Personal Decision Assistants - A natural next step for AI?
From Descartes’ Automata to Alan Turing’s “can machines think?” to modern days fascination with AI-enabled Digital Humans, we have constantly sought a replacement or replica for what humans are. However, rarely is the world binary or the road linear when it comes to the evolution of technology. While the concept of Digital Humans or Digital Employees is a fascinating and plausible outcome of the development of AI, it is more likely that we will see AI support us, support us in making decisions or small tasks. Essentially, we will surround ourselves with Decision Assistants, Personal Decision Assistants (PDAs.). And consequently, end up with many different AI-enabled PDAs. Both individuals and organizations can prepare for a future where PDAs surround everyone.
We make decisions every day, about a broad spectrum of things, from trivial, almost subconscious decisions to decisions of life and death. We make decisions in our private lives, as citizens, and in work situations. We make decisions with very little data and, at times, use vast amounts of unstructured data. The academic field covering decision-making is vast and deep because the topic is complex. With the explosive growth in data and the proliferation of AI, the ability to support those decisions becomes ever more real. A natural, linear extrapolation of this trend would be taking over all decisions humans make. This leads us to assume the emergence of digital humans or, from a work perspective, digital employees. However, it may be more likely
that we see an earlier emergence of personal digital assistants, AI assistants, that help us make decisions and perform simple tasks for us. There will be many kinds of personal digital assistants, depending on the environment we find ourselves in, the sort of decisions we make, and the urgency (the time factor) of those decisions. Some of these solutions will essentially replace tasks we do, personal task assistants. They will be personal software-enabled AI tools, leveraging both personally generated data and data that will be external to the individual, whether real or synthetic data.
Why is this of interest? Most of the focus in AI has been on function- or industry-specific AI solutions or on corporate process improvement through AI. Solutions such as the usage of AI to advance medicine, solutions to assist HR in hiring, or intelligent robotic automation solutions are examples of this. While highly valuable to organizations or society, the value is in the overall solution to its owner, the organization. Seldom do we see AI through the lens of the human, the end-user, and the value it may give the individual. And when we look at the human or individual user, it is often to assess the negative aspects of AI, such as job losses, bias, or ethical issues. We rarely look at the positive impact or new opportunities for the user and the value of AI to the end-user. The value of end-user-focused AI solutions. This is where support in making decisions and handling tasks would be valuable, especially if these software tools were designed from the user out and not from the organization or society out. Its clear that AI is going through a traditional adoption process that most technologies follow. First, there are centralized and expensive solutions, then decentralized solutions used across organizations, and then lastly, solutions structured for the individual user. Technologies expand like expanding rings in the water. AI is following the same evolution of adoption.
So, when will we see PDAs emerge? In some small way, we are there now. An increasing number of mobile apps incorporate some level of algorithmic intelligence. However, most of it relies on general data and not personal data that will allow for individual personal tasks to be replaced or for the availability of personal decision support in certain situations. We are likely a few years from this becoming more prevalent. This will depend on regulation around privacy and speed of user adoption or upgrade to more mature apps. But the direction is one in which many apps evolve towards becoming Personal Decision Assistants that we consult when we need to make a decision. Eventually, as individuals, we will be surrounded by personal decision assistants and personal task-performing applications. This will likely happen in parallel with the evolution of digital employees, which will focus on replacing combinations of tasks that are done today, up to and with specific job categories.
Organizations, often led by the CIO, can assist in deploying PDAs by identifying areas where AI can help the individual. Situations in which AI will improve work satisfaction and personal happiness by eliminating tasks that provide little personal satisfaction or assist the individual in making better, faster, and more accurate decisions. Organizations led by HR can equally continue to improve the digital capabilities of the employees, especially in data knowledge, data science, and AI. So, while the focus has been on the benefit of PDAs to end-users, organizations will benefit from increased productivity, better quality decision making, and more involved employees.
Technology companies can assist in building PDA solutions that deliver the value of AI to the individual user for tasks and decisions they perform every day. These apps may be for personal situations or designed for implementation within organizations but designed for and with the end-user. In some ways preparing for an AI end-user revolution. The wide adoption of PDAs will increase Shadow AI and require organizations to manage AI governance more structured.
And for us as end-users, our continued focus will need to remain on developing our skills and competencies around data, data science, and AI. Not necessarily from a deep technical perspective but certainly for us to use AI for increased personal impact in our private and work lives. AI will surround us through the proliferation of Personal Decision Assistants (PDAs), and we need to be prepared as users and as organizations.
 Yes, I am aware that PDA was used in the 1980s and early 1990s as a term for handheld hardware devices, Personal Digital Assistants. Apple first used the term in 1992, although the first PDA-like product was likely the Psion Organizer, launched in 1984. Today, all of what was Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are now integrated into our mobile phones.