radical simplicity - transforming computers into me-centric appliances


It's hard to make predictions—especially about the future.
Robert Storm Petersen

Disruptive New Technology

Until recently, the growth of computer usage was driven primarily by our need to easily work with numbers and text. Computers in the backroom were invisible to us. Computers on our desks and laps were powerful business tools, making us prolific tool users.

Initially, this meant our days included extra work that either wasn't necessary before computers or was done by assistants, graphic artists, and typesetters, among others. The computing trend became to use more tools more of the time, to process more information. Productivity gains were modest initially, but probably reached diminishing returns some time ago.

The world is about to be turned upside down, however. Or perhaps, more exactly, inside out. Whereas previous generations of technology built a tower of new computing tools that required a new mindset to use, the next generation is being built around the human, supporting our different roles and groups.

This technology is called me-centric because it fits into the individual's life in a natural way—it conforms to preferences and requirements, takes orders, and automates any number of delegated tasks. In me-centric computing, every appliance becomes part of my environment, my team, my} extension. I get increased power and save time because the vast power of computing technology is working in concert to do my bidding.

The Fourth Wave

The first wave of computing addressed back-office transactions; it was a simple number-crunching business. The second wave provided interactive tools for office work. With the introduction of the personal computer, the architecture also shifted from a central host to the so-called client/server model. The third wave allowed everyone to access and exchange information. Three-tier architecture emerged to overcome the limitations of two-tier architecture. One of the most prominent applications of the third wave is the Internet.

The fourth wave will transfer everyday work from people to machines. It will multiply the time and reach of everyone, and initiate an explosion of machine-to-machine negotiation, problem-solving, and transactions. With the recent emergence of smart applications, it has become obvious that the computer is not a machine whose main purpose is to get a computing task done. With its attendant peripherals and networks, the computer has become a machine that allows us to explore new capacities to communicate, reaching new audiences in ways previously unthinkable.

The fourth wave will empower appliances with built-in computing and communication abilities that will make them work smarter on our behalf. Computing as we know it will transform into a computer-supported collaborative effort rather than a solitary one.

This revolution in computer usage will be unleashed by founding computing architecture around knowledge of the user, giving the user the capability to delegate work to computers; thus, computing functionality will begin in the interface the user accesses to various devices; work will be tasked from this interface to various computers, applications, and intelligent agents distributed around the world on the Internet or its successors.

This transition will exploit several technological trends already underway, including advances in Web services, communications, interfaces, information processing, and agents. Demands for computing, storage, bandwidth, and management will soar. Though the technology will be more complex, it will become increasingly invisible, as it disappears into our new communicators, problem-solvers, personal assistants, and living spaces.

Smart appliances and intelligent agents will change the way we work and live by working \textit{for us}. Here are just a few ways it will affect the industry:

  • Telecommunications and utility companies will automate location information to route the closest engineer to a customer.
  • Insurance agents will download and complete forms on their PDAs and submit them via wireless connections to expedite on-scene accident assessments.
  • Once privacy and security issues are resolved, mobile banking will become commonplace.
  • Doctors' offices and hospitals will process forms and prescriptions using Internet appliances, to be able to treat patients more quickly.

To begin to understand where this revolution will take us, just look at TiVo, which records TV programs that match your interests and delivers them to you whenever you want. Using similar technology, here are a few simple examples of how agents and smart appliances will affect our homes:

  • Personal assistant software will keep track of birthdays and anniversaries for you, then suggest gift purchases for people as these special dates approach.
  • Automated travel agents will know what types of vacations you like and when you like to take them, and they'll find them at the best prices.
  • Bots will actively manage your liquid assets, achieving 50-percent better cash management through continuous monitoring of rates across various Internet-enabled financial institutions.
  • Washing machines will determine when it is cheapest to wash based on water and energy prices, initiate contracts with energy suppliers, even start your laundry at the specified time. Other appliances will suggest and prepare your dinners, drive your car---the list goes on.

This book is called Radical Simplicity because new technologies have the power to achieve the ultimate simplification of technology: Make it disappear into the devices and appliances that do for us what we want them to.

Moving on to a New IT-supported Society

Society has used IT so far as a tool. With me-centric computing, IT will become more tightly integrated into society than ever before as it takes over services and processes autonomously. The future computing ecosystem will be interwoven with society in such a manner that it may become difficult to distinguish between communicating with other people and communicating with intelligent appliances.

Today, computers are the masters, and users are the servants. In a me-centric world, this will gradually shift as the vision of computing becomes a reality. As a result, user frustration will decrease, because the devices and services will adapt to the needs of the user, as opposed to the other way around. It will be also much easier for the user to change service than it is today. Through repetitive usage, the IT products will get to know more about the user, providing shortcuts and other information based on past experience with the user.

In addition, intuitive input and output interfaces, such as voice and gesture recognition, will make communicating with devices easier than in the past. They will also be less expensive, opening the door for much broader market appeal than exists today. In Japan, for example, disposable mobile phones are available that are made out of paper.

By broadening the user base and simplifying the interaction between humans and computing devices, me-centric computing will become truly pervasive and support users in every possible situation.

