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Intelligent Assistant Systems: Concepts, Techniques and Technologies

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Information is becoming the raw material of modern society. That “difference that makes a difference” (Bateson, 1979) is the driving force of modern service industry. Our information spaces have been technologized and their size as well as their complexity increased. Access to information spaces and the capability to use them effectively and efficiently has become a key economical success factor. An information dilemma has been diagnosed (Kuhlen, 1999). The alternatives are (1) to search the information spaces oneself and spend an increasing amount of time for satisfying one’s information needs; and (2) to delegate the searching task to an information assistant the performance of which is time-consuming to control and the effectiveness of which is hard to assess. The first choice dominates currently. However, using such an information assistant must be the ultimate goal, as one cannot reasonably expect that technologization will stop or even be undone. In fact technologizing of the world has a long history. It is inextricably connected with technologizing the word, (Ong, 1996, p. 101), as “(s)poken words are always modifications of a total situation which is more than verbal. They never occur alone, in a context simply of words.” Technologization has significantly restructured human consciousness Ong (1996). What we are witnessing right now should be understood as the latest step in the process of technologizing the word. That process began with the invention of script (about 3200-3100 BCE), and was followed by the invention of letters (about 1500 BCE), and print (1540 CE) (Ifrah, 2000, pp. 3-25).1 The latest step is the automation of uttering and understanding words and text in which we here include calculation and computation. This sums up the capability of verbally controlling processes of all kinds. Enzensberger (1970) reports the analogy that El Lissitsky drew in 1923 between language use and modes of transportation and, in particular, vehicles. He related articulated language to upright gait; writing to the wheel; and the printing press to animal powered carts. El Lissitzky did not suggest analogies in language use for automobiles and airplanes. One is tempted to suggest that computers correspond to automobiles, and the Web to airplanes. Would it be venturing too far to relate intelligent assistants to space crafts?
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