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Intelligent task scheduler: killer app or pipe dream? - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Intelligent task scheduler: killer app or pipe dream? [Jun. 19th, 2008|01:13 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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Consider this email I sent to someone a couple of weeks ago:
It was nice seeing you too! Unfortunately I was only at SRI for a week. I'm back in Austin now. Yes, I'd love to chat about reputation systems. The next time I'm in the bay area I'll shoot you an email.
After I sent it I was wondering how on earth I was going to remember all the things I needed to do when I went to the bay area next, given that I have no idea when it's going to be. It's not something I can put into a calendar.

Which made me realize that while it may be a bit of a niche product, a tasklist that can help you remember this kind of complicated relationship is something that people would be willing to pay cold, hard cash for. In this instance, the software would have to figure out where I am based on my GPS co-ordinates and update my task list accordingly. There's a whole bunch of other use-cases for complex task scheduling. Some examples
  • Remind me to buy a present 2 days before X's birthday.
  • Notify me when X visits Austin.
  • Things I want to buy once my bank balance is over $5k.
I'd imagine that in a business, complex relationships between tasks obviously occur far more often. But in a business, you can afford to pay people (secretaries) to manage this stuff.

The key thing here is that in order to derive the benefits of automation, the software needs to access and understand your data, such as your location, your friends' birthdays or your current bank balance in the examples above.

So my questions: does this kind of thing already exist? if not, could it be a viable business?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: cubby_t_bear
2008-06-19 06:42 pm (UTC)
I think you'd need something far more specific to turn something like this into a business. A list of the 60 or so more important tasks, triggers, etc., or some such.

As for the technical types, this sort of thing already exists, albeit with a touch of work. It's just a bit of scripting, a perpetually active server, and a master script that runs as needed, sending email/text messages to you. But that requires a good deal of customization and is unsuitable for the general consumer.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-19 06:47 pm (UTC)
i'm definitely the technical type. i wouldn't ever consider setting up something like that myself. when people say technical types, they often mean "people who don't value their own time" :) actually, even with a dedicated server or whatever, it's far from obvious how to do it. at the least you'd need a component that runs on my phone (to get my co-ordinates.)

i totally agree that what you'd present to the end user has to be more specific. yeah, like being preprogrammed with common tasks.
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[User Picture]From: cubby_t_bear
2008-06-19 06:51 pm (UTC)
I suppose it depends on whether you view it as a mere convenience to have, or something of an interesting hobby-project. I think the key question on something like this, is whether you already have it set up with your phone service provide to make your location available online.
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[User Picture]From: patrickwonders
2008-06-20 01:47 am (UTC)
I too have pondered similar apps before. My GTD (Getting Things Done) contexts are things like: Phone, Internet Connection, Home, Work, Grocery Store, Other Store, Errands, etc. For me, I would want "in a grocery store" and "near a phone" in addition to "in Pittsburgh" and such.

I think your earlier post about deciding to be an entrepreneur before picking the product is apropos here. There is a killer app in the above concept. You just have to hit it.
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[User Picture]From: patrickwonders
2008-06-20 01:49 am (UTC)
More precisely, the only thing keeping it from being a killer app is the mindset of the builder.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-20 05:12 am (UTC)
yeah.. in the few months since i decided i'm definitely going to do a startup, it's been very easy to come up with ideas. it's all about the mindset. grocery store is a big use case for me too. but it's a breeze to manage it with a normal web-based list that i can access on my phone. (http://m.rememberthemilk.com)
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-20 04:13 am (UTC)
One project named GeoLife gives users a way to set to-do lists and get reminders on their phones. Walk by the market, and the device might buzz with a message that you're supposed to pick up milk.

http://www.wtopnews.com/?nid=108&sid=1402567
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-20 04:52 am (UTC)
interesting, thanks!
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-28 05:43 am (UTC)
Sounds like Complex Event Processing to me :)
This is of much higher value for businesses in general and a few companies out there are trying to do this.

--Sid (too lazy to login)
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-28 05:47 am (UTC)
Sid? from high school? i notice you deleted me on facebook. interesting :) (just interesting, that's all; i don't get offended about shit like that anymore.) anyway, good to see you here.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-28 06:37 am (UTC)
Siddhartha (centerforward) from IITM rather :)

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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-06-28 06:40 am (UTC)
ha ha, ok, sorry about that :)
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(Deleted comment)