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Of course you need a robot to help prioritize your email

An app called Seer peeks at your behavior and uses AI to tell you which e-mails are important and which are merely drudgery from your boss. Just to reassure you, this AI has CIA roots.

With CIA brains. Seer

People in general, and business people in particular, are becoming increasingly incompetent.

There's too much to do, too much to react to. The human mind just doesn't have the organizational skills.

That's the lovely thing about our computerized world -- you need a machine to help you make sense of it.

Even deciding which e-mails to reply to can take far too much time and mental energy. Clearly what we need is a robot to do it for us.

Along, therefore, comes a free iOS app called Seer. This claims to be the first app to use artificial intelligence to help you get your e-mail house in order.

You might wonder what kind of AI would be appropriate for wading through your e-mails and seeing if there's anything important there. And I would answer: AI with some CIA roots.

Seer claims to know which requests are urgent and which are just the usual flim-flam and bunkum from your boss. It claims to have such a fine and proprietary algorithm that it already knows precisely which e-mail you should write next.

Yes, the one to Suzie, the CEO of the company that makes diamond-studded riding crops.

This fine app even reminds you, by digital post-it note, when someone's been rude enough not to employ their own robot and therefore failed to reply to an urgent e-mail of yours.

I asked Conall Arora, Seer's co-founder how he'd got hold of CIA intelligence. He told me: "Our adviser used to consult for the CIA and Department of Defense, and helped developed the techniques Seer uses to pick out actionable phrases like 'can you send me', or 'does this work?'"

I am not sure if the original phrase the techniques developed was "can we get into his e-mail without him knowing?"

The "intelligence" part of "artificial intelligence" has always fascinated me. Sometimes, it doesn't seem so, well, intelligent. Or even intelligible.

Seer iPhone Preview from SEER on Vimeo.

So how does this particular AI work? Arora told me: "It uses your sent folder to see who you normally respond to. If you haven't answered them in the last 30 days, Seer will not display unanswered emails from them."

A question tingled my tongue: But what if Seer is completely and utterly wrong? What if I really like someone and they're extremely important to me, but I'm just sulking?

Arora explained: "You can adjust these settings and its extremely easy to dismiss in the cases where Seer's assumes incorrectly."

Here's the thing about all these robots. They still make you do the work before they do the work. They don't really know much at all.

Still, what if Seer starts nagging? Arora said that won't happen: "Seer will remind you once a day, if you give it permission and select a time during the setup."

Indeed, he said that most people who have used the app only spend one or two minutes a day to catch up with everything.

But what if you don't listen? Will it get mad at you?

Arora reassured me: "If you remain lazy, despite all of Seer's efforts, it will not make any judgments. It is just a robot, after-all."

The judgmental robot is at least a year away.