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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"

While I agree with most of what Pattie has to say about agents, I must
counter her as to the reason that people shy away from technology. 
Pattie wrote:

>Computers are as ubiquitous as automobiles and toasters, but exploiting
>their capabilities still seems to require the training of a supersonic
>test pilot. VCR displays blinking a constant 12 noon around the world
>testify to this conundrum.

As someone who used to program VCRs for a living (retail electronics
sales and service) I can quite confidently say that the ability to
program one's VCR has little to do with intelligence or extensive
training in technology.  Here's a little tale that proves my point:

While in Ithaca, New York, I had the fortune of dating a grad student in
the physics dept.  She's a theorist in the field of General Relativity. 
Most of her research involves the writing of programs that predict the way
that various bodies will behave under gravitational collapse.  She often
has to run her programs on Cornell's supercomputer.  Let's just say that
it's safe to say that she's well trained in dealing with new technology.
When I first met her, she asked me to take a look at her "broken" TV and
VCR.  She was sure that her VCR was broken and her cable was not working
correctly.  At first glance it was obvious that she had misconnected the
whole system in a really bizarre way.  After looking at the VCR (which, by
the way, was blinking 12:00, 12:00, 12:00...) that she claimed had not
been able to record for years, I quickly realized that the digital tuner
had just 'lost' its memory and needed to be reprogrammed.  She asked, "How
did you figure out how to program it?"  "By reading the directions printed
on the panel cover," I replied. 

So why did such an obviously intelligent and well trained person totally
fall apart when it came to connecting and programming a VCR?  I think it
has much more to do with socialization and lack of interest than it does
with knowledge or aptitude.  As interfaces become more 'user friendly'
and the next generation of techno-larva hits the streets, we will find
the 'blinking clock' a remnant of the past.  We already have some
pretty slick graphical interfaces (thanks Mr. Jobs) that make using a
computer pretty damn easy, and they are bound to get better. (thanks for
the loan, Mr. Gates)  There is no doubt in my mind that future operating
systems will employ intelligent agent technology to better conform to
the way an individual uses their computer.

I just hope it lets me close the pod bay doors if I want to...

mark sottilaro <msottila@mailbox.syr.edu>

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