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An Annoyance, An Investment, or An Assistant

I recently had a teaching assistant who I had not worked with previously. I knew she wasn’t going to be an annoyance, but I wasn’t sure from the outset if I would have to invest time in working with her or if she would be able to immediately assist me. I was thrilled that it was the latter. But isn’t that the ultimate issue with assistants, whether human or virtual: will they annoy, will an investment in training lead to positive outcomes, or will assistance be available immediately?
Microsoft’s Talking Paperclip, Clippy, is a frequently cited example of an annoyance. I was interested to read in the July 31, 2009 ACM TechNews about the CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) Project.
CALO apparently is “capable of ‘learning in the wild'”, according to Raymond Perrault of SRI International, and uses “transfer learning” to apply lessons from one domain to another. A spin-off of the project, an iPhone app called Siri, is “designed to assist with mundane tasks, such as checking online reviews to find a good local restaurant and booking a table.”
I remember hearing a conceptual talk at the MIT Media Lab many years ago about the perfect butler who understands your needs. This sounds pretty close and I look forward to testing it!

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