Early Glimpses of Really Personal Assistants

by November 25, 2023

Recently I've stumbled into a workflow that's starting to feel like the future of work. More specifically, a future with really personal assistants that accelerate and augment people's singular productivity needs and knowledge.

"The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." -William Gibson, 2003

Over the past few months, I've been iterating on a feature of this Website that answers people's digital product design questions in natural language using the over 2,000 text articles, 375 presentations, 100 videos, and more that I've authored over the past 28 years. While the project primarily started as testbed for conversational interface design, it's morphed into quite a bit more.

Content on LukeW.com as of November 2023

Increasingly, I've started to use the Ask Luke functionality as an assistant that knows my work almost as well as I do, can share it with others, and regularly expands its usefulness. For example, when asked a question on Twitter (ok, X) I can use Ask Luke to instantly formulate an answer and respond with a link to it.

Answering a tweet with an Ask LukeW link

Ask Luke answers use the most relevant parts of my archive of writings, presentations, and more when responding. In this case, the response includes several citations that were used to create the final answer:

  • a video that begins that the 56:04 timestamp where the topic of name fields came up in a Q&A session after my talk
  • a PDF of a presentation I gave on on Mobile checkout where specific slides outlined the pros and cons of single name fields
  • and several articles I wrote that expanded on name fields in Web forms

Response on Ask LukeW

It's not hard to see how the process of looking across thousands of files, finding the right slides, timestamps in videos, and links to articles would have taken me a lot longer than the ~10 seconds it takes Ask Luke to generate a response. Already a big personal productivity gain.

I've even found that I can mostly take questions as they come to me and produce responses as this recent email example shows. No need to reformat or adjust the question, just paste it in and get the response.

Answering an email with an Ask LukeW link

But what about situations where I may have information in my head but haven't written anything on the topic? Or where I need to update what I wrote in light of new information or experiences I've come across? As these situations emerged, we expanded the admin features for Ask Luke to allow me to edit generated answers or write new answers (often through audio dictation).

Ask LukeW admin question interface

Any new or edited answer then becomes part of the index used to answer subsequent questions people ask. I can also control how much an edited or new answer should influence a reply and which citations should be prioritized alongside the answer. This grows the content available in Ask Luke and helps older content remain relevant.

Having an assistant that can accept instructions (questions) in the exact form you get them (no rewriting), quickly find relevant content in your digital exhaust (documents, presentations, recordings, etc.), assemble responses the way you would, cite them in detail, and help you grow your personal knowledge base... well it feels like touching the future.

And it's not hard to imagine how similar really personal assistants could benefit people at work, home, and school.

Further Reading