Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Taking On Personal Assistants

June 25th, 2010 / in research horizons / by Erwin Gianchandani

Last week it was Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings who was facing
competition. This week it’s assistants everywhere.

In the second in a fascinating series of articles titled “Smarter Than You Think” being published by The New York Times Magazine this summer, writers Steve Lohr and John Markoff illustrate how artificial intelligence is transforming how we answer questions, complete simple tasks, and assist one another.

This Sunday’s story highlights the work of Eric Horvitz, a member of the CCC Council, whose team at Microsoft Research has developed a “medical avatar” that can understand speech, recognize symptoms of pediatric conditions, and reason according to simple rules. The avatar is able to interface with real-life patients and make initial diagnoses of their ailments, much as any medical assistant would. All the while, it’s piquing the curiosity and earning the trust of the children it’s serving — a future generation of computer users.

Eric’s team is also working on a related class of “digital assistants”; visitors to his office are greeted by an avatar who knows all about his schedule and meeting habits. And as The Times‘ story emphasizes, these technologies and others like it are affecting many facets of our daily lives, from in-car GPS navigation systems to iPhone apps, from telemarketers to product manufacturers’ support centers, etc.

I encourage you to read this outstanding feature in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine — and to explore the terrific interactive multimedia accompanying it:

The medical avatar in action;

How the medical avatar could change future visits to the doctor; and

A timeline detailing how far we’ve come in natural language processing, machine learning, data mining, etc.

And you can learn more about Eric’s work on his website:

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, Director, CCC)

Taking On Personal Assistants