Ambient intelligence, Productivity, and AI - A Taste Of The Word's Biggest Technology Conference

Ambient intelligence, Productivity, and AI - A Taste Of The Word's Biggest Technology Conference
Photo by Ben McShane/Web Summit via Sportsfile

Last week, my co-founders and I were at Web Summit 2022 for some unforgettable moments. We had the chance to go on stage to talk about Augment AI at the world's biggest technology conference, and my co-founder, Jordan Ritter, gave an amazing  keynote. You can read (and/or watch!) the two fantastic talks in a previous post here.

For today’s post, I'd like to share my perspective on concepts I heard at Web Summit and how they relate to ideas we discuss at Augment daily, with respect to making digital assistants better and more helpful. Namely: ambient intelligence, productivity, and AI.

First, I'd like to point out that Web Summit is very diverse content-wise. There wasn’t a central theme this year, and all talks were about 20 minutes long. That means there are dozens of talks about vastly different topics happening at the same time (but not exactly in-depth discussions). The conference is really about getting a pulse of "what's happening" in technology. In the same morning, a quick tour can lead you to hear a little about AI, WEB3, the creator economy, ecologic sustainability, and how startups should go after their next investment round or any other buzzword you can think of.

That said, I picked a few interesting things I heard to share with you.

1. First up is what I heard during the talk named "Alexa's Next AI Trick: disappearing," led by Rohit Prasad (Senior Vice President and Head Scientist Alexa Amazon) and Nick Thompson (CEO of The Atlantic).

As Prasad highlighted when talking about Alexa, one comment caught my attention: he mentioned ambient intelligence. We talk a lot about that internally and even wrote a post on ambient computing not very long ago ("Smart Devices Aren't Smart - yet").

"Ambient" means "in your environment." Ambient intelligence refers to AI expanding to the everyday devices around us - not only our smartphones or laptops. Ambient computing is about that expanded, continuous and seamless layer of AI being able to make decisions without human interaction - or, without a human having to ask for things or say commands. The AI can get things done just by being aware of (and learning from) the context and the information that’s part of our digital environment. We use that to make your Augment keenly aware of your context and needs. In other words, this is how your Augment gets to know you so well.

Rohit mentioned an especially fascinating way they're applying those concepts with Alexa: let's say you're a football fan, and your team is playing. You ask Alexa the score, and thanks to that additional context, they know what team you're rooting for, which in turn affects how Alexa will deliver the information to you. If your team is winning, Alexa will sound cheerful. If they’re losing, you’ll hear a somber voice.

Context is so crucial to bringing magical experiences to life which is why we’re laser-focused on that core concept here at Augment.

2. Another great talk - "Is there a connection between productivity and mental health?" - was led by Rahul Vohra (CEO and founder of Superhuman) and Serena Kutchinsky (digital editor of the Freelance).

It was a very practical talk - Rahul explored some processes that could help workers use productivity to improve their overall happiness at work and in life.

The two ideas they talked about I enjoyed most were the concept of flow state itself and something they called a staggered calendar.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, defines flow state as: Flow, also known colloquially as "being in the zone," is the mental state in which people are so focused on an activity that nothing else seems to matter. A study shows that being in the flow state may make you 5x more productive!

During flow, we're concentrated and focused. Everything other than the task we're performing seems to fade away.

Sounds fantastic - and if you've ever had the chance to experience it, you know it feels even better.

But there are conditions to reach flow state, as he made clear.

According to studies, to get to flow, you have to:

  1. Know what you're going to do next.
  2. Know how you're going to do it.
  3. Be free from distractions.
  4. Get clear and immediate feedback.
  5. Have a balance between high perceived challenge and high perceived skill.

So, make sure to set the right environment before pursuing your flow.

Now, I'd like to use the "free from distractions" part as a segue to another one of Vohra's helpful tips. It's what our friends at Superhuman call a "staggered calendar."

The first part of this strategy is about stacking your meetings and creating big periods of free time in your calendar. Organize your schedule with all possible meetings in sequence - yes, precisely what some people dread! Wait for the plot twist - but concentrate them in only two or three days of the week.

That way, you'll have some days completely free from meetings, meaning you'd have the power to make them free from distractions and - you guessed right - use them to work in a flow state!

The math is simple - and very reasonable: no matter what, you're going to have X hours of meetings a week; and Y hours free from them - that you can use to execute tasks, research, do some planning, or whatever work your job requires you to do. Those Y hours are much more useful, powerful, and productive if they're as together as possible and not scared throughout your schedule. Read it again.

The second part is about how to organize those meetings to make the most of your time - the "staggered" part. One simple rule is: if you run a team, schedule all your 1:1s for one day and your team meeting for the day after - but make sure it happens before your meeting with the rest of the leadership team. Here's the reasoning:

  • Monday - 1:1s: Let's say an issue rose up during one of the 1:1s and the two of you (you and the person in your team) couldn't find a solution for it.
  • Tuesday - Team meeting: You can take that issue to the rest of the team the day after. Together, you think of ideas on how to solve the problem.
  • Wednesday - Leadership meeting: You take the solutions your team suggested to the rest of the leadership and, together, you decide how to move forward.

"It all sounds great," you may say, "but will applying the concept of staggered meetings in my life mean I'm going to have a lot of back-to-back meetings"?

Yes. It does - and we all know how big of a challenge it can be to prepare for all of those back-to-back meetings, take notes, keep track of who you're meeting next, etc. This is where I'll allow myself to give you advice: Augment AI can help you a lot with that. In fact, the meeting-jammed life is one of the reasons we created Augment in the first place. It is your own digital personal assistant, automatically giving the context for meetings and information on who you're going to meet, whilst pulling up related documents. It even takes notes for you and sends a summary afterwards. You can read more about Meeting Augment and apply for a spot in our Private Beta here:

3. Finally, I watched Colin Murdoch's (DeepMind's chief business officer) presentation: "Out of the lab and into the real world."

To those who might not know DeepMind, it is a British artificial intelligence research subsidiary of Google. DeepMind's website says they are "a team of scientists, engineers, ethicists and more, committed to solving intelligence, to advance science and benefit humanity."

It was fascinating to hear how they're applying AI to a multitude of areas, from things super helpful and relevant to everyday life, like improving battery life for our phones, to nuclear fusion reactors.

Murdoch talked about how AI is being deployed across all kinds of sectors, and - as an obvious AI enthusiast - I found it exhilarating to see where this huge research lab is investing its time and effort, having an impact across the world.

It was fantastic being at Web Summit and I’m happy to share some of my impressions from the event.

In summary, my key takeaways were:

  1. Ambient intelligence/computing provides more context which allows for more magical AI moments
  2. Staggered calendars are worth a try to drive faster decision-making & focused work
  3. Product experiences that lead to flow state can lead to a productivity nirvana whether when you’re using Superhuman or Augment in your day to day

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And if you want to be part of the future of productivity and get your own AI personal assistant, signup for our private beta here:


How To Design For Flow - Superhuman Blog

Why you need a staggered calendar - Superhuman Blog