that way to slow people down and stop typewriters jamming.

This is untrue according to Japanese researchers.

According to the researchers, the QWERTY keyboard actually formed over time as telegraph operators used machines to transcribe Morse code. The operators found the alphabetical arrangement to be confusing and inefficient for translating.

The layout changed often from the early alphabetical arrangement, before the final configuration came into being back in 1872 via Christopher Sholes’ typewriter.

“Are we going to keep that layout going? Perhaps QWERTY will always be good enough. But if not, how might a new design develop?” Alexis Madrigal — The Atlantic, 2013

Interestingly, people have tried to speed things up! There was even a keyboard designed in the 1930s by August Dvorak specifically for speed typing but it never took off:

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August Dvorak’s keyboard that you’ve probably never seen

I would argue that it’s not about a ‘new design developing’ for faster input (humans are too entrenched by habit for that), but it comes from within the realms of new technologies that are emerging.

Digitising today

The technology exists to eliminate menial tasks like typing that take time away from real work. Work that adds meaning and value to our lives, our co-workers and to the businesses we work in.

It’s a melding of emerging technologies that we built Brill with. The recent advancements and democratisation of computer vision and machine learning meant we were able to create Brill’s latest feature — instant sticky note digitisation in 100+ languages.

This combined with a rapid voice-to-text featured means digitising any handwritten note is much faster than typing-which is why we call Brill a ‘Productivity Superpower’ (a bit cheesy, yet true).

For example, with Brill it takes 2 seconds to digitise 300 words from sticky notes. A little bit of magic I’m sure you’d agree.

There have been attempts to commercialise digital whiteboards, large touch-display, tracking using cameras and projectors for example, but these solutions are costly and not all businesses can afford them.

There’s also a fair amount of setup required beyond the initial investment and these solutions can, in some cases, constrain collaboration by having to work in a particular way.

By contrast, we all have mini supercomputers in our pockets so we would suggest that’s where the digitisation trend is heading.

That mixed with increasing network speeds, hardware upgrades, and the increasing amount of incredible AI ‘plug & play’ services means the crossover between our analog world and our digital world will continue to blue.

2020 and beyond

Imagine a world where a team can have a collaborative session (or ‘workshop’ as it’s called by many knowledge workers) and have their outputs digitised as they are created.

Digitised outputs can be referred to during the session where people can ‘rewind that bit’, or collaborate remotely with others.

Notes and data can of course be referred to post-session shared between stakeholders, or exported directly into platforms of choice. All powered by neural networks who can ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘know’ what is going on in the room.

Sound farfetched?

Smartphone cameras, microphones, gyroscopes, GPS, connectivity and the plethora of technologies under the ‘artificial intelligence’ umbrella are improving year-on-year, leading us to a place where with just a few smartphones anything is possible.

Brill is one small step towards a place where workers are relieved from the burden of menial tasks like typing, so they are freed up to speed their time and efforts on more creative, and hopefully fulfilling endeavours.

For a taste of the future check out Brill on iPhone here
(Android coming soon!).

Brill.app

Capture your notes and ideas using voice.

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