App of the Week: Alfred, the Personal Recommendations Robot

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Is there a more universal #firstworldproblem than being stumped on where to eat for dinner? Sure, there are apps like UrbanSpoon, whose randomized restaurant picks take a bit of gamesmanship. And, of course, there are more democratic choices like Yelp or even City Search.

But the Achilles heel of crowdsourced reviews is that it’s impossible for them to be personal; they draw their collaborative power from a pseudonymous user base, each contributor opining based on a far-ranging set of preferences. Sometimes this will land you at joints that are decidedly ho-hum, at least according to you.

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Which is why this week’s App of the Week is a credible alternative. Alfred is a personal recommendations robot that gets “smarter” the more you use it. Developed by Clever Sense and released two weeks ago in July, they’re dubbing it a “Pandora for the real world”; a description that’s refreshingly apt.

So far, Alfred’s generated 20,000 downloads with more than a million recommendations generated. Download it for free here.

The premise is simple: You answer a few short questions and input in a few of your favorite haunts broken down into categories like dinner, coffee & tea, nightlife, brunch etc. Alfred will then present you with a list of similar local businesses that you assign either a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” if you’ve already been there.

After flying through a few local businesses (which are gorgeously assorted), Alfred begins to “learn” your tastes and develops a better sense for the types of spots you frequent. You can further organize the ideas Alfred throws out there by filtering price, location and keywords.

The interface is astonishingly simple, and Alfred’s ideas are more-or-less spot on. There’s even a “Teach” option (right) that shows how smart—or tailored—Alfred is becoming, measuring his A.I. on a scale of 0 to 100.

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Is it perfect? Not quite, but the app itself has loads of promise. And if you prefer, there’s still a way you can see what other people are liking via a “popular” tab. Still, Alfred has a ways to go before it reaches Yelp’s (or even Foursquare’s) level in terms of saturation and businesses offered.

In many ways, Alfred is the opposite of social optimization: It caters explicitly to you and only you. But sometimes in a market as crowded as the restaurant-finding space, taking care of you is exactly what’s on the menu.

Chris Gayomali is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.