Ghost in the Machine

New efforts being made to put you in a computer

Boston  August 21, 2001  I'll admit that I'm both interested in and scared by some of the latest developments in computer technology. Recently we told you about iris scanning technology for security purposes, which comes right out of countless spy movies. That's cool without being creepy. But now there's news that comes right out of countless science fiction movies dating back to Tron and is both cool and creepy  entering human characteristics into a computer. Efforts are being made to begin conveying human characteristics through XML. OASIS, the XML interoperability consortium, today announced its members have formed the OASIS HumanMarkup Technical Committee (TC) to develop and promote a specification for just such an effort.

According to OASIS, the Human Markup Language (HumanML) will embed contextual human characteristics such as cultural, social, kinesic, psychological and intentional features within information. Applications include artificial intelligence, virtual reality, conflict resolution, workflow,  cultural dialogue, agent systems, diplomacy and business negotiation.

This raises some interesting questions. Will this technology translate southern drawls, Texas twangs or LA surferspeak? Will it adequately convey anger over delayed shipments, and if so will there be an anger barrier to keep you from permanently alienating business partners?

"HumanML offers the potential to reduce misinterpretation and allows people to express themselves more deeply," explained Ranjeeth Kumar Thunga, chair of the OASIS HumanMarkup TC. "Employing the same infrastructure and technology used in business-to-business transactions, HumanML lets us define and elucidate the various subtle, complex human processes involved in communication. Using HumanML, we can substantially reduce interpersonal and intersocietal conflicts associated with the inadequate conveyance of human traits and expression."

Other efforts within the scope of the OASIS HumanMarkup TC will include messaging, style, alternate schemas, constraint mechanisms, object models and repository systems that address overall concerns of representing and amalgamating human information within data.

"HumanML is an exciting example of the breadth of technical work being undertaken by OASIS members. Unlike standards bodies that dictate direction through a central authority, OASIS offers an open technical agenda that is set by our members themselves," commented Karl Best, director of technical operations for OASIS. "HumanML extends the use of XML into totally new arenas and offers the potential to affect the way we communicate with one another."