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Media-Independent Interfaces in a Media-Dependent World

Ken Arnold
Sun Microsystems Labs
2 Elizabeth Dr.
Chelmsford, MA 01824

Kee Hinckley
Utopia, Inc.
25 Forest Circle
Winchester, MA 01890

Eric Shienbrood
Wildfire Communications
20 Maguire Rd.
Lexington, MA 02173


Wildfire is a communications assistant that uses speech recognition to work over phone lines. At least that's what it is today. But in the future it wants to run on desktops, PDAs (like the Newton Message Pad), and who knows what all. To provide a level of media independence, we designed a subsystem to isolate the communications knowledge of the assistant from the mechanisms of prompt/response. This layer is called the MMUI. It provides abstractions of input and output that let the assistant ask questions and get responses without knowledge of the specifics of the communication channels involved. The specifics of speech recognition, as well as the degree of abstraction desired, make this an interesting case of presentation/semantic split using object polymorphism. This presentation will cover the design of the MMUI, its fundamental weaknesses, and furious handwaving over future directions to mend them.

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