Touching hands

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In chapter three, software agents, agent-like applications, a concept called "agency", and Information Brokering were brought to your attention. In chapter four the concepts of Ubiquitous Computing (UC), Calm Technology (CT) and Augmented Reality (AR) were introduced.
As these concepts may at first sight not seem related to the previous chapters, in this chapter it will be explained just how all these concepts may become related, and why they are likely to play an increasingly prominent role in the near-future.

Currently, the technically minded are pretty much able to satisfy their information needs. But not all are technically skilled enough to work on the Internet, World Wide Web, and similar online environments. And the number of people with a lack of these technical skills will only get higher in the near-future. What’s more, many of these people may never have worked with computers at all, let alone they can work in a place like the Internet. Yet, these people will want to use the online market place. This means that ‘somehow’ they should be able to get to the information and services they want or need just as easy as the technical folks can.

Thus, some ‘things’ are needed that go beyond the current set of tools and techniques. What is needed are ways to shift people’s focus from the technique and the "how" part of their activities, back to the task itself. As has been partially shown in the chapter three and four, and as will be further elaborated in this chapter: UC, CT, AR and software agents could help to accomplish this.

In the past, researchers in the field of Artificial Intelligence have tried to create programs that would understand and assist people. Yet, even today AI is not anywhere near the point where it can come up with a program or application that is capable of understanding and assisting people during their daily activities.
With the current surge of object-oriented, mobile and distributed applications, it is time to start looking for a solution in a whole new direction. A direction where intelligence, the ability to assist people, and many similar activities, are not put in one monolithic entity, but where these abilities or facilities are spread out over, and integrated into, people’s daily environment. Ordinary objects and tools become extended with a certain amount of "agency" (see chapter three). The agency of each individual tool - which could be anything from a desk, a computer, to a book - will be rather minimal, but all these entities together form an environment where people can interact with the online market place in a very natural way.

Agents and agent-like entities, as well as the cluster of UC, CT and AR, will each serve their own purpose in this respect.
It may be expected that UC, CT and AR will be mostly used in the real, physical world, by people that are not (that) comfortable working with computers and similar tools. Agents and agent-like applications will most likely be used in the virtual world - e.g. in Cyberspace, in the online market place - by people that are more comfortable working with computers and similar tools, and who want to use the available techniques and applications (more) actively.
It is important to point out that these concepts will not just enable anyone to access the services and information they need, but much more to get those services and that information that are the most appropriate at a certain time, location and for that particular person; just giving everyone access to the online market place would be highly undesirable, and would not help anyone at all. It would only increase the number of people that suffer from information overload.

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Chapter 5 - Tomorrow's Internet: an Ubiquitous and Agent-serviced Online Market Place...? "Desperately Seeking: Helping Hands and Human Touch" -
by Björn Hermans