Calendar.help is the latest Microsoft bot to help you schedule meetings
Microsoft are iterating fast on new ideas for bots, artificial intelligence and how they can make a real and positive impact on how we work.
The latest entry is Calendar.help. This is a service designed to take away the pain of finding a good time to schedule a meeting. Microsoft already have a service that does this – FindTime. The difference here though is whilst FindTime is an Outlook add-in, Calendar.help is more intuitive – just CC Cortana into the conversation!
How it works
Once you’ve signed up for the Exclusive Preview (I got approved after a few days, YMMV) then you can set some initial parameters such as your normal working times and the default length you’d like your meetings to be. Then, anytime you want to get Calendar.help involve you just CC firstname.lastname@example.org into your conversation! Here is me testing it out:
As I hoped in my email, the service is indeed clever enough to scan the email for clues about the time of the meeting and other parameters as well. I receive an email back from the service letting me know that things are happening:
I really like how it picks the name of the other person out and uses it in the email it sends back (the bits I’ve pixellated out), it immediately makes it feel more personal. And I love the signature – it makes me feel super important!
The other recipient then receives an email suggesting some times. These times are all times that are free with me. It’s kinda unclear from the email whether or not the suggested times are free for both people or not. It might be that the wording of the email is covering for the fact that I might not have full access to that person’s calendar. Regardless, this email is great – it’s exactly the sort of thing I’d have to do manually:
A one-liner reply from the other person of “Can we do Monday May 1st at 3pm” was enough to lock in the meeting time. Once that was happened the meeting was created automatically in my calendar and I received a confirmation email:
If things start to get complicated or out of hand, you can always visit the website to see pending or scheduled meetings, update your preferences etc etc.
Glimpse of the Future
This is pretty exciting stuff. This is natural language processing, bots and human-computer interaction, solving a real-world problem, and solving it with style. It’s not perfect and it’s probably going to get confused with large meetings or people who try and trick it. But computers don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be better than the alternative. Until I’m rich and important enough to have someone do my meetings for me, my choices are either I try and organise them myself or I let Cortana give it a go. From what I’ve seen so far, Cortana does at least a good enough job as me doing it.
This is technology solving a real problem. It’s also the perfect example of how computers will remove certain aspects of our working lives. Soon everyone will be able to have their own assistant, but no-one will need to employ one. This has both positive and negative effects on our society and how we work. Figuring those problems out may turn out to be the real work of the artificial intelligence revolution.
But for now, if you’d like to try out the future of calendar scheduling, head over to https://calendar.help and sign up for the preview. It works with Office365, Outlook.com and even Google calendars.