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Devices dispense friendly advice
By Sally Atwood

Imagine picking up a novel at a bookstore, and instantly your cell phone receives a text message containing your friends’ opinions of the book, as well as suggestions for films you might enjoy. Media Lab doctoral candidate Hugo Liu is creating just such a system, called Ambient Semantics: a sensor embedded in a ring or wristwatch will read a radio frequency identification tag affixed to an object; the system will then search a database for information about the object and, on the basis of the wearer’s interests, send pertinent data as well as recommendations to his or her cell phone or PDA.

Ambient Semantics is powered by a database Liu built by gleaning information from Web pages, online communities, and social networks. The database, comprising some two million relationships between 100,000 items, can be used to predict personal preferences. For example, if a person likes Led Zeppelin, the database might indicate that she would also like the film School of Rock.

Liu says the next step for the system is feedback during personal interactions. Eventually, he says, when two strangers shake hands, their sensor devices will display their common interests and mutual friends, preventing missed opportunities.

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