15 May 2018 17:38 IST

Click-and-forget features bring AI to life

Today, we’re so used to conveniences like automated bill payments and price drop alerts

The Hellfire II missile, developed in the early 1990s, completely changed the course of the first Gulf War. The very first fire-and-forget missile deployed by the US Air Force allowed pilots to target and fire a missile from miles afar, and pull away before the Iraqi anti-aircraft fire. Today, these types of precision-guided weapons are critical components of any nation’s ammunitions.

As we increasingly multitask in this fast-moving world, we realise that time is the one commodity we all seem to have less of. Luckily, technology has come to our rescue and has made many mundane tasks, which used to entangle our elder generation, relatively painless.

Take bill pay for instance. For many elders, this was an enormous — and secretly, a likeable — chore. The electricity or water bill would arrive by mail and the elder of the house would carefully open it to examine the due amount. The really-organised person would consult the previous month’s amount and have an argument with others if the current month’s bill was higher.

And then, the elder would set off on an incredibly time-consuming mission: visit the nearest bank or post office, fill out a challan, and have it paid out of the savings account at the teller counter. The seal from the bank on the receipt would then be carefully clipped to the bill for future references.

Tech magic

Today, even a non tech-savvy individual can get away from the drudgery of this exercise. The person files a form with the utility, provides a bank account number and once approved, can forget about physically paying bills on time forever. It is the utility’s headache to extract money from the bank on the designated day, assuming sufficient balance is maintained.

Thanks to technology, we all appear to be so sophisticated. We wish distant friends birthdays on Facebook with affection and precision, when we often do not remember our own family members’ anniversaries. We use our online calendars to remind ourselves not only of important appointments but also of key things to do — such as change bank passwords before the bank imposes the dreaded lock on accounts. Like an Air Force pilot, we set our tasks in the distant future and forget about it, acting only on the day when action is required.

Doing tasks for you

Artificial intelligence has made life extremely easy for millions of people.

Car rentals: Suppose you’re searching for a rental car deal for a vacation that is weeks away. You could spend hours scouring websites to find the best deal, and fret and fume along the way. Or you could log in to sites such as Autoslash.com, which takes in your desired location and dates of the rental requests just once and keeps scouring constantly in the background.

Each time the site finds a deal better than the one it first found for you, it sends an email so that you can switch your rental if you wish. Car rentals don’t come with penalties for cancellation, so this is a great way to rent cars. Click once and forget.

Flight fares: Google flights and most airline websites allow this feature for airfares too. This works best when your travel plans are some time away. Enter the destination and date details, and engage the website to track fares for you. Many sites can even predict future fares and advise you to lock in on a low-enough price. This feature is especially designed for those who want to wait to extract an even better fare. Hopper is a cool app in this space. Its tagline — ‘When to fly and buy’ — says it all. Clicking and forgetting can now save you real money.

Online shopping: An enterprising website has extended these features to online shopping. Camelcamelcamel (yes, this is the name of the website) monitors millions of products on Amazon and alerts you when prices drop, helping you decide when to buy. All you do is set a price threshold once for your favourite product and forget about it.

The tracker constantly monitors the e-retail giant’s site, and when the behemoth lowers the price to your threshold or below, it promptly alerts you on Twitter or via email. The hardest task then for you is to follow the links in your alert to complete the purchase.

E-tail sites: The alert system is now even used by most major stores for their websites. You go online and find that the product you’re looking for is no longer in stock. A friendly button below the ‘not-in-stock’ announcement will invite you to enter your email address to receive an alert when the product is back in stock. If your purchase plans are not time-sensitive, this is a great way to enter your request and forget about it.

There are all kinds of alerts that you can set and forget. In Windows 10, you can set the start and end times of your work day (a maximum of 18 hours) just once. Because Microsoft takes Windows updates extremely seriously and the product is now classified as a service, version updates are automatically pushed to your computer from the cloud. These updates can’t generally be prevented unless you are savvy enough to change some internal settings. The last thing you want is for Microsoft to take over your machine during your workday — so the work day ensures that updates happen after your, well, work day.

Conveniences, conveniences

At banks, you can set alerts to when your balance goes below a certain threshold or when a transaction of a particular amount is made. Indian credit card companies send out an SMS alert each time a transaction is made so cardholders can instantly report a fraudulent charge. Even US card companies do not offer this feature, which is why many American families miss detecting fraudulent charges until it is too late.

We are so used to all of these conveniences that we don’t even acknowledge them anymore. In fact, we almost expect them — so that we can add a few more things to our task list this week. What a world we live in!

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