A First Job to be Done for AI

21 Feb 2024

A chance multitasking snafu reveals a new job-to-be-done for AI with broad impact in our everyday experience.

On a recent trip to NYC, I encountered a frustrating yet enlightening multitasking incident. I was using the Maps app to get directions to my next appointment—a straight, leiserly 30-minute walk to midtown—when I received a call from my mother. Twenty minutes into my call, I glanced at my phone to notice I was running late! It turned out that unbeknownst to me, the Maps app had defaulted to ‘driving’ mode, leading to an unnecessary detour around a long block.

Driving vs. Walking: the usually hard distinctions between different modes of transportation in Maps app can get blured in a city.

The technology world today is full of grand visions of AI as an all-encompassing mastermind, capable of making complex, high-level decisions that can potentially supplant humanity in the future. But what can AI do for the regular humans today? This incident, although trivial, does bring to surface a decent job for AI, with potential to impact everyday user experiences. My Maps mishap hints at where AI could begin: as a humble, silent assistant who handles simple, thankless tasks that can easily be undone, such as picking the default mode of transportation based on user’s specific context, location, and geography.

The true promise of AI today is not in constructing fantastic, all-encompassing, ideal visions of the future but in ever-so-slightly augmenting our current, mundane, real lives. This approach positions AI as a supportive tool, an assistant that does not replace but enhances our experiences by freeing us from the trivial and tiresome. What we need today is an AI that is eager to start at the entry level of human cognition, not one carrying out a hostile takeover at the executive level of humanity.

An AI-integrated smartphone is in a unique position to serve billions of users in trillions of mundane situations. In this, we can find a great application for AI in the background, utilizing those idling supercomputers we carry in our pockets, and, on the occasions when AI makes the wrong initial choice, great learning opportunities.

A First Job to be Done for AI is built on the principles we teach in our live, online Product Science Bootcamp.

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