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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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The Computer As Your agent

Information overload is one of the most serious problems facing knowledge workers today. Each day, we are bombarded with hundreds of electronic mail messages, web pages, and newspaper articles. Information pours in through books, magazines, radio, television, instruction manuals, videotapes, new movies, billboards, and even skywriters.

One of the key mechanisms the technological vanguard has proposed for dealing with information overload is the intelligent agent. The idea of such a program is that it would know your interests and desires and use that information to filter the flood of data pouring into your life, so you only see what you want to see. Although different technologies have been proposed for creating these so-called agents, one of the first technologies to reach the market is called collaborative filtering .

The idea behind collaborative filtering is deceptively simple. In the real world, there are too many newspapers, too many records, too many books, movies, and TV and radio stations to pay attention to them all. So you don't. Instead, you ask your friends for their favorites. Sooner or later, you figure out which of your friends have tastes in news and music that are similar to yours, and which ones are from the planet Jupiter. You decide whom you trust. Of course, collaboration is a two-way street, so you start recommending things to your friends as well. And, naturally, when you find friends who like what you recommend, you are more inclined ...

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