Cards for Google Now.

Life, augmented

“Good morning, Max,” the email from Charlie said, “you have one meeting today.” The message then listed the time and address of the meeting and the participants: our startup and three officers of a power utility company.

A few minutes later, Charlie sent another email.

“I’ve compiled research for your upcoming meeting at 1:00 p.m.,” the message said. It offered a link to “click here to see what I have found” and a preview of the information.

The dossier included rich background information about each of the person we were meeting with: the latest news stories that mentioned them and the company, their latest social updates, one person’s selfie and a listing of her likes: NBA, The Twilight Saga, Glee, etc. It offered shared interests and friends and listed other commonalities.

Small talk

Charlie also gave suggestions for what I imagine was supposed to be small talk starters: “Have an opinion” on one of the officer’s tweet (a selfie after trying out her makeup brushes). “Comment on their company’s recent news” with a linked summary of a Manila Bulletin story about a major expansion.

Charlie isn’t a person. It is a service you sign up for on www.charlieapp.com.

The meeting brief prepared by Charlie.

After you sign up, Charlie scours your connected accounts for scheduled meetings and events. It then goes through “hundreds of thousands” of websites, blogs and social networks to look for data about the people and the companies you are meeting with. Charlie’s algorithms process “company databases, social bios and company websites” to research background information about people you are meeting with.

“The world’s most successful people all have assistants who do their prep work for them, so why shouldn’t we?” the Charlie website said, “Charlie mimics those assistants by emailing you critical intel before you walk into any meeting, helping you crush your meetings while saving you hours each week.”

Charlie is the epitome of a new set of service made possible by technology advances and increased connectivity in a networked world and fueled by cloud computing and the widespread availability of high-powered resources through pay-as-you-go packages.

Augmented intelligence

The idea has been a long time coming: computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart discussed augmented intelligence half a century ago. The prescient J.C.R. Licklider talked about a “man-computer symbiosis” in a future where humans tap information systems to make lives easier. In a 1964 report “Libraries Of The Future,” he discussed someone asking a machine a question. “Over the weekend it retrieved over 10,000 documents, scanned them all for sections rich in relevant material, analyzed all the rich sections into statements in a high-order predicate calculus, and entered the statements into the data base,” he said on the paper, as recounted by the book “The Innovators.”

A sample dossier prepared by the Charlie and show on its iPhone app. (Image taken from the Charlie website)

“Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking,” Licklider said in his paper “Man-Computer Symbiosis.”

Apps and services like Charlie are an exciting peek and entry to a world not only where information is accessible anytime and anywhere but where data, big data, is automagically processed to make it easier for us to understand and act on and integrated into our daily lives.

Google Now, for example, knows where you are, where you should be throughout the day and how to get there by driving or walking, the weather in the places you are in, latest news stories within your location and articles on sites you frequently visit. It then presents these to you via swipeable cards in your phone. A friend was profoundly shocked when he checked Google Now on his phone and found an entry that showed we were together that day. How does Google know? he said. The organizers had emailed us our plane e-tickets and hotel accommodations and I added the event as calendar entry.

All these happen on the phone and are starting to expand to peripheral devices like smartwatches that not only display information but serve as reporting tools for location, fitness and other data.

Technology has come to a point that algorithms have started writing good stories based on data like company disclosures and sports results — stories good enough for the Associated Press. In the future, all these algorithms will be accessible to you and me and “writing” individual stories for all of us: making sense of disparate information, including biometry, to tell us things we need to know about our health to domestic, professional and communal concerns and presenting it to us on our phones, watches or glasses.

But that is still in the future.

In my meeting brief, Charlie suggested I congratulate Ronimay Ducay, one of the persons we were to meet that afternoon, “for an exciting company event,” with a link to a Sun.Star Cebu tweet “Weeklong brownouts to hit Metro.” No, Charlie.

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