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"ACM SIGCHI General Interest Announcements (Mailing List)" <[log in to unmask]>
Rosemary Wick Stevens <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 19 Mar 1997 17:32:20 -0800
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Rosemary Wick Stevens <[log in to unmask]>
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Press Release

Contact:        Rosemary Wick Stevens
                Ace Public Relations
                +1 415 494 2800
                [log in to unmask]


Software Agents Hotly Debated at Conference on Computers and Human Factors

New York, NY, USA -- A debate that is likely to have a huge impact on the design of interfaces to computers and to the Internet and World Wide Web will be featured at this year's CHI 97 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Advocates of software agents, versus those who prefer more conventional direct manipulation techniques will face each other in an attempt to influence a large audience of prominent user interface designers attending the conference. 

Agents, software programs that accept high level instructions and act autonomously over indefinite lengths of time, are being proposed as the way to control complex systems in the future. These are seen to be increasingly beyond effective use by ordinary users. A simple example of this is the millions of VCR's in homes around the world all blinking 12:00 because their clocks are too hard to set. Though examples of successful agents are very rare today, advocates assert that such technologies could have a tremendous social impact in the future, allowing individuals access to vast amounts of information and the ability to work effectively on multiple tasks.

Others contend that the simple agents which solve simple problems, such as a time signal automatically sent to modern VCR's, do not scale well and are thus not able to solve problems of complexity in user interfaces. They argue that direct manipulation user interfaces have a two decade track record of solving difficult user interface problems, and that these techniques are still in their infancy. Improvements in exiting techniques should serve well into the future, they argue. Agents work autonomously, but what most people want is control and a sense of accomplishment, which is best accomplished by direct manipulation.

Taking the debating platform to argue for intelligent software agents will be Pattie Maes of the MIT Media Laboratory. Taking the position that direct manipulation user interfaces should be the focus of user interface designers will be Ben Shneiderman of the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland. Jim Miller of Apple Research Laboratories at Apple Computer will referee the debate. 

The CHI conference features a full program of presentations, tutorials and vendor exhibits. Participants come from both academia and industry, from around the world. This annual conference is the premier worldwide forum for the exchange of information on all aspects of how people interact with computers. CHI conferences are sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM)'s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI).  

The theme for 1997 is "Looking to the Future." Approximately 2,500 user interface designers, managers, researchers, designers, educators, artists, writers and students will join to look into human-computer interaction from March 22-27, 1997 in Atlanta, GA at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Hotel.  

The CHI conference is traditionally supported by industry organizations. The CHI 97 corporate sponsors are: Andersen Consulting, Apple Computer, AT&T, Bell South,  Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft, NCR, NYNEX, Oracle, Philips, Rent-a-Computer, Sun Microsystems and Unisys.  

For more information, contact the CHI 97 Conference office at +1 410 263 5382, send e-mail to [log in to unmask] or look at the CHI 97 home page at: