Thought Experiment: OmniMinder

I’m guessing this discussion may have already happened in the past, so apologies if this is rehashing something.

But… What would have to be true of a Beeminder-like product for it to be a practical and ~complete replacement for executive function? That is…

  • Everything you wish to do is tracked
  • Everything you wish not to do is tracked
  • You never do something positive unless it requires it
  • You never restrain yourself from doing something negative unless it demands it
  • Your day, from waking until sleeping, is entirely planned by it
  • It successfully maximizes your personal utility function on average over time, even as your utility function’s definition changes

What could we conclude about the necessary properties of such a system?

How would changing the definition of the system change these required properties in interesting ways?

What could be sacrificed to get to a 50%, 75%, 90%, etc, match to the definition?


I’ve done some work and mentoring with an amazingly talented person who worked at IDEO and some other places like that, and one of the tools he’s fond of is “put a person in the box”. I forget the exact details of the anecdote where that came from, but it’s similar to the Mechanical Turk. The idea can be used in different ways at different places in design, but here, I’d suggest including “can I get a person to do this and what would that look like?”


I like to call this idea “nannybot”. A hypothetical tool that would tell me minute by minute exactly what I should ideally be doing – work-wise, rest-wise, and anything-else-wise.

I’ve even sometimes called this the holy grail of Beeminder:

See also:


what a fascinating thought experient!! it never crossed my mind, to be honest. so naturally, until i read through the “do you want a nannybot?” forum thread linked above by @dreev, i was firmly in the camp of:

please, this sounds very horrible!

so, i wouldn’t have even come here to add my two cents …
until i read this answer given in the straw poll way back when:

:eyes::eyes::eyes::eyes::eyes: now that sounds interesting!!

i think i could very much benefit from a compassionate, non-rigid, artificially intelligent nannybot! something that periodically reminds me: “hey, it’s been a while since you did X, maybe you would enjoy doing that again?”, “hey, you’ve now spent 4 hours straight doing X, are you still enjoying it / is it still useful, or do you want to do something different for a change, like Y or Z?”, “hey, you’ve now spent 5 hours straight doing X, and it’s already 1 a.m., you should probably consider going to sleep …” etc. etc.
(it’s just that i don’t want to have to be near my phone 24/7 all day ever day. so i guess my dystopian ideal is a chip implanted in my brain that functions as a sort of voice in the back of my mind :P [and would work even without a wifi connection / without having to be near a phone, etc.])

for various reasons, i would hate to have my day rigidly planned out in advance, minute-to-minute (even hour-to-hour, probably). i want flexibility! i want spontaneity! i very much don’t want something like this:

there is a very, very strong, inherent rejection inside against this idea. XD i want to do positive things when i feel like i need them / want to do them. even if the ai would perfectly mirror all of my wants and needs, i kind of imagine it going like this:

ai: “you seem to feel down, maybe try Positive Thing That Could Make You Feel Less Shitty?”
me: “since you mentioned it … no!” *does not try*


me: “i’m feeling down. i could maybe try Positive Thing That Could Make Me Feel Less Shitty?”
me: *tries it at least*

(yes, that’s probably bad, and it might not even be accurate. i might very well be wrong in my self-assessment in this case. but at least theoretically i feel strongly enough about this point to mention it here.)

i also don’t want to bother with thinking about what my “ideal weekday” or “ideal saturday,” etc., would look like. especially since there’s so many different ways these could go! i don’t have a regular 9-5 job that makes my weekdays all similar. weekdays are usually kind of simialr to each other, as far as structure is concerned (last monday is kind of similar to next monday, etc.), but that also changes periodically still, with my uni schedules being different each semester / during uni breaks. and ideal saturdays could go a million ways, not all of which are predictable/plannable in advance.

tagging @dreev for some feedback-y thoughts about the blog post linked above: (all quotes are from the “known issues” section)

“1. You can’t currently have a deadline before noon. We’ll be changing this but for now the interface isn’t good enough to make clear the distinction between, say, a 6am earlybird deadline and a 6am night-owl deadline. I.e. all morning deadlines are of the night-owl variety.”

is this still accurate, is a change for this still on the eventual roadmap? or is it currently regarded as fine as is? (i personally think it works good enough, but obviously people use beeminder differently.) either way, the point might benefit from an “UPDATE: insert_status_quo_here” notice. (considering that the blog post is from 2014.)

