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DARPA'S DIGITAL FLUNKIES

The Pentagon is doling out $29 million to develop software-based secretaries that understand their bosses' habits and can carry out their wishes automatically.Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science will get $7 million to build a Perceptive Assistant that Learns, or PAL, a kind of digital flunky that can schedule meetings, maintain websites and reply to routine e-mail on its own. A total of $22 million is going to SRI International, Dejima and a coalition of other researchers for the construction of a wartime PAL.The efforts could make leaders in the boardroom and on the battlefield more efficient, says the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. But some defense analysts are finding it hard to see the military value in such a system.Digital assistants have been a DARPA focus of late. The controversial, all-encompassing LifeLog project is also supposed to lead to the construction of a computerized helper. LifeLog's goal is to digitally capture and categorize every aspect of people's lives, from the TV shows they watch to the places they visit. The more information the assistant has about its boss, the argument goes, the more useful it can be."The idea is to develop a system that will adapt to the user, instead of the other way around," said Antoine Blondeau, president of Dejima, a software development firm in San Jose, California, that is working on the PAL effort.Check out my Wired News story for more on DARPA's new electronic helpers.

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