Cognitive functions, Autonomy, and Integration
Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 06:27PM
Toby Considine in Enterprise Interaction, Markets and Innovation, Synergies, System Architecture

Everywhere we look, we see more higher-level, almost cognitive functions being incorporated into low-level products. Cameras are internalizing much of the craft of photography. GPS systems are comparing notes with their peers to provide up to the minute routing choices. Cars tune themselves on the fly, adjusting carburetion and suspension in real time to respond to driving style. Systems are becoming autonomous, competition is moving from commodity functions to service, and markets are starting to turn around interactions and integration.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (see link below) described FotoNation and the software that it provides for many brands of digital cameras. I knew about anti-red-eye electronics. I thought it was a neat trick for the camera to automatically focus on faces in the foreground rather than the between them in the center of the view. I was amused at the camera that would alert the picture taker that someone blinked. The camera that delayed the shutter until everyone was smiling was pretty neat.

The ability of a camera to recognize particular faces in the crowd, and make sure that they, if no one else are in focus was different from the rest. Simply take several pictures of your family and friends, and notify the camera. Thereafter if six mothers, standing in the same place each snap a picture at the third grade play, the six cameras will make different decisions and each mother will find her own little Billy in perfect focus.

We now have consumer electronics with complex learning behavior that it applies to its canned pattern recognition tricks. This is customization far beyond the last generation of, say, a car remembering driver preferences for mirror, steering wheel, and seat.

Consumer systems now cover for the amateurish efforts of their operators to produce first class results. Harried amateur photographers get assistance to achieve professional results. Drivers can get performance out of their cars that previously would have required long practice. Trip planning now acquired the knowledge of a local and an instant awareness of traffic conditions.

Building systems face the same issues and are moving in the same direction. Not only are they often operated by amateurs, but the may be maintained by the insufficiently trained—following their installation by the low bidder. Traditionally, systems have been oversized and over-built, to cover these predictable problems. This leaves a lot of energy and operating dollars on the table. The best systems will move instead to make their systems resilient, as are the camera and the car, and self operating.

This will change the tasks asked of control systems, and how they are integrated. Self tuning systems do not need to share low-level details with those far away. Low level protocols will be confined inside autonomous systems, and only higher-level services exposed. These interfaces will be the basis for next generation integration.

Systems will use these newer interfaces to negotiate service provisioning with each other. Although each system should work alone, they should be able to discover resources that each other makes available. Imagine systems advertising their waste heat as a resource, and then the heat source broadcasting when it needs to shut down. These interfaces will be developed as agents; they know their missions, they defend their missions, they act independently.

Integration will come to assume autonomy, for the new interactions will rely on each system doing what it says, and meeting its contracts. Contract-based integration will increase the value of cognitive performance, as they become the only competitive edge in a world of commodity electronics and unpredictable installations.

And systems that expect to be told what to do, rather than simply meeting their contracts? Well, as now, no one will want to do business with such agents.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (
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