Looking forward …

Since entering adulthood, I have been on a wonderful journey which I dubbed: “getting to the roots”. I began this journey by looking for a man who contributed partly to my good looks 🙂 . In the very first birthday card I got from him, he wrote the following:

One cannot change the past but can shape and help influence the future… Look forward always and your life shall be true!

Today, it is his birthday and while I may not have any words of wisdom, I am looking forward! I am looking forward to many years of his positive influence in my life. I am looking forward to all that life has to bring. I am looking forward …!

Indeed, not with certainty but I am looking forward. I am looking forward because I now fully understand that nothing can be gained by reflections of the past. So, I look forward in faith for rooted I know that I can withstand the winds of change.

To a life lived in the present whilst looking forward to what tomorrow brings. Happy birthday dad!

Food for thought from Polanyi

The unprecedented critical lucidity of modern man is fused here with his equally unprecedented moral demands and produces an angry absolute individualism. But adjacent to this, the same fusion produces political teachings which sanction the total suppression of the individual. Scientific skepticism and moral perfectionism join forces then in a movement denouncing any appeal to moral ideals as futile and dishonest. Its perfectionism demands a total transformation of society; but this Utopian project is not allowed to declare itself. It conceals its moral motives by embodying them in a struggle for power, believed to bring about automatically the aims of utopia.

Wow, I am totally blown away by the quote above by Michael Polanyi. The quote is from his book titled: The Tacit Dimension (1966). I know there is no context provided but I think that is what makes it an incredible food for thought quote!

One day I might venture into unpacking this quote but that day is not near. I am afraid that I lack the eloquence to put in writing that which I believe Polanyi is saying 🙁 .

My wish for 2010

2010 has finally arrived! This is the year that I shall turn 30 and all I wish for as I enter my third decade of existence is a life filled with no dilemmas. I simply want my life to be dictated by my priorities.

I have come to a realisation that dilemmas only serve to put us at crossroads where one only has the option of making it or breaking it. And because of possible fear of not making it, one often fails to take appropriate action especially when that action may lead to others disapproving. I don’t want to be a prisoner of fear and for this reason I want a life where I won’t have to make a decision about anything because all will be decided by my priorities. At times, this won’t make me popular with some of my loved ones but my goal is not to hurt anyone. My goal is to live an inspired life filled with water walking experiences! Yes it is a tall order but its time I compensated for my height 😉 .

This is my wish for 2010 and years to come. I don’t know what wishes all my friends and family have but I hope that the wishes come true.

God Bless !

Last Steps of the Journey: Part II

This entry will continue from the previous blog. The focus will be on the strategy employed to develop the prototype. As mentioned before, the prototype service is needed for validating the proposed architecture for building IVR systems. The development involved three major phases excluding the requirements analysis phase. These are:

  1. Building the service ontology – This ontology captures information about services in Grahamstown. The ontology answers questions such as: ‘where to get a free service?’ and ‘which non-governmental organisation offers X ?’
  2. Designing the VoiceXML application – This part of the work focused on the actual dialogs that constitute the service. Since IVRs are notorious for causing frustration to users, the goal was to attempt to create an application that provide users with a satisfactory experience 😉 .
  3. Implementing the whole system – The focus here was on bringing all elements together such that a user can call, put a request, have the ontology queried and finally have a response returned back to the user. Gaining “perfect” fluidity to this seemingly simple goal involved a number of things, which I shall not discuss in this blog (partly because I am tired but mostly because I don’t want focus to be removed from the value of employing a strategy that encourages divide-and-conquer).

Last Steps of the Journey: Part I

It is has been a while since I blogged. So I will break down what I have been up to over a few blog entries. This particular blog will focus on the overall picture of my work.

My work is underpinned by a need to have an architecture that is flexible and standard based for supporting development of IVR (Interactive Voice Response) applications. As it stands, despite providing unsatisfying user experience in the past, IVR technologies are still seen as pivotal in realising a new generation of self-service voice systems. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that telephones and mobile phones are ubiquitous (just go to http://www.ametw.com/ and download the Africa Mobile Factbook for statistics on the mobile phones penetration in Africa). This means that there is, for example, a strong “market” for IVR applications – not just in the commercial sense but also for use in supporting social innovation 😉 .

With the above providing part of the motivation, the goal is to use IVR technologies (specifically VoiceXML) to propose an architecture for building IVR systems with high configurable dialogs to improve user experience. The premise is that the effort to customise (configure) each dialog to suit each users’ goals will bring intelligence to IVR systems – a component that is possibly a source of much user frustration.

In a nutshell, the proposed architecture builds IVR systems by generating dialogs using VoiceXML and a rich backend. The backend comprises of a specially built interface that allows a reasoner to interact with any ontology-based knowledge base in order to generate dialogs. In the context of AI, the interface can be regarded as some sort of an inference engine.

Architectural Design Considerations

An overarching consideration is to ensure that the architecture is flexible. Another important consideration is to ensure that the generated dialogs do not violate any principles of user interface design. This translates into ensuring that:

  • Menu options do not exceed five options. Otherwise this is will result in an overload on the short-term memory of the user. Consequently, the user will have problems remembering the presented options.
  • Break content into small chucks to enhance memorability by introducing rhetorical questions or using quiz type questions. However, the number of dialogs generated should be kept at a minimum.

Case Study: Service Directory for Locating HIV Test Providers

As part of the methodology, a case study is included to act as a proof of concept for validating the proposed architecture. This proof of concept case study is a service directory for locating HIV test providers.

The case study is built from a service provider ontology, which together with individual facts about specific service providers forms a knowledge base. This is strictly in the context of defining a knowledge base as an entity made up of a terminological box (TBox) and an assertional box (ABox). In simple terms, TBox refers to the definitions of various concepts and how they relate to each other within an ontology while ABox refers to the individual facts associated with the definitions in the TBox.

Below is a quote from good old Wiki to provide another angle to the definitions of TBox and ABox:

Tbox statements are sometimes associated with object-oriented classes and Abox statements associated with instances of those classes.

"Memento mori"

This is Latin and translates roughly to “don’t forget one day you will die”. This may sound a bit depressing but it is not. This is but a reminder that we need to enjoy every moment of life for life is too short. Today, is my mother’s 55th birthday. She never thought she will live to see this day but despite cancer and all that life threw at her, she is alive!

So when I say “memento mori”, I am simply saying we need to recognise that each day is precious. Therefore, we should remember to tell those we love how much we do love them. We should forgive those who have hurt us knowingly or unknowingly. We should put on a smile everyday because even in a stormy weather the sun can shine. Most importantly, we should stand up to any obstacle and believe that if anything must break; it will be the obstacle and not us.

Memento mori, I declare! And to all I say, let us celebrate the gift of life whilst we still have it. Memento mori, memento mori!

Friendship and dark days

What indeed is friendship? And what is the measure of good friendship? I may not ever be able to answer the former but the latter I can 😉 .

True measure of friendship is in the dark days when there is but little sunshine in your life. The days when one fears to get out of bed and thinks burying their head under the duvet covers beats the ostrich burying its head in the sand. But get out of bed one must! For the dark days are the days of the truth and with the truth comes the light. Sadly, one such enlightening truth is “when days are dark, friends are few”!