Amy, your personal AI-driven scheduling assistant (and I have accounts to give away!)

Scheduling meetings is a pain but x.ai's artificially intelligent assistant "Amy" makes it painless

Scheduling
Credit: Gerd Altmann

Trying to arrange a meeting is one of those thankless, tedious tasks that all too often becomes a total pain in the butt. It’s not that it’s actually hard, it’s just tedious trying find a mutually convenient date and time for two or more people to meet and that makes it a perfect task for automation.

Now, I’ve tried a number of systems for scheduling meetings over the years and the only one, up until now, that I’ve stuck with has been YouCanBookMe which syncs with your calendar(s) and when you want to schedule something, offers the other party a view of you free time and the ability to book a slot. I wrote about this service just over four years ago and I’m still using it which says a lot about how well it works.

jim sterne 276x300 Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne

But recently my old friend, Jim Sterne, analytics guru extraordinaire, got me interested in another service; an artificially intelligent system from x.ai known to its users as “Amy."

xai amy1

x.ai's "Amy"

This came about because Jim and I were due to have lunch and he had scored a beta account with the service. Jim has covered our lunch planning aided and abetted by Amy over on his blog but I shall quote the first part of our exchange, Jim sent me an email message copied to Amy:

How about lunch sometime next week?

Amy, can you help us find a good date and time?

I received a response from Amy which was also copied to Jim:

Would you be able to meet Jim for lunch next Wednesday Jul 30th 12pm or alternatively at 1pm – or the day after Jul 31st (Thu) 1pm (PDT) ?

I responded with:

I’m slammed next week although Wednesday would work if you’re willing to come to Ventura … Wood Ranch, 12 noon?

This was impressive because I didn't bother to make my language formal or clear. So Amy discussed options with Jim:

Unfortunately, your guest isn’t available Thursday or Friday.

Would you like me to schedule this lunch at a later date?

I’ll spare you the whole exchange as Jim has that well-covered but I was impressed by Amy and scheduled a conversation With Dennis Mortensen, x.ai’s CEO and founder.

Dennis Mortensen Dennis Mortensen

Dennis Mortensen

Dennis described what Amy provides as the ability to pass the pain of making appointments downwards so the process then becomes something that doesn’t distract you any more than necessary. 

Scheduling without and with Amy

Scheduling without and with Amy

Amy was built in-house because the company couldn’t find another AI engine that was reliable enough and they’re still refining their solution. They’re also going out on a business limb because they not only have to prove the system work, because it’s such a novel way of handling scheduling they also have to prove that there’s a market for the service.

The manner in which you interact with Amy is crucial; if you try to phrase your messages for a computer it makes it much harder for Amy to understand what you mean and therefore less accurate. Dennis describes this as users creating their own “uncanny valley” and points out that using everyday language, conversation instead of instruction is, at least for Amy, far more effective.

Amy is still being polished because, as Dennis pointed out, there’s a huge number of edge cases where decoding intentions is very difficult. When Amy reaches an impasse she refers the conversation to humans so, occasionally, when the referral queue is deep, Amy may not respond quickly. The rest of the time, Amy performs remarkably well.

x.ai, which is funded with $2.1 million from Softbank and AI Ventures, currently has a team of 11 developing Amy and plan to by around 15 strong by autumn.  

I’ve now been using Amy for over a month and I’m pretty impressed. There’s something very painless and natural about Amy’s interactions and only rarely has a conversation not been clear to her.

Amy can, at present, handle scheduling for up to five people; if there are more than that Amy will ask the "schedulees" to work as five or fewer groups. This limitation will be removed in a future version.

So, when can you try Amy? You can’t, the service is in beta and to keep the polishing moving forwards they have to restrict the number of users. That said, x.ai is giving me the opportunity to bequeath 10 accounts to lucky Network World users. All you have to do is send me a picture of your desk. That’s right, your desk with whatever you keep on it such as computers, manuals, coffee cups, cats, etc., and answer the fooling questions:

  1. What do you do (programmer, manager, writer, etc.)?
  2. Is this a home or office desk?
  3. How long has your desk looked like that?
  4. What would you change about your desk if you had the time (other than relocate it to the South of France)?

The winners will be those people who, in my judgement, need the most help getting organized. 

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