AI and Email
Email. When it came up in the 1980s – used by some avant-gardist academics – it was hailed as the beginning of a new era: the age of ubiquitous electronic communication. Email made person-to-person text and data exchange easy. Email was the perfect functional addition to the new-fangled personal computer. These days, as citizens of the social media cyberspace, we tend to look at it as a relic of bygone days, overruled by extremely convenient sound- and video-based platform services such as Facebook or Instagram. Email is almost for oldies.
But wait – who would have thought, that email communication is back in vogue, getting a new lease on life as a productive personal and business tool? Yes, email is “in” again – thanks to substantial improvements brought to us by Artificial Intelligence. You can safely say that your email account wouldn’t work well these days without using AI.
There is no better proof of email resurgence than a recent article in the renowned high-tech business publication techemergence.com covering the wide-spread impact of AI on our daily lives. Email is just one of the five examples given. More often than not, rule-based spam filters recognize the wording of suspicious messages, their recent history as well as requisite metadata hidden in them: sender, subject matter, etc. Gmail has perfected the purging of unwanted mails by applying machine learning algorithms to more than 99 percent of the emails, even if spammers frequently vary their messages.
AI technology also assists in “smart email categorization”, which means the sorting of incoming mails according to relevance. It too is used by Gmail and has a learning ability. After the user marks messages in a consistent fashion, the smart email algorithm automatically learns and sorts them into the proper boxes based on his/her preferences. This way, Google reports that its employees are spending 13 percent less time reading unimportant mails.
The logical step to take from here: adding “smart reply” to the inbox – as Google has done in 2015. Trained by machine learning, their smart mail program automatically suggests one of three briefs, somewhat formal answers that best fit the inbox content. Google intends to improve the complexity of this automated mail exchange. Its Allo messaging app seems to head in this direction.
All this points to the increased use of natural language processing (NLP) as a timely upgrade of age-old email functionality. NLP comes in a twofold flavor: language comprehension (extracting the meaning of written text or spoken messages) and language generation (composing a meaningful and workable reply in the desired format). What this could lead to in some time from now is conceptualized by the European business consultancy Accenture. Their AI-based “Intelligent Email Assistant” would first sense an email’s content, then apply natural language processing to understand its meaning, then respond accordingly, either by passing the message to a human operator or a robotic system, and finally learn from repeatedly passing through these steps to get to acceptable levels of correctness and precision.
Are we looking then at a future world, where our smart assistants do all the talking and alleviate us from being involved in the mess of human communication, even delegate the annoying task of decision making to them? Just watch them how they snap-chat, tweet, and lead their own artificial lives? And we instead spend our time intelligently by reading and enjoying nature?