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Centric Communication. The Impact of the Computer on Tomorrow’s Communication

The era of monolithic telecommunication networks with centralized intelligence is developing toward decentralized structures where, as the Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan has envisaged, the borderline between the traditional roles of network provider, content, service provider and user vanishes. This is due to the penetration of network technologies everywhere and by everyone. The integration of these networks pertaining to different administrative domains is based on digital technology allowing seamless communication and the development of computer- based services.
Another major trend to be observed is the proliferation of digital devices. The end-systems are not only computers but a large family of smart digital devices addressable in a global IT communication infrastructure based on various wired and wireless networks.
If we consider these facts, it is obvious that any computer-based device has the potential to be part of the communication space of the future. Devising a service architecture in this environment is fundamental for the future communication systems.
Present communication systems are designed and developed for specific end-systems and for a specific service (e.g. Fax for facsimile, TV broadcasting for TV sets, telephony for telephone sets etc.) e.g. a vertical design from network technology up to the user interface and device capabilities takes place. These services are presentation oriented and each of them has its own way to handle it. They are deployed in a certain network technology, for a user community in which individuals are reduced to the common denominator defined by the service designer and developer. In this sense they are generic with no communication space limitations (since the hope is that virtually everybody will buy the service and the associated device). This implies also that the communication infrastructure has to be engineered such to offer the broadest solution. Scalability, performance and controllability of the network infrastructure being the resulting problems. The usage of this kind of development process makes the integration process of services cumbersome and difficult if even possible at all. If we consider the human being as starting point in the design of the future services we may highlight some other viewpoints.
Human beings have limited communication spaces; we do not know everybody in the world, we are not interested in everything, we do not have all necessary devices required by all communication services everywhere at all times, etc. In general, each individual has a communication space in which objects, persons, preferences in his or her information space are well defined.
Individuals are interested in the general, and not necessarily in the presentation of a specific service. Services in an individual communication space have to provide the quality of the human senses and since quality of senses is individual they have to adapt their presentation to each individual. Services have to adapt to the life stage of each individual and its environment.
The above rationales require intelligence in service provisioning in order to personalize, adapt to situational and environmental conditions, to monitor and to control the individual communication space.
I-centric communication considers the human behaviour as a starting point to adapt the activities of communication systems to it. Human beings do not want to employ technology, they rather want to communicate and act in their individual communication space. They may meet with others to talk, to celebrate, they read and travel, they are listening to news or to music, they take decisions, etc. The individual communication space is growing and shrinking in the time axes based on the individual life stage.
Human beings are interacting with objects in their communication space in certain contexts to solve the problems of daily life: money and bank accounts need to be managed, food has to be bought and to be prepared for eating, movies can be watched for entertainment, places are visited and newspapers are read to increase knowledge, other people are met for discussions.
A context represents a certain universe of discourse in an individual communication space at a certain point in time. Contexts and the related objects define the communication space of a human being. In general, human beings communicate with objects in their environment in a certain context. Note that the same objects may pertain to different contexts and to different communication spaces. Objects pertaining to a certain context can be active or passive at a certain moment in time depending on the situation of the user. They can be activated or deactivated by the user or environmental condition. They can be directly addressable or represent a set of physical entities performing a certain service as a whole.
A user might have different preferences in different situations. Sitting alone in a silent room might indicate that the user is willing to receive incoming phone calls. However, the same user can take it as a disturbance to be involved in a conversation with other people. To be I-centric requires knowledge of the actual situation of a user. An active context defines the relationship of a human being to a particular number of objects of its communication space at a moment in time, in a certain environment. I-centric communication systems have to be aware of the context a user is in and have to adapt their service provisioning to that very context in a certain temporal and environmental situation.
We believe that future services will adapt to individual requirements (I-centric communication). The communication system will provide the intelligence required for modelling the communication space of each individual adapting to his or her interests, environment and life stage.

Daniel Deleanu - Toronto    7/3/2003


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