AI Unlocks the Memex

AI usefulness beyond shiny new magic toys

A good short blog post – er, long Xweet – from Aaron Levie on why he's so bullish on AI in the context of his company, Box.

Since the mainframe era, it’s been relatively trivial to work with our *structured* data in an enterprise. We could query, compute, synthesize, summarize, and analyze anything that could be structured in a database - i.e. the data sitting in our ERP, CRM, and HR systems. But it turns out this is only a small fraction of our corporate information. If you were to “weigh” the amount of data inside of an enterprise (in the form of raw storage), roughly 10% of it would be structured data, and 90% of it would be unstructured data.

While this is obviously important for enterprise data, it strikes me that it will matter for basically any kind of data. On the consumer end, we all take more photos than ever thanks to having an incredible camera in our pocket at all times. I just looked, I have 83,337 photos in my iCloud Photos library right now. That would not just be tedious to search through one at a time, it's at a scale now where it would be impossible. Only AI can do something like that. Apple and Google have only started to scratch the surface here, I imagine.

At a smaller but no less laborious scale is how I handle my own online reading. Right now, I use the service Matter to save everything I want to read at some point. Previously, I used Pocket, Instapaper, and a range of others.1 But I'm still waiting on the perfect AI to let me "save them all, and let the algorithm sort them out". That is, it's ridiculous that I either now read things in the order they were saved or by hunting-and-pecking manually (or by tagging manually). The best I can do now is a random shuffle to serve up interesting stuff I had intended to read but didn't get to for whatever reason. But it's totally random! AI can and should do this. Matter and others are obviously working on this, but it's similar to the issues and opportunity that Levie describes.

In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote a seminal article which outlined eerily insightful predictions, including the idea of the “Memex”, a new device “in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” The vision laid out imagined a future where the more knowledge and information your “computer” had, the smarter and more informed you would become. While many aspects of PCs, mobile devices, and the cloud eventually resembled this early vision, the seamlessness in how we could work with our information never quite played out. Until today.

Yes. Also, "Vannevar" is a very underrated name, if nothing else.2

1 Disclosure: GV is an investor in Matter, and was previously an investor in Pocket.

2 Which came from the last name of a family friend.