Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Squeak Up

Stefan Marti at MIT's Media Lab Speech Interface Group has come up with a idea he calls the Autonomous Active Intermediary. This is essentially a device that acts as a facilitator between a person and their communications network. To this end, Stefan has come up with The Cellular Squirrel, an agent that sits between you and your mobile phone.

The basic concept goes something like this: mobile phones are very intrusive and distracting and integrating them into your personal situations is never elegant. So why not do something really natural and familiar to everybody, like have a squirrel take your calls!

This is how Stefan puts it:

The conversational agent is able to converse with caller and callee—at the same time, mediating between them, and possibly suggesting modality crossovers. It deals with incoming communication attempts when the user cannot or does not want to. It's a dual conversational agent since it can converse with both user and caller simultaneously, mediating between them.

Oh, I can really see how that's going to turn out...

Caller: Hello, is that Pete?

Squirrel: No, this is his squirrel.

Caller: His squirrel? O-o-k-a-a-y... can I talk to Pete?

Squirrel: What's it about? He's pretty busy.

Caller: Um, I'd really rather discuss this with him than with a squirrel.

Squirrel (sighs): Oh very well, I'll see if he can talk to you.

Squirrel (to Pete): Hey dude, there's some glue-sniffer on the line, too good to talk to a squirrel. Whaddya want me to do?

Pete: I'm busy nailing up this wainscotting, can you take a message?

Squirrel (to Pete): Sure chief, anything you say.

Squirrel (to caller): Well nuts to you fella - he says he don't want to talk jive with no squirrel-hater. State your business or shuffle off to Buffalo.

I don't want to seem like I'm completely ridiculing this idea. I can see how it could be really cool. One of the (many) things I like about Philip Pullman's amazing 'His Dark Materials' books is the animal daemons that Lyra and her folk have with them always. I'd really like a little animal familiar, especially in this enlightened time when nobody holds silly superstitious beliefs that can get you hung as a witch. Much.

I kind of fancy a parrot, myself, it being in keeping with my piratical bent & all. It obviously leapt pretty smartly into Stefan's mind also, because he already has a working prototype of one of those as well:

But for Stefan, the squirrel is obviously the agent du jour. I have to admit, it has some surreal cachet. I long to be able to say:

"Hey man, good to see you! We should do lunch. I'll get my squirrel to talk to your squirrel and we'll sort something out!"


Blogger Sefton said...

Where can I get a phone cow? I'm not such a fan of the squirrel.

October 20, 2005 1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did this start out as a Fritz Lang thing?

October 20, 2005 1:22 AM  
Blogger r.fuel said...

I'll take one, but only if it's got the same personality as yours.

October 20, 2005 3:12 AM  
Blogger Joe Fuel said...

Nice. I think it should be a flying squirrel or a sugar glider. That way it could mediate even if you were walking around your house.

Freaking sweet though.

October 20, 2005 3:54 AM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

jedimacfan: You really want to consider very seriously whether you want a cow doing your mediating. Let me tell you, it's caused me no end of misunderstandings.

anne arkham: The Fritz Lang 'Rottwang' Autonomous Agent was not a big hit. People didn't take to mediation being carried out by a hand-sized tarantula.

r.fuel: My cow has that personality... as do some monkeys of my acquaintance.

joe: Kind of like an Airport-enabled Rocky? Nice idea. I'll write Stefan and suggest it.

October 20, 2005 7:33 AM  
Blogger nina h.pixie said...

Hahah, how fun-- your own personal phone squirrel. I would never use such a thing as I loathe anything that happens over a phone these days (don't even own a cell, hoorah....) However, were there to be a pirate in place of the squirrel, I might think twice about the whole phone-phobia thing. I'm keen on pirates-- Big City Orchestra has been working on a very large project involving a pirate theme which will be released very soon called 'Salty Sea Shanties For Young Pirates' (with a colouring book illustrated by our friend Mike Dringenberg of Sandman fame). We've been working on this project for over 12 years and it's just about ready to go-- finished recording one of the best tunes just last night in the studio-- we were up til the wee hours creating lots of sound effects with whatever we could grab from the yard (old glass bottles, wooden planks to creak and wine jugs to blow into to make them sound like foghorns).

Oh and by the way, we played a track from Perpetual Ocean on the radio show Tuesday night-- I'll be posting the mp3 archive at Olla shortly.

October 21, 2005 3:44 AM  
Blogger anaglyph said...

weirdpixie: Hey thanks for the radiating of my music. Hope you enjoyed it. Love to hear the pirate piece...

October 23, 2005 5:08 PM  

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