Ever wished there were two of you so that you could achieve more and stress less? Then Personal.ai is for you.
Conversing with Sharon Zhang, the co-Founder and CTO of Personal.ai, is an all-embracing experience. She makes you think, she inspires you, and she gets you to believe that anything you can imagine is possible. Most importantly, she understands human nature and innovates to make people’s lives—including her own—easier.
Zhang is a busy person; after all, she is an entrepreneur in a cut-throat industry. So when her father pointed out that he wanted to keep up with her when she was not at home, she took to her engineering roots and came up with a solution: Personal.ai, which she describes as a “digital version of your mind”.
Nobody knows our thoughts, emotions and work as we do. So, with Personal.ai, you get access to a virtual twin who can pick up some of the slack on your behalf. For instance, say you’re at your local grocery store and can’t recall what you came here for. Your personal AI will remind you; after all, it remembers everything so that you don’t have to.
But how does it work?
Zhang breaks it down for us. “We take all of your data that you may create on social media, marketing, blogs, tweets, and build your own personal AI.” It is different from AI applications that exist today, as most are aggregated, and “you simply cannot find your [personalized] information”. Put succinctly, Personal.ai is like “Google for your own mind”, where a quick search can help you recall any lost thoughts.
Indeed, AI is cool and futuristic. But Zhang realizes that it’s also important that AI be humane. Pointing to the Netflix docudrama The Social Dilemma, she notes that innovators have done an extraordinary job when it comes to creating advanced AI technology. But, in the process, we might have forgotten about aligning tech with human needs and goals. In the end, AI is not just about numbers on a sheet, but it is also about considering people’s needs and feelings.
Remembering everything: a double-edged sword?
One of the standout features of Personal.ai is making sure that you don’t forget anything. Yes, remembering business ideas that pop up in our heads in the shower or people’s birthdays would be great. However, would you really want to remember a break-up or rejection? We wouldn’t.
Zhang acknowledges that conundrum. She says, “It’s funny because we actually started the company with the thesis of people forgetting a lot, and we want to help you remember everything.” Biologically, you can forget things, but that is not possible in the digital realm. The company has a solution for that, too.
She expounds, “If I have some information that I never want to remember again, I can either choose to delete it from my digital mind (the Personal.ai app) or not interact with that piece of information.” In the end, it’s about capturing everything but only recalling what we want.
Building use-cases for content creators
Besides changing how we interact with our loved ones and ourselves, Personal.ai has been giving due attention to increasing its commercial use-cases. She notes, “For myself, the use case is [that] I want to connect with my family. For someone else, it could be, hey, I want AI to help me write my book or write my blog.” One of the cases is assisting content creators.
Last November, the company started onboarding content creators to use the platform. “They have three things that make them ideal audiences. The first one is they already have lots of content. So you can almost create your AI right away, and you don’t have to accumulate more data overtime.”
Secondly, they have the constant need to create content, which can be a cumbersome process that AI can assist with. Finally, they have a large audience that interacts with them. However, due to the multiple demands of their limited time, content creators cannot interact with their fans regularly. Personal.ai does so on their behalf.
In the future, your AI will be a part of you—literally
Currently, to use Personal.ai, you must log onto their website and use an app. However, the future will look very different. Zhang has a clear vision of where Personal.ai is headed, and it feels straight out of a sci-fi movie.
She points to the right side of her head and says, “Eventually, you will be wearing a device somewhere here on your temple so that [it] can detect your eye movement.” She looks across the room to illustrate her grasp on basic human tendencies that often go unnoticed. “We all have this very specific gesture like I just did right now. I always look up and to the side while I’m trying to remember something.”
The device would detect your eye gestures and, taking the surroundings into context, it would remember your habits. For instance, if you are in a grocery store at a specific location where you like to buy specific things, the AI will take notes and remind you. The information is then stored on the app that you carry around with you.
Being a woman in the tech industry
Yes, Zhang is a visionary, but she is also a woman in a primarily male-dominated field. This drives her to do more.
For her first job, Zhang went to a primary school to speak about tech. In the audience was an excited little girl aged about seven years, who was enamored by what she was getting to learn. She wanted to know more and do more. The experience made Zhang think, what happens between that age and the age we reach high school?
How do we lose all these passionate young girls? “Maybe we didn’t give them opportunities. Maybe we didn’t show them that it’s possible,” she affirms. That was her biggest motivation. As a woman in tech, she feels that it’s important to show young girls that, “Hey, this is where you can be, so go for it.”
Zhang is the ideal case study of a woman climbing the ladder in a field dominated by men. And she owes it, in large part, to her upbringing. “My family always encouraged me to study engineering and science. So there was rarely this perception that, as a girl, I should do something else.” But when she moved from China to the United States, she felt the disparity.
The only girl in her high school physics class, she felt alone but never deterred. She admits, “I realized I have fewer role models. In my first job, I was the only woman in my entire engineering team. But, I always had adamant support from my colleagues and mentors throughout my life.”
Zhang’s advice for other women entrepreneurs
“Find support,” she advises. There are many women-centric communities out there for entrepreneurs at the entry-level or executive level. She urges women to surround themselves with positive people who empower them to pursue their dreams.
Secondly, whether you are passionate about science, math, technology or the humanities, remember that you can change the world just as much as anyone else could. “There were moments in my life where someone told me to just marry rich. But my argument was always, hey, I want to pursue the things that I want to pursue. I didn’t go to [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] for someone else to support me for the rest of my life. So, don’t lose your passion, and don’t lose your dream,” she concludes.
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Header Image by Personal.ai