When Project Oxygen began in 2000, one of its first undertakings was to further Shrobe’s prior work on an intelligent conference room that helps people run more efficient meetings. The latest version of the room can, when prompted by spoken commands, show agenda items on a wall display, transcribe and save participants’ comments, or find pertinent video clips from previous meetings.
Over the past four years, the intelligent-room project has expanded to include other places where people share ideas-even the vicinity of the water cooler. Shrobe’s group has designed kiosks to tuck into these informal meeting spaces so researchers can record casual work-related conversations and technical scribblings. Today the group is working to couple intelligent spaces with a software platform that will allow people in different locations to share and display data with whatever gadgets happen to be handy-perhaps cell phones, or a projector in a meeting room.
The researchers are also considering problems that will arise and creating solutions as they go. What happens, Shrobe asks, if you’re in a meeting and don’t want to be disturbed, and then “I just start blasting bits onto your [personal digital assistant] screen?” Shrobe’s group suggests managing such requests according to the cultural rules whereby organizations already govern access to their members. If you wanted to show a business contact a presentation, you probably couldn’t just march into her office unannounced and take over her computer; you’d have to schedule a time to meet with her or find out how best to send her the presentation. Likewise, a ubiquitous system would need to coordinate with other organizations’ systems-behind-the-scenes digital receptionists that would tell it how particular people could be reached.