Predictive Apps Continue to Evolve

June 10, 2013

Algorithms that mine our data to predict what we want or need are getting more sophisticated. The MIT Technology Review reports, “With Personal Data, Predictive Apps Stay a Step Ahead.” Recently, Google Now (part of the latest Android version and now included in the Google search app for the iPhone) has captured some attention. That app pulls information from a user’s Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Web searches to spontaneously present timely, relevant (ideally) information, like traffic conditions between office and home as one is wrapping up the workday.

The next stage of this predictive ability is on its way. Reporter Tom Simonite tells us:

“Engineers at Google, Osito, and elsewhere seek to wring more insights from the data they collect about their users. Osito’s engineers are working to learn more from a person’s past location traces to refine predictions of future activity, says [Osito’s Bill]Ferrell. Google Now recently began showing the weather in places it believes you’re headed to soon. It can also notify you of nearby properties for sale if you have recently done a Web search suggesting you’re looking for a new home.

“Machine learning experts at Grokr, a predictive app for the iPhone, have found they can divine the ethnicity, gender, and age of their users to a high degree of accuracy, says CEO Srivats Sampath. ‘That can help us predict places you might like to go better,’ he says. The information will be used to fine-tune the recommendations Grokr offers for restaurants and music events.”

Is the trend creepy or helpful? A bit of both, perhaps. See the article for more on the current state of this “predictive intelligence.”

My apprehension goes beyond privacy and past any discomfort with increasingly sophisticated AI. I am concerned that we are giving more fuel to the already raging confirmation-bias fire. If our devices serve up only information and entertainment we are predisposed to, how likely are we learn anything new? More broadly, the chances of conversing intelligently with someone on the other side of any professional, cultural, or political divide will continue to dwindle, since each party is relying on a different set of “facts.”

Ah, well, there is no going backward. Perhaps someone could design an app that deliberately suggests bits of content we would otherwise avoid as a way to combat our own prejudices. I would use it, and I suspect other independent thinkers would, too. Any developers out there feel like taking on a socially beneficial project?

Cynthia Murrell, June 10, 2013

Sponsored by, developer of Augmentext


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta