Communications, Convergence or Context as a driving force

The use of the term ICT to represent the addition of ‘Communication’ capabilities to ‘IT’ seems to be slipping into articles and slides. Interestingly this also happened in the late eighties through early nineties as part of the adoption of ubiquitous networking, but then it went away again. Actually this is to me just an extension of convergence, itself another term that has been around for a long time.
The history of technology is one of convergence as previously separate functions and devices merge, today the phone and PC is one example, as is the TV and the Media centre for another, but what started my thinking on this subject was looking at the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium. The mission statement is and I quote; “The Convergence Culture Consortium (C3) explores the ways the business landscape is changing in response to the growing integration of content and brands across media platforms and the increasingly prominent roles that consumers are playing in shaping the flow of media”.
Now what intrigues me about this is that’s it not just technology elements in the convergence, but business and culture too. Okay so it’s not new that technology transforms business, or even culture, but it’s the scale of this transformation that intrigues me. Add the amount of material being created; some one muttered to me that we are creating the entire library of the USA congress every eleven minutes the other day. And this leads me to what I think the C in ICT should stand for; and it’s ‘Context’. I find this an under appreciated area which seems to be lost in the ‘semantic’ debate.

With so much ‘content’ around the challenge shifts from finding ‘something’ to finding the ‘right thing’ in terms of the other aspects of what I am doing. I need to know the context, or relationships, between circumstances, and events, so more correctly in computing science I want ‘context awareness’. This did mean the ability for a computer to be fed multiple sources of information about the physical world in order to make a relationship to the activity I was performing. This was first described back in 1994 white paper called Context-Aware Computing Applications by Bill N. Schilit, Norman Adams, and Roy Want, and is still a standard work. Unfortunately the sheer numbers of devices with information that could support contextual awareness was barely glimpsed back then.
I am intrigued by a recent white paper on ‘Context Modelling and Reasoning Using Ontologies’ published in July 2007 by Ay Feruzan as this draws the links to the popular debate on the Semantic Web that has been raging as a follow on to Web 2.0. The argument is that we will need automation to handle many tasks by a computer as the tasks will have grown to numerous and complex for us to handle them in our own right. I personally have found most of this debate difficult to relate to real world examples, but in this white paper I find some realistic examples and approaches. As an example if the oven is on, and someone is moving under the kitchen motion detector, then it is likely someone is cooking. It’s the so what that goes with this that holds the interest.
On one hand there is the passive relationship as to what goes with this activity when a query is made via a PC, or any other device; and on the other hand there is the proactive actions like notifying the smoke detector to expect a change in temperature. It’s a fascinating paper based on using Ontology Web Language, OWL, and gives a glimpse into why context will lie at the heart of most activities as we go forward in a world where the number of devices reporting events steadily multiplies. Take a read as there is enough information here for you to try building your own Context Models and Reasoning capabilities using OWL.

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