There is a new approach in computing that is becoming more popular, and extends both to the general user population and to the business world. Anticipatory computing refers to a programming approach whereby the software attempts to anticipate the needs of the user. Once a person is exposed to this kind of experience, its value is almost immediately appreciated.

Imagine  the following scenario. An executive comes to work and as he/she enters his office, a hot cup of coffee made to his specifications is already on his physical desktop. The executive smiles and already appreciates how pampered he feels by this relatively simple gesture.

Let’s take this concept now and move it to the computing environment. Already on the executive’s computer screen, is a list of his daily responsibilities. One of these tasks is flagged as highly important. The executive double clicks on the task and there is a request to review a particular case. A small button appears on the task description which immediately brings up all of the associated documents, email discussions, other communications, previous assessments of the case – and all of this information is presented in a logical order that is easily flipped through.

The executive decides to discuss the case with one of the senior assistants, and sees that the scheduling software anticipated such a meeting and already reserved time on both the executive’s and assistant’s schedule for such a meeting. With a single click, all of the pertinent documents are shared and the executive can begin going through the rest of his tasks.

From this simple example, one can already appreciate the value of software that takes a very good guess at what your next step will be. We are all creatures of habit. When we work with others, there is a virtual hierarchy which delineates many of the at-work behaviors. For example, if a floor worker identifies a problem, that floor worker will most likely want to report it to the person who is immediately his superior. Therefore, when the floor worker opens an email on his mobile phone, it will make sense that the list of optional email addresses will include at the top, that of the floor worker’s immediate boss.

This tiny amount of assistance streamlines the entire process of reporting the problem. In fact, if the floor worker specifies, as the subject  of the email, that there is a problem with a given entity in the company, anticipatory software could load a template for submitting a full report. More so, anticipatory software could read the email and decide who else should be notified of the issue. Maybe the floor worker should just be able to type: “Problem with …” and the software will do all of the emailing, notifications, information preparation and sharing, that is needed.

One could say that the goal of anticipatory computing is to eliminate any resistance to performing a task. Sometimes, just the thought of searching for a given Powerpoint, is enough to cause a person to delay addressing an issue. But with a system that has already predicted the need for such a file, such that a link to the file is already evident on the screen, the “friction” resisting the task is nearly eliminated.

On a personal level, there are many tasks that I do which could easily be anticipated and automated. For example, whenever I receive confirmation of publication of my blog post, the first thing I do is submit it to a number of social media sites. It would be a wonderful experience if on opening my blog post, immediately after this confirmation, that there be a single button that will automatically post my blog to all of the sites that I usually post to.

A key point is that this button would be unique to my behavior. For someone else, there may be no such button or that button might send an email to a given person. Anticipatory software should ideally be constantly self-customizing to the user !

How much time would this kind of anticipated automation save me? A couple of minutes. But if we save a couple of minutes on tens of tasks every day, that adds up. The newfound time that comes from streamlining tasks, via anticipatory software, could then be used for a break, some day dreaming time [which has been found to be incredibly important for enhancing brain activity and increasing innovative thinking] or perhaps leaving work early. The sum total of the experience is that time was not wasted on easily anticipated tasks that computers should be able to figure out on their own. And it is exactly this kind of computing that many companies are starting to address.

I remember the other day, checking my emails first thing in the morning. There was an email from a specialized web service that listed all of the people I would be meeting that day. The email included other information that was culled from their social media sites and other accessible data (including from my own email and services). It was a very pleasant way to be reminded of the meeting and to have immediate access to information that I would otherwise have had to spend 15 minutes searching for on my own. I felt relieved and I felt less stressed. In the world we live in today, that’s a huge thing.

Imagine this kind of approach being applied to medical software. Imagine that throughout the day, a physician is constantly being presented with the information that he or she will need for the next step in the day. It could be that this particular physician sets aside an hour every day to phone certain patients for follow-up. Clearly, software that would arrange the phone numbers in the physician’s preferred order would be helpful. More so, it would be extremely helpful if next to the list of phone numbers, there was a “view chart” button that allowed the physician to review the patient’s case just before making the phone call. And it makes sense that once the physician connects and begins speaking to the patient, that a pop-up appear which allows the doctor to report on the interaction.

And once again, this scenario might be great for one doctor but not for another. Self customization of software is key to the success of such systems, especially for busy professionals, including doctors.

These days, we tend to talk about grand computing systems that will replace entire lines of work. In the meantime though, we can all benefit from desktop and mobile programs that are always one step ahead of us, in order to assist us and basically “make us look good”. It really is like having a fantastic assistant standing next to us, always handing us the things we need and automatically recording whatever needs to be saved.

We can all use a friendly hand from time to time. I anticipate that this kind of software will become more and more popular, and then more and more essential to the way we function on a day-to-day basis.

Thanks for listening and a Happy (and responsible) Purim

My website is at http://mtc.expert