pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Sun May 6 20:12:39 EDT 2001
Dear Colleagues -
My recent comments about product convergence were mostly prompted
by hybrid hardware with implausible combinations of functions, sort
of analogous to the old marketing research technique called "gap
analysis" gone wrong. In gap analysis one searches for previously
unexplored combinations of product features. This can lead to
successes like wine cooler drinks, but also to fish-flavored dog
In the realm of software there are initiatives that address the
nature of human purpose in more subtly complex ways, where
"fish-flavored dog food" may be harder to recognize amidst more
interestingly beneficial possibilities. I am talking about software
"agents," designed to perform specific tasks on your behalf.
A recent Scientific American article about the "Semantic Web"
by none other than Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide
Web, speaks of the future possibility of Web pages whose content is
meant solely for the use of other computers, specifically their
software agents. This is definitely worth reading, if only in the
sense that extensions of html are long overdue--many say we should
never have accepted html for its present WWW uses. And visit
This site is a handy portal to intelligent agents, software tools
that automatically perform a variety of tasks on the Internet.
While the Scout Report has reviewed a number of search agents in
the past, this is the first agent portal we have come across. At
the site, users can learn about agents and the tasks they perform,
browse a comprehensive directory of agents resources, and choose
from over 500 downloadable agents. Other resources include a free
weekly newsletter, a forum, and information on customizing agents.
(from The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout Project 1994-2001.
In reading about the projections of agents into tasks other than
tedious routine, notice how the prospect of boredom from inactivity
never gets mentioned. For as long as I have been paying attention
to this, starting with reading and films about the 1939 New York
World's Fair (see David Gelernter's "1939: The Lost World of the
Fair", Avon Books, 1995) engineers have sought to automate and
standardize. The housewives in automated kitchens, the husbands in
automated cars, the children in automated learning environments,
are always smiling symbols of progress.
Apart from how well the avowed purposes are really being performed
in those situations, keep in mind the Lewis Mumford quote "By his
very success in inventing labor-saving devices modern man has
manufactured an abyss of boredom that only the privileged classes
in earlier civilizations have ever fathomed."
All best, --PJK
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