2.The Role of Intelligent Systems
Intelligent interfaces, advanced infrastructure services, and powerful tools are necessary prerequisites to the construction of National Challenge applications in areas such as health care, electronic commerce or twenty-first century manufacturing. In this section, we describe three roles for intelligent software systems for the foundational substrate of the NII, and suggest the types of AI research necessary to transform the NII vision into reality.
In Subsection 2.1, we explain how intelligent user interfaces could act as assistants to both novice and expert users, helping them navigate the NII’s labyrinth of databases and efficiently interact with advanced services. By responding to high-level requests in spoken language and other natural modalities, by communicating information both verbally and graphically, by automatically determining how and when to accomplish the goals of individual users, and by adapting to the skills and desires of those users, personal assistant agents will allow humans to benefit from information resources and facilities that might otherwise overwhelm them with their size, complexity, and rate of change.
In Subsection 2.2 we describe a set of general infrastructure services that could act as a foundation for construction of intelligent interfaces and development of the National Challenge applications. Examples include intelligent indices that help track resources, integration and translation services that convert between heterogeneous representations, softbots and brokers that act on behalf of information consumers and producers to create an efficient information economy.
In subsection 2.3 we define several software development tools and environments that could speed the construction of the advanced user interfaces and network-resident applications and services described previously. By providing intelligent support for specification and refinement tasks, rapid system prototyping will be possible; by exploiting work on collaborative planning and agent architecture, current work on computer-supported cooperative work and distributed simulation and training environments will be made more effective. The effective marriage of modern software-engineering methods with state-of-the-art AI technology will provide the means for constructing and strengthening the virtual organizations needed to develop and maintain new software and hardware resources for the NII.
The resources and facilities provided by the NII will only be useful insofar as users have simple and effective ways of finding and using them. With the increasing number and kinds of services and resources available electronically (such as news wire stories; medical images; government information; electronic commerce and banking services; multimedia libraries and tutoring systems; music, film, and interactive entertainment; scientific articles; and online debates) potential users will be overwhelmed and frustrated unless access is both simple and effective. The conventional tools of computer-human interaction will not suffice for this next generation of applications; experienced users are already overwhelmed on today’s fledgling Internet. The gap between current tools and the NII’s human-computer communication demands leads to a crucial challenge: providing intelligent interfaces to resources so that people can use the NII without difficulty. From the perspective of the "NII as information superhighway," an intelligent agent is the competent chauffeur who knows every road and quietly performs routine errands. This software agent acts as a personal assistant. To be called "intelligent," it must satisfy several interrelated criteria:
Integrated: Users should not be forced to remember the details of particular databases or the wide and growing variety of services and utilities to use them effectively. Instead, the system should support an understandable, consistent interface that tunes itself to the task at hand.
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