Had to Stop and Think. A Smart PDF?

Scrolling through LinkedIn the other day, a few connections had liked and shared a post where my initial response was, “That… That is stupid. Who would want that?” The link is below:


What on earth?  Why would I ask a PDF a question?  The first two things I saw that were wrong were:

  1. I’m not actually asking the PDF.  The implication is that I would ask the PDF on a phone or a tablet or wherever, and that’s just not reasonable.  Really, I’m asking Adobe Acrobat’s built in cloud service with regard to whatever PDF is open and available.
  2. Why wouldn’t I just ask my assistant of choice (Siri, Cortana, Ok Google, etc)?

However, I did actually spend a few more minutes of brain time on it and decided it wasn’t the worst idea.

Caveats and assumptions abound! First, we’re going to assume the questions you ask your PDF are sent to another service and nothing happens on the local device. Second, I’m going to assume no personal/sensitive data. For personal use, I have no problems, but corporate use would abound with trade secrets, account numbers, prices, etc.

Now, it sure would be nice if we were talking about having the “smarts” in the PDF itself, or even in the PDF application. Then I would love to have it read to me, ask to tell me when transactions happened or who signed the document or whatever.

PDFs could never have that type of technology crammed in. At least not currently. I’m more inclined to believe that as noted before, it’s calling on a service. Being able to interact with the PDF itself, though, would be huge given Adobe Reader’s prevalence. Without that foothold, i would be surprised if something like this could really get off the ground. Again, I’d throw my money behind the major assistants that already have a foothold.

What made this “not the worst idea” is that they’re moving in a direction that makes this technology expected (and accepted) to anyone using a device of any kind. Because Adobe has built the smarts to be accessible by their client, there’s not a reason to think that anyone wouldn’t start using that ability. I mean it’s just a PDF right? Everyone is automatically trepidatious around AI and Facebook or Google or the big privacy companies. No one would suspect their innocuous PDF!

Opening the door is how most of this technology becomes accepted. No one wants to pay for it, but if it’s provided and able to be opted out of, more and more end users adopt. Think about the self driving concept; lane change warnings were the start, followed by lane assistance, followed by self driving test, and now completely autonomous driving is coming up quick.

I should never have opened the can of worms that is autonomous vehicles because now I’ve got a need to share that particular future. I won’t go into it, but with AI assistants becoming more prevalent from devices to applications to who knows what next, the future is going to be very interesting. Should I be torn that I hate that no one knows phone numbers anymore because of the convenience of cell phones? I’ll be honest, remembering phone numbers was wasted brain power, for the most part. As long as those numbers can be synchronized from device to device, then we are winning! I do have other concerns around things like my siblings learning “calculator skills” in high school to help supplement general mathematics knowledge. Much like thinking giving kids iPads is teaching them “technology”, calculators are a fast thing for something you should be able to do already!

The future, as I said, it thrilling and scary and gives us all hopes and fears, but I’m inclined to believe that we have opportunities that we cannot pass up. As long as we leverage these advances for the general good – and with the express intent of bettering humanity’s lot – I don’t see how society can lose.