“Anticipatory Computing”

Recently many applications that self-indentify as AI have also been cited as examples of “anticipatory computing,” as in this National Public Radio article: “Computers That Know What You Need, Before You Ask”

Here is the Wikipedia entry for “Anticipatory Computing:”

In artificial intelligence (AI), anticipation is the concept of an agent making decisions based on predictions, expectations, or beliefs about the future. It is widely considered that anticipation is a vital component of complex natural cognitive systems. As a branch of AI, anticipatory systems is a specialization still echoing the debates from the 1980s about the necessity for AI for an internal model.

When asked: “What do you anticipate would happen if someone jumped off the Empire State Building?” A human would employ their internal model of acceleration due to gravity, the relative frailty of the human body and the size of the building to predict: “They would impact the pavement at a high velocity and be killed.”

So what for a human is simple common sense, in the context of computing is asserted to be a whole new branch of Artificial Intelligence, one that, according to the NPR article cited above, is being used to change the way we interact with our technology:

“Google Now”, which is available on tablets and mobile devices, is an early form of this (anticipatory computing). You can ask it a question like, “Where is the White House?” and get a spoken-word answer. Then, Google Now recognizes any follow-up questions, like “How far is it from here?” as a human would — the system realizes you’re still asking about the White House, even without you mentioning the search term again. It’s an example of how anticipatory computing is moving the way we interact with devices from tapping or typing to predictive voice control.

Once the core world model for our modelled intelligence is built out to a sufficient level of completeness, it will be able to handle the question about jumping off the building the same way a human does, by following a simple chain of reasoning based on knowledge (models) about the physical properties of common objects (buildings, people and pavements). There are no special “anticipatory computing” algorithms or techniques involved.

As for the Google Now example, we call that being able to resolve a pronoun reference; that the word “it” in the second sentence refers to “the White House” in the previous sentence. Is that Anticipatory Computing? – or is anticipatory computing itself just another example of how everything in the field of AI gets wrapped in a layer of hype and impressive sounding buzz words making it difficult for anyone but an expert to make real distinctions about the underlying capabilities and limitations of various technologies.