Who Should Read This Book

This book should be important to technology and business strategists. It tells the technology strategists how the IT world and the end-user expectation will likely undergo a major revolution within the next ten years. Those who miss this wave likely will feel that they missed a major opportunity and were left selling or supporting anachronistic approaches. Me-centric computing is about a fundamental shift in the value proposition of IT—its value will rise as less time is spent learning to use it, leaving more time to reap the benefits.

Business strategists will need to ask how their companies can participate in this revolution. If they're IT companies, they need to rearchitect products and services around the user, not around the network and server equipment. In fact, the networks and services will be transformed greatly by the changed demands these usage patterns will create. If they're IT purchasers or customers, they need to exploit the opportunity to build up new IT assets that directly address measurable productivity goals—something that will be made easier with smarter tools.

Besides strategists, this book is also aimed at product designers, product marketers, and R\&D leaders who need to get started now building the new wave of products. The book provides a clear set of steps that can help to make these products successful.

Lastly, the book should be irresistible to readers who like to see the big waves coming, far enough in advance to choose whether to ride them or get out of the water. The leading edge of this wave is already visible, but the full impact is barely perceived.

Rick is a world authority on IT and artificial intelligence, and was the CTO for Software at Hewlett-Packard, a company uniquely positioned to participate in all elements of the revolution. Daniel is a well-known author of books about e-business and is chief technologist for e-commerce for Hewlett-Packard in Europe.

The anticipated changes in daily life are exciting, provocative, and readily accessible. The historic significance of discontinuity in human-machine relationships will stimulate the imagination and provoke an active participation in future opportunities. The consequences of the transitions, the nature of the transformations, and the timing of opportunities will stay with readers long after they finish the book.

We expect many new businesses to coalesce around the vision and bring to market whole new categories of products and services in the next few years. In addition to gaining insight into the future, you will learn about the key technologies that are collectively combining to create these disruptions, how they work, and how they work together.

How This Book Is Organized

The book is organized in five parts. The first part provides an introduction to me-centric computing and its historical roots, and provides some showcases to make it easier to understand what me-centric computing is about and how it can be applied to everyone's life. In the first chapter, a historical review of computing is presented, and some of the most important trends are analyzed. Chapter 2 provides a set of scenarios that show how me-centric computing can be applied. These range from personal services to enterprise-level services using a variety of networks and devices.

The second part of the book describes the design elements of a well-defined me-centric solution. It provides an overview of the different input and output interfaces that can be used for me-centric computing and provides an introduction to the design models that make me-centric services successful. Chapter 3 provides an overview of human-computer interaction (HCI). It describes the different means of communicating with smart appliances and what needs to be considered in doing so. This chapter also provides some insight on context awareness and how it can be applied to smart applications in order to reduce the amount of input from and to the user. Chapter 4 describes in detail the different approaches for good design. Good design takes not only technology into account, but also many other areas of science.

The third part details the architectural building blocks on the technology side. It digs into the data exchange mechanisms behind me-centric computing, which is built on XML technology. It provides an introduction to agent technology and Web services, which provide the infrastructure for me-centric applications. Chapter 5 provides an overview on me-centric architectures. Chapter 6 provides an in-depth review of Web services and how they have become the infrastructure backbone for the me-centric world. It also offers a detailed description of XML and how it can transport information through different devices, processes, and applications. Chapter 7 talks about agents and how they can be made intelligent and mobile for improved interaction between applications, humans, and devices.

The fourth part is about new business opportunities that will arise as me-centric computing becomes reality. This part tries to explain the impact me-centric computing will have on the economy, IT, and the people using it. Chapter 8 explains how devices will look in the future and how they will be constructed to be competitive. Chapter 9 provides an overview of the way me-centric computing will revolutionize our lives, no matter how involved we are with it.

The fifth part of the book contains the two appendices, the bibliography and the index. The first appendix provides an extensive glossary of all terms that are connected to me-centric computing. The second appendix provides an overview of Web sites connected to me-centric computing.


Rick would like to thank the many enlightened colleagues he has worked with over the years who have contributed to the vision of intelligent agents, me-centric user interfaces, and task-oriented problem-solving. Chief among these are the visionaries Allen Newell and Raj Reddy of Carnegie-Mellon University and many DARPA leaders who promoted these possibilities long before they seemed practical. It seems obvious now that AI, intelligent interfaces, and the Internet, all developed with DARPA support for decades, will combine to transform our lives in profound and positive ways. Rick's former colleague, Bob Anderson of Rand Corporation, started developing software around these ideas more than 20 years ago. Good novel things apparently take some time to ripen.

Daniel would like to thank first and foremost his wife, Sabine, who is supporting him now with his fourth book in three years. He would also like to thank his readers who provided invaluable feedback and all colleagues and customers who he has worked with and gained insight. Thanks also to Gabriel Seher of IBM for his important input. Special thanks go to Jana and Mike for the trip to Lausanne.

Rick and Daniel would like to thank Pat Pekary of HP Press and Jill Harry of Prentice Hall for their invaluable support in getting this book completed. They would also like to thank Ralph E. Moore for his contribution in reducing the complexity of some parts of the text.

If you would like to contact the authors, you can send an e-mail to Rick at radicalsimplicity.com or to Danny at radicalsimplicity.com. More information about the book and its topics can be found on the book's Web site at http://www.radicalsimplicity.com/.