Email is a buzzkill for me. It's annoying because the messages that arrive in my inbox these days are often a total waste of time. Just about everyone I work with closely or know personally connect with me on Facebook, Slack, Convo, or by other means. In fact, if an email arrives from someone I know, it's usually way too formal and not always good news.

In most cases, email is what we use to contact total strangers, which is why it has become so annoying. It's a deluge. We're all spamming each other. It must end.

That said, email is still a way of life. It's a necessary evil. My hope by 2020 is that voicebots like Amazon Alexa, Google Home's Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana will finally take over my email accounts--providing new features and services to help with the overload.

It's already happening to some extent. 

A bot like Alexa and Microsoft Cortana can read incoming email and learn which messages are important to me. An app called Boomerang Mail for the iPhone already does this using a voicebot. Alexa does work with apps like Astrobot (as an  Alexa skill) which is one step closer to total email replacement. But it's not quite there yet.

What I'm really looking for is more like a personal assistant that handles my messaging so I can spend more time on Slack, Convo, and social media. Alexa could say something like: "John, you have 20 important emails but two of them are from your editors. Want me to summarize those messages for you?" Interestingly, while Amazon has never quite pushed into the email or workplace productivity market, this could be a major differentiator.

Imagine Alexa taking on this everyday task.

For the most part, we would just sit back and keeping using Slack. All of those messages would trigger Alexa to act on my behalf. When an entrepreneur sends me a message about a new startup, Alexa would parse it out. When did the company start? Who else is in the space? The bot would ask the sender questions and find out if the email is worth my time. Even then, Alexa would move to the next step--the bot might then alert me about the company with a few facts, never even bothering to read the email at all.

What about those overly formal emails from people who do know me? Alexa could take over then as well, interpreting the message and meaning. Let's say and editor is upset about something I've done and wants to talk. Alexa would schedule the phone call. "John, I arranged an important meeting with Bill for tomorrow at 11 based on a new email." I'd never question which Bill that is--it's my boss, of course. Alexa wouldn't bother otherwise.

Looking through my inbox just now, here are a few other tasks Alexa would perform:

A new pair of trail running shoes from a company I like and trust? That are highly improved? Alexa would arrange the shipping and timeline.

Six or seven products I need to return? Alexa would alert me and remind me to send them back. I'm done testing them. Alexa would create the shipping label and print it.

I am doing an interview tomorrow. The person arranging the interview sent me an email and is confused about my time zone. Alexa would let that person know.

Around 4,256 other messages I don't care about and will never read? Alexa would delete them. Another 10-15 messages that require a phone call? Put it on my schedule.

Remember that this AI would deal with a small subset of messages, not the ones that are heading to the virtual trash heap. Alexa or Cortana would dismiss most messages, knowing which ones I care about. It goes far beyond what Google Inbox does today by offering canned responses. It skips the response altogether and moves to action, setting up meetings, gathering research. The bot would rarely organize my email, dictate messages or read anything. That's just another user interface paradigm. Instead, the bot provides relief, a way for me to focus on other things, and handles most messaging tasks.

Will Amazon create something like this? I know Microsoft is already attempting to handle some messaging with Cortana, although in my testing it doesn't really work. There's not a lot of AI involved, it's just a way to dictate the name of a recipient and the text. Boomerang is doing a good job trying to highlight important messages. Now it's time for a company like Amazon or Google to add a lot more intelligence to the process. My ultimate goal--I want to remove myself from the chore of processing email. I want a bot to do all of the work.

And, the AI is not quite there yet. But it is evolving quickly.

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Published on: Oct 30, 2017