Beginnings of the DigitalFriend
Perhaps surprisingly, the realisation of the DigitalFriend technology, began with the following 600-word statement (below the next horizontal line) about that highly contested space between our individual minds and the corporate and political worlds - our 'personal attention'. I wrote it in 2003 as a Pitch, as a brief summation of my 199-page research Thesis titled: Shadowboard: an agent architecture for enacting a sophisticated digital self undertaken at the University of Melbourne, in their Intelligent Agents Lab - the premier AI research group at that university at the time.
I can tell you, summarising 199-pages of mostly very technical writing, at the cutting edge of AI at that time, into a 2-minute talk aimed at venture capitalists and their kin, was not easy!
. . . We did get some funding on our third try with it, a year later. Here's the 2-minute pitch:
Your Personal Attention Needs a Digital Friend
We are a time-poor, information rich people. We strive for quality in our lives: quality in the services we provide others; quality in our recreation; quality in our personal lives and relationships. At odds with this search for quality in our lives is the complexity and the time-sinks caused by the very services trying to improve our situation. Constant advances in information services has put broadband Internet - a 24 hour, 7days a week connection - within reach of a majority of people in our society. Every new service we subscribe to adds a new layer of commitment, a new layer of infringement upon our time. When we arrive in the office today, most of us now need to check: our email accounts; our physical mailbox; our intray; and our phone messages - all requiring our personal scrutiny in order to miss nothing, do everything asked of us, and remain the professionals that we are. Our 'personal attention', has become the most valued bit of 'real estate' in the modern world.
The DigitalFriend is a product that harnesses broadband internet as a useful timesaving, quality enhancing service, rather than allowing it to become yet another layer of commitment and infringement of our time and attention. The DigitalFriend is an umbrella technology, which harnesses a hierarchy of sub-agents and web-services. It harnesses them and concentrates them, so that just the important information reaches the user in a timely manner. The individual's attention is not overloaded with unwanted information, or information who's time hasn't yet come.
The under-the-bonnet technology within the DigitalFriend is appropriately revolutionary. Equally innovative is the interface to the DigitalFriend - the bit we see and deal with. It consists of the FUN interface (Friendly User Navigation) which acts like an information lens, capable of displaying nearly 600 individual sub-agents and web services, on the screen at the one time - an unlimited number in total. Compare this with conventional hierarchical tree managers, such as Microsofts Window's Explorer, or Apple Corporation's Finder, which are struggling to put more than 50 or 60 items on the screen in a related manner. The FUN interface to the DigitalFriend is an agent-oriented metaphor of electronic servants and friends, as opposed to the old desktop metaphor of Windows and Macintosh applications, which are document-centric, and office-bound in their conception and their delivery.
The DigitalFriend is a just-in-time minimalist attention grabbing technology, which monitors a large array of personalised information sources and events, filtering off the unnecessary, alerting the user when they most need to be - not too early, and not too late. The DigitalFriend product is a technology destined to transform a broadband service into one that brings quality to the lives of individuals at home and at work, were it may otherwise amount to just another layer upon the intray, the mailbox, and the message bank. Instead, the DigitalFriend turns broadband Internet into a liberating force.
Steve Goschnick's DigitalFriend Pitch, 2003
(Finale at an Executive Development Accelerator jointly run by Australian Distributed Incubator, and Ernst & Young, 2003)
Human in the Loop
We have also long been involved in research and development that proactively facilitates a Human-in-the-Loop approach to AI. Our first accepted research paper also happened way back in 2003, with:
- Goschnick, S.B. & Sterling, L. (2003). Enacting and Interacting with an Agent-based Digital Self in a 24x7 Web Services World. In the proceedings, Workshop on Humans and Multi-Agent Systems, at the AAMAS-2003 conference, Melbourne, Australia.
That workshop was organised and run by some people from NASA's JPL, who obviously, have a vested interest in intelligent systems that definitely have a human-in-the-loop - out there in Space!
Over the last decade or so, that human-focused approach in AI has morphed, or expanded into Human-Centred AI, which now serves us well, as an umbrella term into which both the DigitalFriend and our Human-in-the-Loop efforts fit quite comfortably. From our point of view, the AI/HCI research community has come our way, which has been somewhat of a vindication of our early research and the technology built upon it, since.
Our technology described in the following section is but a small example of how a human-in-the-loop can be inserted into a regular html web page.
The 'People' Part of 'SQL+PaWS'
In September 2007 we developed a simple but effective technology that makes Web services a whole lot easier to write and deliver - particularly powerful when coming from a relational DBMS (SQL-oriented) on the server-side. Its called SQL+PaWS: for SQL and People as Web Services. While such a web service can quickly be called and used in a mashup within the DigitalFriend (see Figure 1 below, in which the URL of an example SQL+PaWS web service has been pasted into a sub-agent specification form, and an SQL statement - which retrieves all countries in which the US Dollar is used as the main currency - has also been copied across), an SQL+PaWS web service can also be created by any web page publisher, without the need for an SQL DBMS at all.
Figure 1: Pasting the URL of an SQL+PaWS web service into the DigitalFriend.
The ubiquitous web browser generally requires a human read to retrieve information from the web. In contrast, Web services were developed to be a client-side programmatic interface to the world of servers out there. However, SQL+PaWS web services, as well as being used by application programs, can also be viewed in a web browser by people, both at prototype time, or in general (see the overview in figure 2 below). In addition, it allows people to very simply author web services that are directly readable by applications and mashups (by producing HTML <table>s that conform to the SQL+PaWS convention of writing such a table. See the official link: SQL+PaWS Specification).
Figure 2: Overview of SQL and People as Web Services (SQL+PaWS)
The world is becoming increasingly wired (and wirelessed?) with sensors, but, the world's best all-round sensor (and analyst) is still the Human Being, and is unlikely to be replaced as such for a very long time yet. The use of SQL+PaWS is potentially very generic as it includes a convention that allows people to post their own data in a particular HTML format - see October blog entry and the SQL+PaWS specification. I.e. Individuals who routinely collect data, can simply post it on the Internet as a Web Service to other people and/or organizations, without the need to use an SQL database at all. Figure 2 shows that either people and/or SQL-oriented databases can be the source of an SQL+PaWS web service, and either people and/or software clients (including the growing field of mashup applications) can also be the consumers of SQL+PaWS web services.
While all of the main menu items across the top of this page, do link to appropriate pages, most of the pages linked to by items down the left and right sides, are still being built. SBG: 2009-07-17