Web Services Wizard And Frederik Pohl's Joymaker

Can't my computer just take care of it? If I know the name of a song, can't my computer just go get a copy of it from iTunes? If I need an appointment with my dentist, can't my computer contact the dentist's office computer and find an appointment time that works for both of us?

One of the people working to make that happen in Charles Petrie, senior research scientist in the Stanford Logic Group of the Computer Science Department.

"A world wide wizard, through some kind of magic that I'm going to explain in a little bit, would know and do things," Petrie says. "He would know when things had changed in cyberspace. He would know the effects of those changes. He would know, because those things had changed, what else should be changed."

(Charles Petrie wants a joymaker
[even if he doesn't know it])

The Internet should make this level of interaction possible; ideally, this "cyberspace wizard" would not just be a program on your local device:

"This isn't just a piece of localized software running on your desktop; this is running on the Internet and interacting with a lot of people—the guys in your band, your legal adviser, the songwriter that you're working with, the shipper for your equipment, the charter plane [operators], owners of the venue that you're going to," Petrie explains. "You're sharing schedules and budgets and plans as they're revised. There are a lot of people interacting here, and this wizard is controlling the interactions."

I always appreciate it when engineers share and work toward science-fictional futures like this one, which was imagined eloquently by Frederik Pohl in his 1965 novel The Age of the Pussyfoot.

In the novel, the lives of every person on Earth were mediated by joymakers, which were super-PDAs - or BlackBerries on overdrive.

The remote-access computer transponder called the "joymaker" is your most valuable single possession in your new life. If you can imagine a combination of telephone, credit card, alarm clock, pocket bar, reference library, and full-time secretary, you will have sketched some of the functions provided by your joymaker.
(Read more about the joymaker)

When working as a "cyberspace wizard," the joymaker made use of your interests profile:

"...Have you filled out an interests profile?"

"I don't think so."

"Oh, do! Then it will tell you what programs are on, what parties you will be welcomed at, who you would wish to know. It's terrible to go on impulse, Charles," she said earnestly. "Let the joymaker help you."

"...I don't understand," he said. "You mean I should let the joymaker decide what I'm going to do for fun?"

"Of course. There's so much. How could you know what you would like?"

Improving the technological magic behind web services is the subject of contests like the Semantic Web Services Challenge, held at Stanford in 2006 and sponsored by the Stanford Logic Group. The next challenge will take place in Innsbruck, Austria, in June. Judges certify that participants have solved the problems and then rank their software. I like the way they determine the winner - it's the participant who gets the task done with the least programming.

You might also be interested in another project to really give your "cyberspace wizard" a helpful face - see Rity - Sobot Longs To Be Near You, about a software application that can actually transfer itself from one computer to another to be close to you. Browse through some of the products and services predicted by Pohl in this novel, like cellphone caller lists, cellphones as credit cards, administer medications with your mobile device, cellphone voice mail and even get a Virtual kiss via tactile net.

More via this Stanford press release - Web services 'wizard' may help computers do people's work, researcher says.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/6/2007)

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