55 its ridiculous that my own computer cant gure out

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Unformatted text preview: ruptSCIENTIFIC A MERIC A N PETER HOE Y COPYRIGHT 2004 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC. 55 ! “It’s ridiculous that my own computer can’t figure out whether I’m in front of it, but a public toilet can.” computer science and raises issues of privacy, complexity or reliability. Nevertheless, “attentive” computing systems have begun appearing in newer Volvos [see box on opposite page], and IBM has introduced Websphere communications software with a basic busyness sense. Microsoft has been running extensive in-house tests of a much more sophisticated system since 2003. Within a few years, companies may be able to offer every office worker a software version of the personal receptionist that only corner-suite executives enjoy today. But if such an offer should land in your inbox, be sure to read the fine print before you sign. An attentive system, by defi nition, is one that is always watching. That considerate computer may come to know more about your work habits than you do. ed, they not only work less efficiently but also make more mistakes. “It seems to add cumulatively to a feeling of frustration,” Picard reports, and that stress response makes it hard to regain focus. It isn’t merely a matter of productivity and the pace of life. For pilots, drivers, soldiers and doctors, errors of inattention can be downright dangerous. “If we could just give our computers and phones some understanding of the limits of human attention and memory, it would make them seem a lot more thoughtful and courteous,” says Eric Horvitz of Microsoft Research. Horvitz, Vertegaal, Selker and Picard are among a small but growing number of researchers trying to teach computers, phones, cars and other gadgets to behave less like egocentric oafs and more like considerate colleagues. To do this, the machines need new skills of three kinds: sensing, reasoning and communicating. First a system must sense or infer where its owner is and what he or she is doing. Next it must weigh the value of the messages it wants to convey against the cost of the disruption. Then it has to choose the best mode and time to interject. Each of these pushes the limits of Minding Your Busyness mos t p e opl e a r e n ’ t a s bus y as they think they are, which is why we can usually tolerate interruptions from our inconsiderate electronic paraphernalia. James Fogarty and Scott E. Hudson of Carnegie Mellon University recently teamed up with Jennifer Lai of IBM Research to study 10 managers, researchers Overview/Sensing Attention ■ ■ ■ ■ C omputers continue to grow cheaper, more powerful and more pervasive. Human attention, in contrast, is a scarce and fi xed resource. As we spend more of our time surrounded by “smart” devices, their productivity-sapping, stress-inducing interruptions increasingly detract from their value. Researchers at corporate and academic labs have developed several powerful techniques that enable computerized machines to estimate their user’s cognitive load and focus of attention. Engineers are testing prototyp...
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