Today I’ve invited Babak Pahlavan, CEO of Clever Sense, to talk about his new Windows Phone 7 application addressing “information overload”. Clever Sense participated in our Mobile Acceleration Program and is one of our Startup Showcase companies. You can find their WP7 application, Seymour, on Marketplace.

We are living in an age of information overload. The Internet has delivered on its promise of inviting more people to contribute to its endless ocean of information. According to the IDC, only 0.4% of world’s population could access the Internet back in 1995; today, nearly a third of the global population can hop online. Everyday more people come online to read, write and post information on blogs, websites, review sites and myriad other outlets. In 2009, Guardian magazine claimed that the internet is holding about 500 billion gigabyte of data — a dizzying pattern of growth that is sure to continue. Making this vast quantity of information accesible and organized is certainly challenging; but sifting through it and figuring out what matters to users at any given point and time is even more difficult.

There has been numerous approaches to solve this information overload problem. Pre-2000, companies such as Yahoo! were clear winners when they created the comprehensive internet portals. It was good enough then, however, the portal model couldn’t keep up with the sheer size of content residing on today’s internet. Instead, search engines such as Google and Bing have been providing the models that work the best. But nonetheless, search engines are best at organizing the data and ultimately doing a query processing in real-time; so the burden of looking for information still lies on users’ shoulders. Then, they had to navigate a dense hierarchy of links on Yahoo!’s main page, and now, users still have to come up with the right question to submit to today’s powerful search engines.  Users are confronted with lots of pages and links to look at and lots of information to digest before they arrive at their final destination. While this is still the best method of finding information on desktop computers, when we shift to the smartphones we definitely need something better; we need something more personal that gets to know us and delivers information to us at the right time and the right place; we need a serendipity engine! These are engines that can predict what we individually would actually want at any given point and make the information readily available to us before we even have to puzzle over our queries. It’s easy to see that the usage of such serendipity engines is especially relevant via smartphones when we are on the go.

The rise of smartphones during the past few years is truly remarkable and it seems this is only the beginning; According to Mobile World Congress, by 2013, there will be more internet connected smartphones than desktop computers. Smartphones will get better, faster, and more powerful in hardware, but nonetheless, their true power will come from the easy access they provide to the mighty Internet. This presents us with a new set of opportunities to solve the information overload problem. Although search engines are undoubtedly useful, with advances in technologies such as machine learning, data-mining and artificial intelligence, we can do so much more and so much better to alleivate the issue of information overload when users are on the go with their smartphones. In order to leverage new technologies into experiences and products that are tangible and usable, we also need the right metaphors.

From “Rosie the maid” in “The Jetsons” to “R2-D2” in “Star Wars”, we’ve always been fascinated by the concept of robots that serve as personal assistants or concierges: smart, friendly helpers that can interact with us to find things that truly matter, taking the struggle out of our daily pursuit for happiness and a little peace of mind. Today, having a knowledgeable personal assistant, ever ready at our side, to sift through the daily information overload and deliver tidbits actually relevant to what we like and what we want to do, could not be more needed.  The good news is that achieving that dream and making it accessible to the masses is a notion that no longer lies in the realm of space age cartoons or movies about intergalactic struggle.  It’s entirely attainable, and perhaps even better than we’ve previously imagined.  Instead of a giant robot on wheels following us around, we can do better; the combination of advances in artificial intelligence, cloud computing (such as the ones offered by Amazon AWS and also Microsoft Azure) and Internet speeds of our GPS-enabled smartphones makes it possible for us to have AI-based personal assistants in our very pockets!

Clever Sense is a Silicon Valley-based company that is gathering the best and the brightest in the fields of AI, machine learning, data mining and mobile product design to really achieve that dream.  Our goal is to relieve users from the information overload (while fully respecting their privacy) when they are on the go and need to make decisions quickly. Someone else should really do the heavy lifting of personalization and only show us what matters to us based on location, time, context, personal tastes and our social history. That someone else in our universe is an AI-based personal concierge, named “Seymour”, who is powered by the Clever Sense Serendipity Engine. Look for Seymour on Windows Mobile 7 in November before it makes its way to other platforms soon after!

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