The Digital Companion
While promising to add great utility to people’s lives, most context-aware technologies depend on direct communication between humans and a known device or application. In reality, whether at home or on the road, people will also need help tapping services unknown to them-and with which they won’t ever want to interact directly.
Enter a third major aspect of ubiquitous computing: software agents, or bots, that root around behind the scenes to find services and generally get things done without bothering humans with the details. Many bots are already on the market, cataloging the Web for Internet portals or tracking customer preferences for e-tailers. But a new generation is at hand. Some bots are specific to individual devices or applications. Others are more like executive assistants-looking for bargains, negotiating deals and rounding up dozens of services into larger, coordinated actions.
Among the first bots to hit the market could be context-aware applications that seek to prevent information overload by filtering e-mail, phone calls and news alerts. Many firms are tackling this problem. At Microsoft, software agents-under-development make these decisions based on such factors as message content, the kinds of communiqus users read first or delete without opening, and the message writer’s relationship with the reader or position in a company organization chart. Agents can then determine whether to interrupt or not by correlating that information-with the help of desktop sensors such as microphones and cameras-with whether the person is on the phone, busy at the keyboard or meeting with someone. If the person is out, the agents can even decide whether to track him or her down via pager or cell phone.