AI Features a Waste of Time?

I was letting my mind wander the other day and this thought hit me hard:

How many cumulative programmer-hours have been utterly wasted on adding very mediocre AI features to every app imaginable which rarely actually helps you?

Speaking from a pure product perspective, I’m thinking of putting off that work-a-day feature like “Autocomplete should work for name or email address, not just email” and instead we get months of effort for a garbage AI integration that you try once, just for the novelty.

There was a great conversation on Mastodon about this, feel free to dive into it over there. Here’s a deeper version of that idea.

An Example: Spark Email

Let’s expand on this a bit with an example (and make this idea more permanent than a social feed screaming past) and talk about the Spark Email client.

I’m actually a huge fan of this app. It’s revolutionized how I handle email personally and across many accounts at Talk Python (contact@, sales@, support@, etc.).

But Spark is deep in the mode of adding AI for hype’s sake and who cares if it screws the product or distracts from incredibly low-hanging bug fixes and features.

You see the “Now with +AI” in the image above, right? That’s foreshadowing.

A work-a-day improvement they missed

Spark lets you snooze email and does so, along with many other commands, through their command palette (CMD/CTRL + K). Just hit those keys, type snooze, then type how long.

But what can you enter? It let you pick tomorrow and next week from a list or type a custom time. But the accepted text for a time is very very limited.

You can type jan, 6 at 1:30 and it’ll snooze until then, awesome! But what if you screw up and type January, 6 at 1:30?

Nothing, you can’t snooze until then! What if Jan 6 is actually next Tuesday? Can you say snooze until Next Tuesday at 1:30? Nope, it’s Jan not January and not next Tuesday, nor is it in 3 days.

The app is full of little rough edges like this.

Improving snooze is probably an afternoon for one of the main devs.

But no, it’s “Now with +AI”. Don’t you see how much better it is?

What do we get with this AI?

Because it has AI, it does awesome stuff like using the AI to fix grammar and spelling. Let’s see how this amazing feature works.

I first write a nice email (lovely looking, right?)

See that just was misspelled along with a few other words in that sentence. Here comes the AI to the rescue.

Below, you can see it perfectly corrects the spelling for the email. Thank you!

Yes indeed! The spelling is fixed. AI for the win. But because this is just jammed into the product, it absolutely destroyed all the formatting. The cool quote thing is gone. The image is actually deleted. The bold is gone. Everything is gone except for plaintext.

Can we focus for a bit?

Just how much better would this already nice app be if they just hit all the little rough edges and fixed things like that insane percision that is needed for snooze? Or even make the AI work like you’d expect.

This is what I mean when I asked: How many cumulative programmer-hours have been utterly wasted on adding very mediocre AI features to every app imaginable which rarely actually helps you?

And yes, I did report both of these bugs (lack of variations for snoozing and format breaking under AI spell checking) a few months ago. Maybe in 6 months when the AI features are done, we can tweak the regex for snooze, maybe, …, some day. Meanwhile, keep on proofreading with AI I guess.

Have Thoughts?

Join the discussion of this post over on Mastodon.