Alternative Methods

Seth Clifford posted a fantastic article titled “The Similarity of Differences” on his website the other day about how Apple and Google are approaching similar solutions to the complex problem of virtual assistants. He wrote:

It’s a very interesting and important time in personal technology. Data moves through our lives like air. We want to protect it (some of us, anyway), but we want the value that sharing it can provide us. We want the future we were promised in our childhoods, but the changes we find occurring around us can be discomforting. This kind of change is everywhere, and it continues to move like perpetual motion, unstoppable. It’s beautiful and frightening. But it is inevitable.

I couldn’t agree with him more. This change is coming whether we want it or not. Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid, I was fascinated with how the computer would pick up a command, even if Scotty’s accent was thick and it’s hard to understand.[^1] I wanted that in my life then, and it’s taken years to get there. And we’re really at the start of where this is headed.

Having alternative methods of approach is a good thing, and is the way humans (and groups of humans) approach problem solving: you may have a solution in mind, while others might approach the problem in a completely different manner. You may use an app like Drafts 4, while others use Workflow or Pythonista to get the same thing done, and vice versa. The specific difficulty with machine learning is that people are complex, and can have entirely different ways of thinking.

I’m not looking at who’s going to win or lose this perceived battle: I think there’s going to be multiple ways of solving multiple problems, and the users will just have to find what’s right for them, just like we do with iPhone vs Android. No matter what, with respect to these new devices and AI-like interfaces: it’s a great time to be alive.[^2]


  1. not to mention Chekov’s “wariables”.  ↩

  2. Assuming that the impending doom of Skynet doesn’t kill us all…  ↩