People Talk To People Machines Talk To Machines

People Talk to People, Machines Talk to Machines --- ?RonGoldman 12 Dec 2001

. . . we are concerned with TheContextOfOurLives, and so then must our machines. But our machines also have their own contexts that they must deal with. When our machines have an AwarenessOfPresence they may need to share that information with other software. When we've Gone Fishin' (AwayMessages), our machine may need to let other machines know that we are away.

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The inner workings of computers are filled with details that we do not want to be bothered with when we are using them.

We use our technology as a tool to communicate with other people and as a tool to do our work. Good tools are transparent: They don't try to strike up a conversation with us, but quietly do our bidding. Only if problems arise do they need to inform us---and then in terms of the human world, not in machine terms. So never as an error code like "message had fatal error: 550", but rather in the context of what we were trying to do, like "no user named 'joe' was found at ''."

Our current systems don't respect this distinction and so assume any mail we receive needs to be dealt with by us directly. With dumb software that is the only safe choice, but by marking all messages with some type of meta information, our software can distinguish between messages sent by an individual, by a mailing list (and which one), and by a bulk mailing (spam). In that way our software can begin to act more intelligently. For example, our email program would know not to send our Gone Fishin' AwayMessages in reply to a message sent to a mailing list we are on.

With the proper meta information attached to a message it becomes much easier for us to have our email filtered and sorted as we would like. Putting all the messages from one mailing list in a special folder is straightforward. When our machine receives a ReturnReceipt, it can then just flag the stored copy of the outgoing message as having been received. It is easy to keep track of the replies to each message and store them as threaded conversations (ConversationsThreading).


Don't have programs throw away the human context when they interact with another program. Design programs to share information with other programs about the context that they are acting in.

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Sometimes our machines need to talk to us---?GentleReminder---while other times we want them to talk to other people in our stead---WhenOurMachinesActForUs. For software to talk to other software requires GoodIntegrationWithOtherTools.

People Talk to People & Machines Talk to Machines --- RichardGabriel 27 Dec 2001

. . . when designing software that interacts with people . . .

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There are many worlds of conversation that intersect only on rare occasions: Dogs growling and people taking heed of the danger, storm clouds climbing above the trees and people taking in their laundry. Computers don't speak the language of people.

Some interactions normally take place within their unique domains: Birds interact with birds, people with people. Computers shouldn't talk to people unless asked. Some principles transcend any application domain. When a computer talks to a computer, only programmers and sys admins might want in on the conversation.


Never design software to bother a person when a computer talks to a computer unless the person wants to listen in. Computer talk spilling into the domain of human consciousness without an explicit design requirement for it is a design error of the first magnitude.

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AwayMessages are the result of an explicit requirement for people to be able to ask their computers to intercede on their behalf to inform other people that they are away. However, when a mailing list server sends a message to a mailer, that mailer in sending back an ?AwayMessage is talking to another computer, and there is no explicit requirement that a mailing list---sometimes vast in its reach---should receive such an inconsequential communication.


Last edited December 24, 2002
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