The AI personal coach: an example of symbiotic intelligence
Gabriel Duford Gabriel Duford
March 13 5 min

The AI personal coach: an example of symbiotic intelligence

Being part of the leadership team of the hyper fast growth start-up that is Element AI makes for quite busy days, to say the least. It’s been a while since I wanted to start a blog, or regularly write articles about how to Get S*** Donein my role of lead technologist. But it seems that writing never gets to the top of my prioritized backlog. Because indeed, prioritizing a backlog of todo’s is the best way I’ve found to be effective: treat everything as a project, assign “effort points”, “value points” and prioritize using a Weighted Shortest Job Firstapproach.

In all modesty, it seems that I’m doing better than most of my colleagues, that I highly respect. But am I really that better at prioritizing my work, since I can’t get to some of the things I deeply know I care about? Sure, I could put more hours into working through my backlog and get down to these items, which is what my colleagues do most of the time. However that would mean deprioritizing the item “ take time for yourself and your beloved one”, which I assign many “value points” too. I’ve almost burned out a few times in the past by deprioritizing this item, so I won’t do the mistake again; I want to sit in the Element AI rocket ship cockpit for as long as it goes.

Driving back home to Montreal in the snow storm the other day, I was thinking: could a symbiotic intelligence like an AI personal coach help me improve the prioritization of my backlog? I have the chance of working with a coach (a human one :)) every week or so. In every work session he will walk me through a different perspective on my perceived priorities. And guess what: every time he’s right. I was thinking: what if my coach was sitting with me in every meeting, was reading through every email and observing the time I spend thinking about and replying to them, then was connecting the impact these emails and meetings had in generating more conversations, meetings, changes of all sorts, and more (or less!) work. I am convinced that his debriefing, evaluation of the true ROI and his help in prioritizing my future items based on these learnings would be extremely revealing. Obviously, that is not possible. So now, what if a symbiotic intelligence could do this? Through some wearable devices, my phone and software on my computer it could listen to every conversations, watch me as I write and rewrite emails, study the replies and impacts, see my performance degrading as my smartwatch captures my biometrics and suggest I stop and go to sleep because it knows I’ll be much more effective tomorrow, tell me to call it a day because no email I would reply now would make Element AI’s more successful if I reply now rather than later, tell me to call the afternoon off and go fly my glider because I am more energized after a good flight, [put your own idea here].

I am starting my 21st year as a glider flight instructor. I’ve learned through all these flights and instructing hours that we are pretty bad judges of the impacts of our own decisions and for objectively evaluating the realized ROI of our actions. It takes a good step back and time to analyze, which we only rarely do. So I have put myself in the shoes of that potential AI personal coach and thought about what I’d tell my smart colleagues. I reflected back on conversations, meetings, reactions to emails and news from the industry, sudden “top priorities”, etc. Here are a few things I would suggest them:

  • Raise the priority of disconnecting from work for a couple hours straight every day, a bit more over the week-ends: that email can wait, the world won’t collapse and the success won’t be diminished if it waits ‘till the next day;
  • The latest thing is not necessarily more important than what is currently on the backlog: consider everything in the global picture;
  • Things that involves more than just yourself require time to plan and coordinate: don’t rush before you’ve given it some thoughts. That planning is an element on the backlog in itself;
  • A baby cannot be made in 1 month with 9 women: some things are algorithmically sequential and can’t be parallelized. (Hope you don’t mind my example. I just feel it has more impact than the traditional “can’t have the rooftop done before you build the foundation and the walls” example :)

That was relatively easy. However, I have much more difficulty doing the exercise for me! What would my own AI personal coach tell me?

Is the technology there yet? Probably not. Now do I believe that such an AI personal coach is realistic in the future? I do, especially when I watch the talent of the team we’re building at Element AI and the unmatched speed at which the technology evolves. The AI Personal Coach is a good example of symbiotic intelligence; or AI as an augmentation tool. So while we (or someone) builds this, I’ll try to make sure I stay true to my principles, find ways to improve, encourage my colleagues and myself to step back and reflect at least once everyday, and make sure my priorities are right to make Element AI and myself successful!

Originally published at on March 14, 2017.