In our fast-paced world we’re all bogged down by tedious and time-sapping life admin. Though digital technology makes many aspects of our lives quicker and easier to organise than ever before, we live such complicated lives that it still often feels like there’s a mountain of tasks to take care of. From household utilities to gym memberships, insurance, entertainment services and more, we need to manage a plethora of services and subscriptions, and if you work full time sometimes it’s hard to get around to dealing with them. Take your eye off the ball however and suddenly you realise that your energy supplier/mortgage/insurance has quietly rocketed in cost because you weren’t organised or savvy enough to switch to a new deal. And there’s those occasions where scrolling through your bank statement you suddenly realise you’ve been making micropayments for a year for data storage that you’re no longer using.
The advent of AI and machine learning means that surely soon there must be a more effortless way to deal with it, a sophisticated digital concierge that doesn’t just tell you what the weather’s like or play you a song, but acts as a central hub that manages all your life admin for you. Hours of hassle and indecision might become just a simple yes – yes – go ahead. For instance, this digital concierge could remind you that your home insurance is coming up for renewal, then find you a new deal based on everything it already knows about you, including your current policy and the new bike you bought a month ago. With your financial details already in place, all you would have to do is give the go-ahead once it’s found you the best option. It could take care of all your subscriptions and services by going through this process, doing the heavy lifting so you don’t have to. And AI with this level of capability might also be able to improve your life in other ways. By knowing you inside-out. your concierge might be able to suggest other services, either for your enjoyment or because they’re useful and time-saving.
But could we trust a corporation to run our lives to this degree and have access to so much information about us – even more than some of them have already? And where would we draw the line?
It seems likely that this new kind of digital concierge would grow out of one of the virtual assistant services already available, like Google Assistant. The tech giant already knows a staggering amount of information about most of us, some of it highly personal; in fact in some ways it probably knows more about you than your closest friends and family, who may not be fully privy to the weird things you look up on the internet. Google already has a tremendous amount of power, control and influence over what we do, and makes money through advertising, essentially by selling us things. We may feel a vague sense of unease that one company is privy to so much data about us as individuals, but most of us quietly sweep that feeling under the carpet because using Google is just so hugely convenient. Then there’s Apple – those loyal to the technology might well feel it is a better brand fit to who they are and how they see themselves, and therefore entrust life management to Siri and the tech giant.
In the US, as well as serving up information to you and ordering items from Amazon Prime, Alexa can now handle your healthcare data, using protocols that are compliant with US regulations on the storage, transmission and use of sensitive healthcare data for patients. Meanwhile in the UK, the NHS is planning to collaborate with Amazon so that Alexa can offer NHS-verified healthcare advice. Though people are in theory much more sensitive about their healthcare data as opposed to say their shopping habits, perhaps the sharing of healthcare information will just become normalised because it speeds up convenience and efficiency, as sharing other forms of data have.
Of course, the problem of life admin may end up not being solved by the big names we know now at all. As the idea of life as a service becomes more mainstream new players may emerge, perhaps from tech, our entertainment services, our telecoms companies or even our supermarkets, and this could result in new opportunities for businesses across different verticals to work together, creating affiliate deals and finding new customers they haven’t previously been able to reach.
Perhaps there’s another way. In 2018 Jeremy Corbyn suggested creating a ‘British Digital Corporation’ combining a Facebook-like social network, public sector archive material and online TV to rival Netflix, saying ‘“The public realm doesn’t have to sit back and watch as a few mega tech corporations hoover up digital rights, assets and ultimately our money”. Could a state-run service like this expand to help us run our lives? The fact is it seems far-fetched and people would be extremely wary, and given our recent political history in the UK, probably with good reason. They have far more loyalty towards the tech giants they interact with every day, who have already proved themselves to have the capabilities to create seamless services that we all rely on.
In the 2013 film Her, a lonely man develops romantic feelings for his AI-powered virtual assistant who helps him organise his emails, admires his work and supports him through his divorce. Perhaps things wouldn’t go that far – but if your digital concierge could solve all those tedious issues that clutter up your headspace, from whether you should stick with your energy provider to cancelling the insurance you no longer need, hey what’s not to love?