Any.do’s Assistant Puts a Robot to Work on Your To-Do List

Any.do has long been one of the most popular apps for to-do list nuts, a simple and clean way to dump all the day’s tasks into one place and then cross them off with gusto. But Omer Perchik, Any.do’s CEO, and his team have been working on a new feature for the better part of the company’s six-year lifespan that he believes will redefine the whole idea of a to-do list. The internal codename for the project: Done.

Over the last several years, Perchik has watched as the 15 million-plus users of his Any.do app collectively added more than a billion items to their to-do lists. He’s learned that there are really two types of tasks: things you have to do yourself, like call your mom or brush your teeth or watch San Andreas, and things that just have to get done. You need your Comcast account cancelled, your dentist appointment booked, your wedding gift ordered. Sometimes a computer can help, sometimes you need a human touch, but you don’t necessarily have to do those things yourself, right? That’s the idea behind Any.do 4.0, which is out today for iOS and coming soon to the company’s other platforms. It’s a to-do list that does itself.

The beauty of the system, Perchik tells me, is that you’ll still use Any.do like a standard to-do list. Only now, whenever the service’s algorithms deem a task “actionable,” a dot pops up next to it. Tap the dot, and you’re taking into a conversation with the Any.do Assistant, a chatbot that can help you do what you need. If you’re shopping for a TV, it’ll quickly ask your budget, desired size, and more, and then go find options for you. You can buy from right within the app, with Any.do charging a service fee Perchik says ranges from 5 to 15 percent.

Any.do’s new app also has a calendar view.Any.do

This is the key difference between Any.do and services like Operator, Magic, and even Facebook’s M. It’s so important to Perchik that he takes to the whiteboard, diagramming the differences between “pull” AI, where users can try anything they want, and “push” AI, in which Any.do’s platform decides what it can do and lets users know. Rather than try to do absolutely everything users ask—which risks failure, confusion, or money-hemorrhaging, and frequently all three—Any.do’s starting small. “It’s pure added value,” Perchik says, because you’re already using your to-do list anyway.

His long-term ambitions are not small, though. They’re enormous. “You should think about Any.do as the first interface of a distributed Assistant,” Perchik says. He envisions putting the Assistant in your calendar, email, and notes, so all the tools you use can offer help. And he imagines Any.do as an interface for a teeming ecosystem of helpers, where companies or people can bid to be the provider of choice for booking flights, buying TVs, or streaming your movies. It’s a little bit Taskrabbit, a little bit Google Adwords, a little bit Clippy. (Perchik winces a bit when I mention Clippy, but doesn’t totally refute the comparison.) And it’s all based on your to-do list, which Perchik believes is hard to beat as a source of information about stuff you want and need to get done.

At long last, to-do lists are getting smarter. Todoist, one of Any.do’s biggest competitors, introduced a Smart Scheduling feature this week that helps you find time to actually do all the junk on your list. Microsoft is reportedly working on a new app that can suggest tasks for you based on what’s going on in your life. They’re all working toward what David Allen, the productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, calls Decision Support. He describes to me his ideal system, which would know “in these kinds of situations, this is what you tend to do most of the time—so what do you want to do? Its giving you creative, cool options.” As these services get more of our data, especially with signals as strong as tasks we need to complete, they can get really smart really quickly.

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