The Third Culture

Intelligence Augmentation
A Talk With Pattie Maes [1.20.98]

Pattie Maes Photo

Introduction by
John Brockman

Pattie Maes came to the United States nine years ago to work with Marvin Minsky and Rodney Brooks at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. She had received her Ph.D. in AI at the University of Brussels, and was attracted by Marvin and Rod's more alternative view on artificial intelligence, and artificial life. After working for the AI lab for two years she moved to MIT's Media Lab, which is more interdisciplinary than the AI lab, something that attracted her given that she has varied interests. She used to be happy just doing research, but given that her research is finally applied anyway, she realized that she would only be happy if her work made it into the real world, and so that's one of the reasons that she started Firefly, a start-up which sells software that allows Web sites to personalize the interactions that they have with the visitors of their Web sites. An example is Barnes and Noble, a Firefly customer.

Barnes and Noble uses the tools to recognize individual people so that they can provide personalized service to those people. Maes points out that it used to be the case that many years ago you would go to the corner bookstore and the owner there would know you, would know what you have bought before, they would know about your interests and they could give you personalized service and say, "Hey, did you know there was a new book by Isabelle Allende?" They know you have an interest in certain types of writers. She believes that Web sites will have to provide that same kind of very personalized high quality service on the Web, because this will be one of the ways in which they can distinguish themselves.

"If Barnes and Noble on the Web knows me," she says, "knows what I'm interested in, can help me find the stuff that I'm interested in, can tell me hey, you've bought the other Isabelle Allende books, did you know that she has a new book out, or did you know that there's another author very similar to Marquez, etc., that just published a new book? If I get that kind of personalized service, even though in this case it's implemented by an algorithm rather than by the corner bookstore owner, I'm going to be much more loyal and go to Barnes and Noble because they give me this personalized treatment, they recognize me, they greet me, they remember what I've bought before.


The Talk...