Amazon Kindle and Watson-Powered KnewDel Remove Redundant Reading

Another Possible Product Review, by TBD Insider.

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It’s been over a year since Amazon acquired AI startup, KnewDel. Today, I got a preview of why they did it.

I read a lot. About half of that is long-form, usually on the Kindle. And about half of that is for pleasure. (Right now, reading Look Homeward Angel.) That leaves about 1/4 of my reading time for learning new subjects.

Here’s the thing about reading to learn. It sucks. One doesn’t usually notice that it sucks, but it does. Why?

Learning is all about focus, which is probably why education is wasted on the young and the post-pubescent. The former are generally incapable of focus and the latter are capable of focusing on only one thing. Without focus, there’s no retention. Without retention, there’s no understanding and no real learning.

For adults, the biggest focus killer when reading is going over the inevitable phrases, paragraphs and pages that cover concepts the reader already knows — or thinks they know. The mind subconsciously starts to tune out and doesn’t re-engage until well after new matter emerges, if ever.

That’s the premise of KnewDel (pronounced noodle), my favorite feature in the upcoming Kindle update. KnewDel — Knew-Delete — does three things:

First, it scans your library and, with the accompanying browser plug-in and private account, classifies content you’ve read.
Next, it periodically pops up with questions about that content when you’re in your Kindle or surfing. This reinforces the classifiers and makes sure you know the concepts you’ve read.
And then the real magic happens. Paragraphs covering old ground for the reader transform into a tweet-sized summary phrase, which can be re-expanded with a touch.

This saves time and highlights previously learned concepts. And that not only helps reinforce those concepts but helps awareness of where focus can be lost.

That’s the premise, at least, and by-and-large my experience of the tool was positive. The AI work is entirely invisible, especially when it comes to the Kindle library. Just turn KnewDel on in Settings, and that’s it. I’m guessing that Amazon is still using Watson’s NL Classifiers behind the scenes, which KnewDel used prior to acquisition. (If they are, it’s a great example of the two AI-giants working together by way of the startup ecosystem.)

I also thought that the little “quizzes” I got when browsing the web or reading Kindle were well timed, unobtrusive, and remarkably well formed. I got that little addictive endorphine-rush of a game as I discovered I really knew stuff.

But where the experience fell down for me was in the tweet-sized summaries. AI has still not crossed the “uncanny valley” when it comes to language formation based on concepts. The summaries had the feel of a poor translation, though they did correctly indicate the concept I was to skim over about 90% of the time. Presumably with additional training as more readers use the service, the accuracy will go up, and the summaries will seem, if not more human, at least more salient.

Am I learning more? Not sure. But I did manage to get through the latest tome on Blockchain in about 1/2 the time. And given most of the Blockchain literature out there still has to set context for most readers — with endless redundant explanations of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies—I was glad KnewDel knew to delete most of that from my reading experience.

This story is fiction, based on our fevered imagination of products and services that could be delivered to market based on current and emerging know-how — given sufficient resource and intent. Any resemblance to real products, either released or planned, is coincidental.

If you like this story, please hit that heart icon, and subscribe to TBDInsider for a new story weekly.