Serendipity is too important to be left to chance

Source: MIT, May 1996

Intellectual Collectives Through Use of the Remembrance Agent

The Remembrance Agent

The benefits of the Remembrance Agent (RA) are many. First, the RA provides timely information. If writing a paper, the RA might suggest relevant references. If reading email and scheduling an appointment, the RA may happen to suggest relevant constraints. If holding a conversation with a colleague at a conference, the RA might bring up relevant work based on the notes taken. Since the RA “thinks” differently that its user, it often suggests combinations that the user would never put together. Thus, the RA can act as a constant “brain-storming” system.

The Remembrance Agent can help with personal organization. As new information arrives, the RA, by its nature, suggests files with similar information. Thus, the user gets suggestions on where to store the new information, avoiding the common phenomenon of multiple files with similar notes (e.g. archives-linux and linux-archives). The first trial of the prototype RA revealed many such inconsistencies on the sample database and suggested a new research project by its groupings.

As a user collects a large database of private knowledge, his RA becomes an expert on that knowledge base through constant re-training. A goal of the RA is to allow co-workers to access the “public” portions of this database conveniently without interrupting the user. Thus, if a colleague wants to know about augmented reality, he simply sends a message to the user’s Remembrance Agent (e.g. thad-ra@media.mit.edu). The RA can then return its best guess at an appropriate file. Thus, the user is never bothered by the query, never has to format his knowledge, and the colleague feels free to use the resource (as opposed to knocking on an office door). Knowledge transfer may occur in a similar fashion. When an engineer trains his replacement, he can also transfer his RA database of knowledge on the subject so that his replacement may continually receive the benefit of his experience even after he has left.

Intellectual Collectives

Possibly the most striking use of the Remembrance Agent is its ability to seemlessly share knowledge in a work group. Instead of simply using one member’s notes, the database is expanded to include the members of a small work group.

This allows personal experience to be shared quickly and conveniently. For example, such an interface is useful if one member of the workgroup is in charge of repairing the team’s computers. When the team member receives new information about an obscure bug in the operating system, he puts it in his personal information files which can then is available to the rest of the team. If other members then experience this bug, the appropriate file might be suggested to the member. This helps identify the problem quickly and greatly reduces the overhead involved in diagnosing and assembling a well-formed question to the rest of the team, whose appropriate member may be unavailable.

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