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New app MindMeld heralds the era of anticipatory computing

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Tim Tuttle, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded web acceleration technology company Bang Networks and video search engine Truveo (acquired by AOL), has returned with his third startup, Expect Labs, which he co-founded with Moninder Jheeta (who built infrastructure for Truveo.) The company today announced its first product, an iPad app for simplified group conferencing called MindMeld that is built upon Expect’s core technology concept — anticipatory computing. Even as a demo, it is an impressive piece of technology that shows where the future of computing is headed.

Group conferencing like none other

MindMeld is an iPad app (for now) that uses Facebook’s open graph and identity to help create quick audio or video conferences. Add a few people and start talking. But here is where things get interesting: As you speak (or other participants speak), the app listens and starts surfacing information pertaining to what you are talking about.

For instance, if you are talking about an upcoming meeting with, say, someone like me, then in near realtime, it would show you my Wikipedia page, surface my recent blog posts, show GigaOM location on a map, and other such information. And as fast as the topic shifts, the system brings up relevant information for that new topic. Sometime in the future, the company will be able to access data from your Dropbox or Google Docs account and when it does, Cisco’s WebEx division should reach for a proverbial bottle of migraine medicine.

I got the demo of the application at a fairly noisy restaurant in my neighborhood, and even then, it kept offering suggestions and information pretty quickly. If there was a lag, it was due to AT&T’s LTE network, which isn’t as robust as advertised, especially in San Francisco. Put this app on a WiFi – which we did – and everything from picture quality to voice latency and information being pushed to the screen was pretty flawless. Sure, it was a demo on a system used by no more than a dozen people, including all eight of the company’s employees, but I have seem many demos in my time. Someday, Siri will work as flawlessly as this app and will get an A-plus from me.

Rise of anticipatory computing

The MindMeld app has me convinced about the capabilities of Tuttle and his crew. Yes, if you looked at the company just from the perspective of this app, its ambition might seem limited. Tuttle says what matters to him is that their platform (which he expects to unveil next year) is used by other apps that can integrate it using their API. But in order to showcase his company’s grand ambition, he needed an app and hence MindMeld.

Tuttle pointed out that unlike other semantic efforts that analyze usage history, their approach is to look at the past 10 minutes and then anticipate what users might need in the next 10 seconds. “We have a predictive model that changes second to second and surfaces relevant information without searching,” says Tuttle. He calls it “anticipatory” computing, and as far as I am concerned, “predictive” is the future direction of computing.

Tuttle started the company two years ago to develop a platform that would “continuously pay attention to what happens in your life and pick up ambient information and then start to surface relevant information.” Why? Because be believed that our computing habits were going from being desktop bound to completely mobile, and that would essentially mean a different usage behavior.

Sensors, data and mobile = complexity

With more devices and more sensors coming into our lives, the amount of data being generated will reach a point where the machines need to start anticipating our needs. Search as a way to access information doesn’t and won’t work — mostly because search can only respond to questions we ask. Also, if most of our computing is shifting to devices that are always with us, the idea of how to compute also has to change.

Tuttle, who did his Ph.D studies at the AI Labs (Artificial Intelligence Labs) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says the idea for the company came when he was fine-tuning his last company, Truveo. That company, which used speech-to-text technology and helped search video streams, has become one of top video search engines. Fast forward to today, the emergence of faster networks, cheaper (and reliable) cloud compute platforms and newer technologies has made it possible for Tuttle and his co-founder Jheeta to develop Expect’s platform.

They don’t go into great detail about their infrastructure, but say that at any given time during a call on MindMeld, there are multiple processing threads going, and they are pushing and pulling data over the network at a pretty rapid clip. They currently have based their system on Amazon’s EC2 and have built both voice and data communication layers in addition to using speech-to-text technology from a partner. Translation: they are using Nuance’s technology. For data (information) they tap sources such as YouTube, Yelp and Google.

Tuttle isn’t the only one thinking about anticipatory computing. Google recently launched Google Now, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see something similar to Expect’s approach show up when Google Glasses become mainstream. And other startups are working on making anticipatory computing a reality and coming up with new techniques that would simplify everyday computing tasks.

PS: Here are two links to videos that introduce you to the company and the app

17 Responses to “New app MindMeld heralds the era of anticipatory computing”

  1. Derek Abrams

    As a technologist I am fascinated by the idea. As an individual I am not ready to have any technology where the capture, analysis, discerenment, and storage of my words or facial expressions are shared outside my (percieved) control. The reason being that such bio a inner psyche information is part of my DNA as an individual – it just is too personal to say that this is the next socially acceptable “sharing” that society is ready to engage in? However, that might simply be a concern that is not widely held.

  2. This has been the trend in business for a while, as companies from retail to railroads are putting together systems that anticipate based on past behaviors/occurrences. And some of the best apps will be the ones we never see as they work in the background to open/close/send/query the things that are anticipated.

    I’ve written up a few of these stories on my site but also realize this is just the beginning of what’s coming next. It required RAM to be cheap and processing to be ulta fast before we could here.

    Great stuff.

  3. With both Google (Google Now) and Apple (Passbook) starting to offer this kind of functionality, it’s interesting to see a startup offer it. Of the two, Google is most likely to offer this to developers through an API. But Expect Labs offer this now (or will do shortly), with Mind Meld as their proof of concept.

    I wonder if this will actually be of use or go down as a “cool” technology/service that is more of a nice feature to add to your product rather than a “must have”.

  4. Marshall Kirkpatrick

    Om, this is awesome. Readers who enjoyed this might also enjoy this podcast I listened to last night from former Apple now Frog designer Scott Jenson, speaking about a mobile UI for the Internet of Things that goes beyond search and incorporates a Just in Time Information Ecosystem. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go talk to the developers and designer on my team about getting inspired by this way of looking at the future! Awesome.

  5. Dave Weinberg

    Looks wild. I used to work for Open Amplify which is in a similar space (semantic) but built the API in hopes of others using it to come up with amazing products of their own. Clearly Tuttle “gets it”.

    I searched in the app store and could not find it though, is it not live yet?

    Thanks Om!

      • This is a fascinating app Om and seems to replicate what I have noticed a lot of people do while in meetings or on the phone in front of a computing device. We don’t necessarily know a lot about every topic being discussed, be it restaurants, projects, people or any other object of discussion. So we constantly look things up as the discussion goes on. This app seems to remove the additional step. Thanks for unearthing another very useful app and a great post!