Daniel Amor
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  • Radical Simplicity
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  • Title: Radical Simplicity
    Author: Daniel Amor and Rick Hayes-Roth
    Publisher: Prentice Hall, New York, 2003
    ISBN: 0131002910
    Pages: 360
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  • Daniel Amor spoke at the Search Engine Optimisation conference of the Ark Group about "Delivering targeted content to multilingual users".
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Donald A. Norman, Northwestern University and the Nielsen Norman group, Author of The Invisible Computer

Hayes-Roth and Amor have provided a long-needed, essential book for the technology and business strategists who will provide the services.

Hal Abelson, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT

Today's computing tools force people to adapt to them, rather than doing what people really want. This book shows how.

interex.org, 2003 - Book Puts Computing in Its Place

A new book bearing the HP Books imprint, "Radical Simplicity: Transforming Computers into Me-Centric Appliances" by Frederick Hayes-Roth and Daniel Amor, takes Hewlett-Packard's Cooltown ideal and discusses not only the potential for pervasive computing, but how it can be achieved.

The book, published in conjunction with Prentice Hall PTR, offers background and an introduction to me-centric technology, but then looks into the future of the computing ecosystem over the next 10 years.

Hayes-Roth was chief technical officer for software at HP and has also served as chairman and CEO of Tecknowledge, a company focused on intelligent Internet transactions. He is a fellow of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. Amor is chief technologist of e-commerce for HP in Germany.

Me-centric technology turns the notion of computing on its head: Instead of humans adjusting to how computers operate, computers would adjust to how we operate.

"While technology advances, people should always think about how to simplify the use of technology and make the technology the slave and not the master," the authors write in their conclusion.

Hayes-Roth and Amor discuss ways to re-architect products and services around users and some of the business opportunities that will arise because of that. They highlight emerging technologies from agents to Web services that are already on the path to intelligent computing.

The authors envision technologies that respond to human voices, language and gestures and that come together seamlessly to perform given tasks. They look at how to design this type of computing system as well as the technological components needed to create Web services, hardware and software.

Some examples the authors cite of how this idea can work in daily processes are:

The book also contains a glossary and list of me-centric Web sites.

Accu.org, February 2004 - James Roberts

[...] In summary, this book has some interesting ideas, which it presents convincingly. However, I would have hoped for more details, both in terms of the vision and how it might be implemented.

Daniela Petrelli - University of Sheffield - 13 October 2003

[...] Radical Simplicity is authored by two chief executives at the Hewlett-Packard Company and has been written for technologists and business strategists. Being addressed to a specific target audience has affected the book's style. For example, the language is sometimes very technical and full of acronyms, which are not always explained in the glossary provided. To give the reader an idea here an excerpt from pg. 203:

"These protocols include the standards ones, like Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), Secure HTTP (HTTPS), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), new transport protocols are about to be established: DIME, HTTPR, and BEEP."

If you have a good basis in computer science you will certainly enjoy the detailed descriptions on how future technology will be implemented at the different  computational levels. If, on the contrary, you do not feel confident with acronyms like XML, SOAP, and UDDI, do not worry, just skip some pages without worrying too much: the book indeed contains a set of interesting ideas. The examples in Chapter 2 show how today's tasks will change in the future and let the reader wonder about devices that can automatically connect to each other, adapt their transmission with respect to the current constraints, check if messages have been properly delivered and disseminate information to be found by the right person at the right time in the right place.

For the authors all of this can be done by implementing software agents, programs written at a very high level that are autonomous, communicative, and perceptive:

"...the agent is capable of operating as a standalone process and performing actions without user intervention. It can communicate with the user, other software agents, or other software processes, and is able to perceive and respond to changes in its environment." (p. 211)

Everyone sees the advantage of delegating work and it is obvious that there are tasks, like negotiating the best bandwidth for video transmission, that no user is keen to do by him or herself. Another area where agents can be of help is in monitoring and assuring that a procedure is followed as planned, e.g., workflow automation.

Less reassuring (for me) are the speculations on software agents able to understand users' desires and intentions and acting autonomously to satisfy those. The authors briefly discuss the crucial point of trust: delegation is based on the trust that the agent will do the assigned job properly, and if a mistake occurs the effect will be marginal. Indeed, in my opinion, a full discussion on trust and responsibility is missing in the book, which favours a definitively positivist view of agent technology. The very first page of the book sketches a day in 2010 where "your personal assistant agent" autonomously collects and assembles information to satisfy your boss's requests, organizes a conference call for you, and orders your shopping, taking into account that you are on diet. Think of the worst case: the agent not only fails to order your food, but also collected wrong information that negatively affects your career: who is responsible for that? Whom did you trust? You The agent? The company that built it? The programmer?

Sure software agent technology is evolving rapidly and it might be that, in ten years time, my fears will dissolve. For now, I lsuggest that you read the Wall Street Journal article of the 26 November 2002 by Jefferey Zaslow entitled, "If TiVo thinks you are gay here's how to set it straight", which describes the misadventures of users trying to rectify agents' beliefs.

Great book on technology, May 28, 2003 - Frank Schoch from Frankfurt, Germany

Roth and Amor provide a great book on how to simplify technology. If we do not try to simplify it, it will become unmanageable in the future. The book shows what the problems are and how to solve them. Unfortunately, production was weak and there are some figures are not very well readable. Please change this in the reprint.

Designing a Me-Centric World is cool!, March 31, 2003 - Matthias Blendheim (see more about me) from Palo Alto, CA USA

This book talks about a radical change in IT. It shows how computers should be programmed. Not in a tool-centric way, but in a user-centric way, meaning that not the functionality is the main focus, but the usefulness of the system towards the user. In many cases, you can see systems that are full of features everyone and nobody needs. If these systems would only provide the functionality that I need at a given time, it would reduce the complexity of that system and would enable me to do my work faster. By connecting all sorts of devices and services, it is possible to create new me-centric service chains that can give better value to me.

The book provides a lot of good ideas how this can look like in the future, but also shows what is necessary from a development point of view to make this happen. Technical, social and business aspects are introduced and enable the solution architect for a new product/service to make it me-centric.

A must for product development!

The right approach - computers do it for me, March 18, 2003 - Billy Henderson from Vancouver, Canada

Although it may seem simple, so far computers did not actually do work for us, the did the work instead of other tools. Word ist just an electronic typewriter, but did it write the text for me? No! The next generation of computers will be different. They will actually do work for us, they will make their own decisions and execute predefined work tasks in an intelligent way. Sounds spooky? Maybe, but if you trust your secretary, you should also trust your computer. Hayes-Roth and Amor show us how this brave, new world may look like. Very interesting read, indeed!