Where is my OLIVER?

I was recently rereading Licklidder’s “The computer as a communications device” (1968; available as a pdf) and was struck by this image of a personal network agent. It seems as though people do a lot of talking about this, but I want to know where mine is. Is the Bayesian spam filter the best we are going to do on this. It seems like filtering email, along with social network data, should get this done. But it doesn’t seem, to me at least, to be a fundementally “hard” problem:

You will seldom make a purely business trip, because linking consoles will be so much more efficient. When you do visit another person with the object of intellectual communication, you and he will sit at a two-place console and interact as much through it as face to face. If our extrapolation from Doug Engelbart’s meeting proves correct, you will spend much more time in computer-facilitated teleconferences and much less en route to meetings. A very important part of each man’s interaction with his on-line community will be mediated by his OLIVER. The acronym OLIVER honors Oliver Selfridge, originator of the concept. An OLIVER is, or will be when there is one, an “on-line interactive vicarious expediter and responder,” a complex of computer programs and data that resides within the network and acts on behalf of its principal, taking care of many minor matters that do not require his personal attention and buffering him from the demanding world. “You are describing a secretary,” you will say. But no! Secretaries will have OLIVERS.

At your command, your OLIVER will take notes (or refrain from taking notes) on what you do, what you read, what you buy and where you buy it.It will know who your friends are, your mere acquaintances. It will know your value structure, who is prestigious in your eyes, for whom you will do what with what priority, and who can have access to which of your personal files. It will know your organization’s rules pertaining to proprietary information and the government’s rules relating to security classification.

Some parts of your OLIVER program will be common with parts of other people’s OLIVERS; other parts will be custom-made for you, or by you, or will have developed idiosyncrasies through “learning” based on its experience in your service.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 11/4/2004 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Yup, if you consider Bayesian filters a form of computer learning, then yes. It’s currently the best way to filter spam (wrote a paper on the War on Spam). I’m currently using the same baysian filter on my academic blog to delete off comment spam. I like your auth-image hack better though.

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