The Intelligent Wireless Web
H. Peter Alesso and Craig F. Smith
From POTS to PANS, or
How the Future of Wireless will Cook
Book Review, by Michael K. Kato
Alesso and Smith open with a reference to an American icon, that
summarizes, in brief, the gist of what their book attempts to forecast -
"Wouldn't it be nice to just tap your "Combadge" and be able to speak to anyone, any time,
anywhere - the way they do on Star Trek? Or to say "Computer," followed by a perplexing
question, and receive an intelligent answer?"
We may be some years away from this rather lofty goal, they say, but we are making
concrete steps to achieve a close approximation of this futuristic idea. While this may be
a very difficult concept to accept as a concrete vision of the development of the Internet
and mobile devices in the next several years, Alesso and Smith's book may convert even
some of the more pessimistic of observers.
The book is very detailed, looking not only at existing products and technologies in the
five main technological areas of the intelligent web - User interface, Personal space,
Networks, Protocols, and Web architecture - but also at the public and private research
projects that affect each of these technology areas. Their systematic and academic
approach to discussing each topic covered makes the book a very difficult read. Not only
was I constantly going back to previously discussed material, but I frequently visited the
Websites of subjects being discussed to better understand the technologies and topics I
At its core, the book portrays an optimistic view of the evolution of the Internet and the
spectrum of devices used to access the Internet. Although currently there are few, if any,
really "intelligent" devices that "think" and can act on our behalf in negotiating
information and transactions that we seek to utilize on the Web, the authors believe that
many of the tools, technologies, and thinking that is necessary to build such an
intelligent system are currently in advanced development. Starting with speech
recognition, language understanding, language generation, and speech synthesis, the
authors postulate that the standard future human-machine interface will move from
keyboards and clicks to natural speech.
Networks, too, will gradually shift from wired to predominantly wireless devices. While
wireless devices have already started to proliferate modern economies, the majority has
very limited, but useful, functions - such as remote controls for TVs, VCRs, and air
conditioners. A few, like cellular phones, particularly those in Japan, have many
functions in addition to the standard voice calling services, but it would be difficult
yet to consider these phones to be particularly "intelligent" devices.
Similarly, the advent of Personal Area Networks, or PANs, will push the need for mobile
IP, IPv6, and other networking protocols. Web architecture, too, will need to support a
more "intelligent" structure, with dynamic programming languages, adaptive software,
learning algorithms, and Web Services leading the way.
Through a combination of small and incremental steps and ambitious and revolutionary
technologies, the authors predict that their vision for the "Intelligent Wireless Web"
"It is a network that provides any time, anywhere access through efficient user interfaces
to applications that learn. Notwithstanding the difficulty of defining intelligence (in
humans or machines), we recognized that terms such as artificial intelligence, intelligent
agents, and the like refer to the performance of functions that mimic those associated
with human intelligence. The full range of information services is the next logical step,
along with the introduction of a variety of different portable user devices (for example,
pagers, PDAs, Web-enabled cell phones, small portable computers) that have wireless
connectivity. The results will be wireless technology as an extension of the present
evolutionary trend in information technology. In addition, artificial intelligence and
intelligent software applications will make their way into the Wireless Web. A performance
index or measure may eventually be developed to evaluate the progress of Web
This vision, while being very broad and futuristic, is built upon a very strong
foundation, a detailed and critical analysis of the current state of the Internet,
wireless devices, and software development practices. On the one hand, the authors propose
a very convincing argument for the use of dynamic programming languages.
"The problems with existing software are that it takes too much time and money to develop
and that it is too brittle when used in situations for which it is not explicitly
designed. The Web needs a significantly higher degree of dynamism and mobility, as well as
a robust network infrastructure and protocols. Self-organizing software, adaptive
protocols, and object-oriented dynamic languages can provide the Web with the tools it
needs to learn."
On the other, the authors push for a balanced approach to developing and marketing the Web
and the devices needed to create an Intelligent Wireless Web.
"We must consider two "discordant" requirements: first, to optimize the network's long-
term investment while, second, optimizing the time to market for each new product. One way
to approach balancing technology could be by
1. Balancing innovations in software (for example, adaptive software, nomadic software)
against innovations in hardware (for example, chip designs)
2. Balancing proprietary standards (motivating competition) against open standards
(offering universal access)
3. Balancing local (centralized) Web innovations (for example, Web Services) against
global (distributed) Web architectural evolution (for example, the Semantic Web)"
By looking closely at how software, devices, networks, protocols, and Web architecture are
currently being developed, and carefully considering the ongoing research and the future
developments, Alesso and Smith have written an unparalleled overview of the future of the
World Wide Web and IT industry, and not just the Intelligent Wireless Web. Not only will
it enlighten most people to the most advanced wireless and artificial intelligence
R&D, but also provide many with a solid foundation for understanding commonly
discussed concepts and technologies for the future of the Internet, such as Web Services,
.Net, XML, the Semantic Web, RDF/Topic Maps, and logic layers.
Whether we eventually get to a future where Alesso and Smith's vision is reality is
difficult to tell. But I am certain that most people already realize that the age of the
wired Plain Old Telephone Service POTS) is over, and the time of multiple, integrated,
interoperable, intelligent wireless devices that we maintain in our Personal Area Networks
(PANs) is here, or, lat least, coming soon. As the authors say,
"The various technologies we have presented in this book may not be the actual path that
evolves to produce the Intelligent Wireless Web. Hopefully, however, our vision of
technology development and convergence may offer some perspective for the actual unfolding
of the future of the Web. Needless to say, there are competing visions for the development
of various Web technologies and the actual winners are yet to be determined."
To me, it is clear that the authors are asserting, like Dorothy, "I don't think we're in
Kansas anymore." Certainly, we are no longer in Kansas, but whether we are in California,
Cologne, Katmandu, or Kanto, the winners, it seems, will be us.
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August , 2002
The Newsletter of the
Tokyo PC Users Group
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