Artificial Intelligence is making its way into emails - and this for years already: Gmail has integrated a Smart Compose feature in 2018 and Outlook Suggested Replies in 2019. The Google AI tool "uses machine learning to interactively offer sentence completion suggestions as you type, allowing you to draft emails faster".
And Outlook states: "When you use the Suggested Replies feature, Outlook uses a machine learning model to continually improve the accuracy of the suggestions. This model runs on the same servers as your mailbox within your organization. No message content is transmitted or stored outside of your organization."
Both systems apparently learn from your own emails to improve their replies - but this is not all.
With the current hype in AI, new tools are being released like Ellie and HyperWrite. These tools are supposed to speed up your email workflow, but will in fact have an opposite effect. While already today many people complain about the flood of emails that they are receiving and that they are barely able to handle, AI will make this problem only worse.
Read on to learn why AI will not improve your email workflow.
What Smart Compose by Gmail and Suggested Replies by Outlook have actually done is that they have changed the way we write emails: Instead of going straight to the point, we write emails bloated with courtesy phrases and other unnecessary sentences, taking away time from the writer as well as the reader.
Future AI functionalities will most likely go into the same direction. It could even end in a never-ending cycle of politeness:
The AI of the sender composes a long, nicely crafted emails containing only one small piece of important information.
The recipient uses an AI to condense the email to a short tl;dr to save time.
The recipient also uses an AI to compose a long, polite reply to the sender.
The original sender uses an AI to condense the email into a short tl;dr to save time.
And such the email conversation continues. Both, sender and recipient, communicate in long, elaborate emails, composed and read by AI, bloated with polite phrases and unnecessary words.
The German newspaper "Die Zeit" recently published a humorous piece with the title "At your command, Captain" describing exactly how AI can harm our day-to-day office jobs:
"For some time now, Microsoft's Outlook email program has apparently been using a misanthropic artificial intelligence to scan incoming messages and suggest what it considers to be an appropriate response. The result is an over-zealous Yes-I-will-do-this-right-away, a No-problem-I-will-try-my-best bordering on self-sacrifice, or a mendacious That-sounds-reasonable. This could be because the AI is also fed up with follow-up communication and has already quietly quit because it would much rather write novels, theses and speeches, compose ballermann hits or simply prepare stews. Or the fact that saying no has been abolished in our highly technical present and replaced by automatic cheerfulness."
"This makes sense, of course; no one likes to hear a "no." It's considered impolite and exhausting because, in case of doubt, it expresses a self-determined will that gets in the way of others. AI serves as a regulative instance to the oddball, reluctant nature of humans."
One must ask the question whether using AI in emails is a useful application of technology or whether the computing capacity could be used on more important tasks while people learn to compose short, to-the-point emails with only important and precise information included, instead of bloated phrases of politeness. This would actually speed up the workflow for everyone.
Regardless, it is no mystery that large language models that scrape our texts and data to train their systems can not, by default, respect our right to privacy. For instance, the AI chatbot ChatGPT has become known for its privacy issues.
What we actually need from email is not smart compose or suggested replies, we need to focus on what is important: Writing precise and to-the-point emails, leaving out all the extras that just get in our way.
That's why we at Tutanota will not add AI functionality to our encrypted email client. Instead we focus on what is important: protecting your data to the maximum with automatic encryption.
With Tutanota you get the most secure email service - without unnecessary and privacy-infringing functionalities.