Information overload is a fact of life these days, but in
an ideal world, it wouldn't be. You'd get exactly the
information you need, when you need it and use it to
take action. To get that done, you'd need the help of
your own intelligent team.
Building such a team ranks as one example of a grand challenge
for information systems. Some members of your team, called "agents," will
exist solely as software in the digital realm. Other team
members will be robots that sense and interact with the physical
A person with physical or medical challenges, for example,
might have a team to help him to live safely on his own.
Software agents will monitor vital signs and communicate
with health care providers, while robots help around the
house or provide mental stimulation.
Emergency response personnel would benefit from a team
trained in search-and-rescue operations. Robots would enter
collapsed buildings and bring food and water to trapped victims.
Software agents would track down blueprints and maps or communicate
relevant data from cooperating agencies.
Research is needed to give the robots and agents the appropriate
intelligence. Team members should be independent and capable
of learning, but they should also know when ask guidance
of and obey instructions from their human leader -- and do
so in human terms. A second research challenge is teamwork.
Both sports coaches and information technology teams face
similar hurdles: ensuring the players communicate, adapting
to the team's strengths and limitations, coordinating the
different skills and practicing to hone and learn skills.
Many NSF programs -- in robotics, sensors and human-computer
interaction, to name a few -- play a role in meeting this
grand challenge. The Science and Engineering Information
Integration and Informatics program, for example, focuses
on a critical skill for software agents: the collection and
analysis of timely, accurate and reliable information from
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the issue of trust. You
must be able to count on your team to do what you expect, to
safeguard your private information, to support teammates in
unexpected situations and to make your life better, not worse.
A Teacher for Every Learner [Next]
The Computing Research Association outlined five
Research Challenges in a report resulting from a three-day
workshop supported by the National Science Foundation. The
grand challenges relate to building the information systems
of the future and provide long-term goals for the activities
of the research community.