“3. Some autodata sources make this difficult by only giving us data at day granularity, which means we have to honor their notion of what the day boundary is. Or maybe we can work around it by adjusting the timezone in the external account. For now, you can only customize deadlines for non-autodata goals.”

same question here, is this still on the eventual roadmap? could it ever be technically possible to set deadlines for autodata goals that differ from the autodata-source-deadlines? this point might also benefit from an “UPDATE: insert_status_quo_here” notice.

“4. Some of us are very used to the midnight/3am deadlines and we’re worried that people (including ourselves) may change deadlines and forget they’ve done so and accidentally derail. So we’re working on various ways to make the deadlines more in your face. And if you do accidentally derail because of this, definitely reply to the legit check to let us know!”

its been almost 9 years since that blog post went live, i would assume that nobody is confused about this anymore. so this point is probably most definitely deserving of another “UPDATE” notice.

after the 4 known issues are detailed at the end of the blog post, it says: “UPDATE: Ongoing tracking of the aftermath of deploying this is on the forum.” i apologise if the points i quoted above are discussed in that forum post; i don’t have the brainspace to read through that forum-thread right now. (among other reasons also because i believe it might be too technical for me to fully understand it / stick with it / search through it.) i do think that the blog post itself should still get UPDATEs, even if these things are mentioned in the forum post, for various reasons (people might read over the forum link, they might not want to dig through the forum discussion to find current info about things mentioned in the blog, etc.).

ps. not sure if old blog posts get corrected for minor typos, but just in case, here’s another quote from the same one: “For the sake of tidiness we may run some updates in the coming the weeks to correct timestamps on old datapoints,”


I’ve been using SkedPal ( ) and have been really loving it.

It has a bit of a learning curve but if you’re using it daily, that lasts about a week. And it has a good tutorial to walk you through it. (Pro tip: open two windows while going through the tutorial. One to watch the video and the other to do the things in so you don’t have to remember what they showed you after.)

I crammed my very, very long to-do list into it and it basically plans out my whole day for me and adjusts when things come up. I’ve quickly become a big fan.


Thanks for sharing! I’ve been using for the same purpose over the last week; it’s definitely helping a lot but I feel that it’s not as powerful as I want. I’ll give a try to SkedPal :eyes:


If anyone ends up giving it a try, they have a pretty good tutorial but there was one small piece that tripped me up during the first week:

When you write out your task, you can include a date or day and it will be parsed and added to the task’s details. If you want to “plan” it for a certain day, you just write the day, but if its due date is a certain day, you write “due Day”.


“This is my task Saturday”
will create a task called “This is my task” that you plan to do on Saturday

“This is my task due Saturday”
will create a task called “This is my task” that is due on/by Saturday

Everything else I felt like the tutorial got me through pretty clearly.

I hope anyone who gives it a try enjoys it as much as I have been!


This sounds like the premise of the Naomi Kritzer short story, “Better Living Through Algorithms.”.

And if you like it, there’s another one of hers also about an AI that tells people what to do (for their own good). This one is called “Cat Pictures Please” and is from the AI’s point of view.


Another short story with a similar theme is “The Perfect Match” by Ken Liu.

PS: Thanks for sharing “Better Living Through Algorithms,” I enjoyed it.


That was a really good story. Scary part is it actually seems close to doable at this point. As ChatGPT 4 has gotten really good give it a couple years and something like it will probably exist. Though my concern is that it would be used for less than altruistic purposes. Though maybe one day there will be an AI that could connect to beeminder that could input data for you.


I agree. There are already some forays into this idea with apps like Motion (not to be confused with the note-taking app Notion) and others claiming to help you plan your day with AI. I haven’t tried any of these AI-planner apps myself and don’t know how powerful or helpful these particular AIs are.


Thanks for sharing this, I love reading Ken Liu’s work. The themes in this have edged even closer to reality since it was published, over a decade ago.


Oh yes. Oh yes. I would pay a LOT of money for something that did everything the following does for me, all at once, elegantly put together.

  • Beeminder
  • Integration with my budget or credit cards and bank accounts
  • Todoist or Omnifocus with a TaskRatchet payment option
  • Where for both, I could upload proof, as if the public was my BaaS
  • Calendars (event calendars for personal and for work, plus a calendar to time block my day, that integrates into my todo list)
  • Routinery, with different calendars for planned and completed routines
  • Rize (like Toggl or RescueTime but with better auto tracking imo), with a calendar for tracked time
  • Everything the Cold Turkey apps do, which they do perfectly imo
  • With the ability to add rich notes to any object

Perfectly executed, this would be worth $400 CAD to me per month.