A couple of weeks ago, startup CEO Flo Crivello typed a message asking his personal assistant Lindy to change the length of an upcoming meeting from 30 to 45 minutes. Lindy, a software agent that happens to be powered by artificial intelligence, found a dozen or so 30-minute meetings on Crivello’s calendar and promptly extended them all.
“I was like ‘God dammit, she kind of destroyed my calendar,’” Crivello says of the AI agent, which is being developed by his startup, also called Lindy.
Crivello’s company is one of several startups hoping to parlay recent strides in chatbots that produce impressive text into assistants or agents capable of performing useful tasks. Within a year or two, the hope is that these AI agents will routinely help people accomplish everyday chores.
Instead of just offering planning advice for a business trip like OpenAI’s ChatGPT can today, an agent might also be able to find a suitable flight, book it on a company credit card, and fill out the necessary expense report afterwards.
The catch is that, as Crivello’s calendar mishap illustrates, these agents can become confused in ways that lead to embarrassing, and potentially costly, mistakes. No one wants a personal assistant that books a flight with 12 layovers just because it’s a few dollars cheaper, or schedules them to be in two places at once.
Lindy is currently in private beta, and although Crivello says the calendar issue he ran into has been fixed, the company does not have a firm timeline for releasing a product. Even so, he predicts that agents like his will become ubiquitous before long.
“I’m very optimistic that in, like, two to three years, these models are going to be a hell of a lot more alive,” he says. “AI employees are coming. It might sound like science fiction, but hey, ChatGPT sounds like science fiction.”
The idea of AI helpers that can take actions on your behalf is far from new. Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa provide a limited and often disappointing version of that dream. But the idea that it might finally be possible to build broadly capable and intelligent AI agents gathered steam among programmers and entrepreneurs following the release of ChatGPT late last year. Some early technical users found that the chatbot could respond to natural language queries with code that could access websites or use APIs to interact with other software or services.
In March, OpenAI announced “plug-ins” that give ChatGPT the ability to execute code and access sites including Expedia, OpenTable, and Instacart. Google said today its chatbot Bard can now access information from other Google services and be asked to do things like summarize a thread in Gmail or find YouTube videos relevant to a particular question.
Some engineers and startup founders have gone further, starting their own projects using large language models, including the one behind ChatGPT, to create AI agents with broader and more advanced capabilities.
After seeing discussion about ChatGPT’s potential to power new AI agents on Twitter earlier this year, programmer Silen Naihin was inspired to join an open source project called Auto-GPT that provides programming tools for building agents. He previously worked on robotic process automation, a less complex way of automating repetitive chores on a PC that is widely used in the IT industry.