Frank Mitchell

Attention aware interfaces

Reading an article off of got me thinking about a few things. The first is that, yes, I too am capable of being horribly distracted by my computer. But I’m also capable of being horribly distracted about anything. When I get into a zone, I don’t come out of it. As my grandfather once pointed out, “Frank can sit right in the middle of chaos and tune it all out.”

More interesting than that little personal tidbit, however, is a comment made by Alon Halevy, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington.

“‘Suppose you trusted your e-mail system enough that you’re alerted to an e-mail only if it’s really pertinent right now,’ Halevy said. ‘If I knew the right thing was happening with my e-mail, it wouldn’t be such a distraction.’

"Halevy said this is a very difficult problem because it requires sophisticated natural language comprehension on the part of the software. ‘Completely solving the natural language problem is still decades away,’ he said, but ‘extracting useful information out of e-mail is a simpler instance that could make much faster progress.’

"Halevy is working on what he calls semantic e-mail, which provides some structure to the originating e-mail to make it easier for the software on the recipient’s side to understand it and assign a priority.”

Personally, I find this kind of stuff fascinating. People over at Microsoft are doing more research on the subject of bringing our world into the realm of the computer, and it all leads towards asking the question:

What could we do if our computers were aware of their users?