A Southampton-led research project is set to create true partnerships between people and computers, helping to tackle some of today’s most pressing challenges.
The way in which we interact with computers is changing fast. With high-speed internet, social networking and over five billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, we no longer need to wait for information to come to us.
Through our computers, we are becoming the information providers: following the earthquake in Japan earlier this year, posts on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook played a vital role in getting information to the emergency services and authorities. Southampton researchers are at the forefront of a new science finding ways in which computers can work intelligently in partnership with people.
“We are fast approaching an ‘era of ubiquity’ where each of us will become increasingly dependent on multiple smart and proactive computers that we carry with us, access at home and at work, and that are embedded into the world around us,” says Southampton’s Professor Nick Jennings, who leads the University of Southampton’s Agents Research Group – the largest research group of its kind in the world.
This research will profoundly change the way we work with computers: instead of issuing instructions to passive machines, Nick believes we will increasingly work in partnership with agents, highly interconnected computational components that are able to act autonomously and intelligently.
An ‘agent’ is a piece of software programmed to work for its owner. Agents can be in sensors collecting and analysing information to give the ‘bigger picture’ of an emergency situation as it develops. Or, in the future, they could be in a smart meter monitoring the energy consumption of your home, recommending how you might adapt your usual routine to reduce both the cost of the energy that you consume and its carbon content.