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Example research essay topic: Voice And Data Wide Area - 1,370 words

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... ort back tomorrow', or next week, or whatever. I would also like to be able to say 'don't bother me now, come back later', or 'do not disturb'. This sounds pretty much like a manager controlling a bunch of people who report to him, and I think this is a useful metaphor for how people will deal with PCs in future. I want to be able to give my PC various tasks to get on with, and then I would like it to report back to me how things are going, in ways which I want to control. I expect the PC controller to 'delegate' most tasks to particular software 'experts', and deal with them according to an agreed set of principles.

If needed, I even expect the controller to tell me that there is no local 'expert' who can do the job, but that it knows where one can be contacted, and what that would cost. If I give the go ahead, I then expect the controller to access the relevant expert over some wide area service - i. e. by dial up PSTN line, over cable, by cellular, or whatever other services exist by then.

If there are several such experts available, as one would hope in a free market, then the controller should give me a choice, with some indications of relevant price and performance compromise, perhaps even a comparative analysis obtainable from another wide area service if I should think it worthwhile. Again, I think the controller should be pro active. It should spend some of its idle time trawling through selected services to look for new items which it thinks would interest me, and if it finds something particularly tasty, it can even interrupt me to tell me so. In fact, access to wide area services will be one of the major uses of PCs in the future. With the growth of the Internet, there is already visible a tendency to locate sources of data, computing power or specialist hardware at specific sites of expertise - similar to the trend for concentrating research effort at centres of excellence.

There is no need to copy or broadcast all information to everyone. With local data gathering capabilities provided by the PC, it is instead possible for individuals or groups to collect information relevant to their needs from the global data pool. Likewise, software object experts need not be located at each PC, they can also be interrogated or utilised from a global pool of such software objects. The means of interacting with this global pool should be the responsibility of the PC controller. If I ask my PC a question, I should not need to know if it has the means to answer it 'locally'. The controller should be able to find the answer by 'talking' to software objects on the PC, or on a LAN (local area network), or on a WAN (wide area network).

It may need authority from me to spend money on getting the answer, though I should be able to delegate some financial authority to it - 'you can spend up to 10 per month without asking me all the time'. Once again, I am relying on the analogy of the relationship between a manager and a subordinate. As the subordinate gets more experience, or gets smarter, I expect to be able to delegate more authority. Companies will still need to be able to make money by developing software objects and supplying them to the users of PCs. This can still be done by producing such objects and selling them through normal supply routes. But in addition, they will be able to offer them either for purchase, or in the case of specialist objects for hire, over a wide area service.

The PC controller will steer the user through this global maze with advice and expertise that itself can be supplemented by software objects skilled in such matters - pretty much like human consultants, really. Some of these objects could themselves be expert in dealing with various specialist classes of users. This phenomenon is already happening in a small way, with the appearance of software 'agents' who intervene between the user and other software services. In addition to dealing and negotiating with such objects, the controller will still have to manage other 'peripheral' attachments to the PC, such as printers, CD drives or other permanent storage media. We will still need paper copies of documents, pictures and photographs - even if only to communicate with those people who have not yet embraced the PC philosophy. With the increase in multimedia developments, such peripherals may also include TVs. , hi-fis, VCRs, camcorders etc.

However, I think current analysts have been carried away with ideas concerning the amalgamation of PCs and home entertainment systems. One has to carefully consider the life styles and movement patterns of the average family when coming to any conclusions about such developments. I happen to have three PCs in my home. One is in an office, and the other two are in my children's bedrooms. Most of the home entertainment systems are in the living room. I do not want a PC in the living room - I have had some bad experiences with games consoles.

Still, I am sure that there will be many uses where connections between the PC and other electronics are needed. There may of course be several PCs in the home with differing styles and uses. Control of other home systems such as heating and lighting is an obvious example, and is already happening to some extent in the US. It is also likely that there will be some kind of co-operation between PCs and telephones, answering machines, faxes and videophones. But just because such connections are possible does not mean that they will automatically happen. I can send faxes from my PC, and initiate voice calls; but the smooth blending of voice and data is something that has not yet happened even though it has been 'forthcoming' for these ten years past.

Even so, the serious advent of ISDN (combined voice and data lines from BT) in the UK could speed up the process somewhat. Current trends on dealing with peripherals utilise graphical 'icons' to represent the peripheral, which can then be controlled or interrogated by selecting the icon. With the increasing use of speech to interact with the PC, I believe that it would be natural for peripherals to be given a 'persona' with which the user can communicate. This persona would have individual speech characteristics - just like real people. The same trick could be applied to software objects with which we may wish to communicate directly.

Although much of our interaction would be through the PC controller, there may be occasions on which we would like or need to talk to the individual directly. The actual means of producing speech could still reside with the controller, but with the persona supplied by the software object, or peripheral. I do not believe it is possible to accurately predict all the ways in which PCs will be used in business and the home. There is going to be a plethora of services available in future: information services and processing, telephony, video phones, email, broadcast data, home entertainment, digital photography, financial services, home shopping, and home control over mains cables.

New services will coexist with old ones. Wide area services will not replace TV, any more than TV and radio replaced newspapers. With an ever increasing diversity in the market, new niches will open and blossom. There are now far more specialist magazines than ever there were in the days before broadcast news and entertainment. Some old services may fade away, others will be born to replace them. Solutions can not be imposed on users; the brief history of technology has plenty of examples of failed attempts: quad hi-fi, DAT audio, the MCA bus.

The solutions will develop, coalesce, merge and blend in ways that will be decided by that ultimate arbiter - the marketplace. The one common feature that I believe must evolve is the basic way in which we communicate with these diverse products and services. Bibliography: Sorry is none

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