Oxygen’s fifth technology deals with people’s need to find useful information. We are designing Oxygen so that you can first check your own knowledge stores in ways that are familiar to you. The system will allow you to say simply, “Get me the big red document that came a month ago,” forgoing reference numbers and other clues. Oxygen will also check the stores of friends and associates who agree to share their knowledge with you, in the same sense that you might ask a friend or a co-worker a question if you don’t know the answer yourself. Finally, Oxygen will search the vast information stores on the Web and “triangulate,” relating what it finds there to your and your associates’ stored knowledge bases.
Oxygen will also let people off-load routine and repetitive work onto their electronic bulldozers. It will help users write scripts for automating various jobs, as well as monitor and control the many appliances connected to the Enviro 21s. “Turn up the heat.” “Print it there.” “Every day at noon, give me the price of my portfolio and the weather in Athens.” Oxygen will take care of such instructions using a reason and control loop, which allows a person to guide the machine gently as it carries out automated tasks.
The system’s collaboration technology will help people keep track of what they do as they move forward. For instance, the system will keep a hyperlinked summary of a meeting, provided by a human secretary, with the help of speechunderstanding annotations. When you ask what was decided about, say, a new building’s glass roof, it will give you the secretary’s three-word summary—“We eliminated it”—but if you desire will also let you probe deeper into the chain of spoken and video input that led up to that conclusion.
Last, Oxygen will include customization technology that tailors information to individual needs. There will be no shrink-wrapped software. All software will be downloaded onto the Handy 21s and Enviro 21s from the Net 21 network, triggered by user requests, errors or upgrades. The customization technology will also let people adapt the machines around them to their own needs and habits throughout their use of the other Oxygen technologies.
A Claim and a Wish
Oxygen, then, is an integrated collection of eight new technologies: handhelds, wall and trunk computers, a novel net, built-in speech understanding, knowledge access, collaboration, automation and customization. The power of Oxygen lies not in any one piece but in the totality of these human- oriented technologies together. They forge a new computing metaphor that we hope will mark an important shift from the desktop and icons of today, as those innovations did from text-only systems.
I will now stake a bigger claim: I believe that the five technologies of speech (and other perceptual capabilities), knowledge access, automation, collaboration and customization are the only new kids on the block. Out of the thousands of things that we can imagine doing in the new world of information, these five are the foundations on which any new activities that help us do more by doing less will be built. For the next few decades at least, they are the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brakes we seek—as well as the forces leading to a fullfledged Information Marketplace.
If this claim is valid, it suggests that people who want to exploit the new world of information should explore the capabilities of the new Oxygen technologies. Every individual and organization will have access to them. The ones who will truly do more by doing less will be the ones who learn how to integrate these technologies and their people into a well-oiled, humming whole. And good Oxygen applications that exploit speech, knowledge access, automation, collaboration and customization will make it easier for people to reach their full potential. Imagine a health care application built on top of Oxygen: for knowledge access, it might use Medline (a searchable, on-line database of articles from medical journals, made available by the U.S. National Library of Medicine) and the patient records of hospitals, both available by speech. It could automate routine medical and administrative tasks, help doctors collaborate with one another and much more, taking its application “personality” from the capabilities of the underlying Oxygen system.