Dealing With Information Overload

By Roland Piquepaille

I wrote recently about information obesity. Now, this press release from Penn State University says that some of their researchers "have developed new software that can help decision-making teams in combat situations or homeland security handle information overload by inferring teams' information needs and delivering relevant data from computer-generated reports."

The agent software called CAST (Collaborative Agents for Simulating Teamwork) highlights relevant data. This helps improve a team's decision-making process as well as enhances members' collaboration.
"This version of CAST provides support for teams by anticipating what information team members will need, finding commonalities in the available information and determining how that information should be processed," said John Yen, professor of information sciences and technology. "Decision making is made easier because the software offers only relevant data."

CAST was developed for training human teams to better collaborate, but quickly adopted new goals.

With this research, the research team is taking smart software into a new direction involving what he calls "shared mental models" to support team activities or train teams. These can include shared team goals, shared assumptions about the problem, and shared knowledge about the team structure and process.
"The inspiration came from psychologists studying the behavior of human teams who were required to process incoming information under the pressure of time constraints," Yen said.
The Penn State researcher and his collaborators see CAST as a promising technology for supporting military officers who receive from ground sensors and satellites as many as 600,000 reports every hour. Without the right information, the wrong decision can be made in the battle space, Yen said.
CAST also could be used to track potential terrorist threats or infectious diseases -- any domain where information needs to be exchanged quickly or commonalities found among different cases, Yen said.

Of course, this is just a press release, so it is unclear if this project becomes a product anytime soon.

For more information, here are two links to the Center for Team-based Agents and to selected publications by John Yen on this subject.

Source: Penn State University Press Release, via EurekAlert!, June 4, 2003

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