New software lets mobile phones get to know you

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November 28, 2004 Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US are trialing new pattern recognition software for mobile phones that study users' habits and then offers customised suggestions and advice, New Scientist magazine has reported. The technology explores the potential for the next generation of PDAs and smart-phones to "get to know" their users, learning from what they do and who they do it with by logging voice and text calls and use of other applications.

Nathan Eagle and Sandy Pentland of the Human Dynamics Group at the MIT Media Lab have created the trial as part of the developing field of "digital anthropology". The recent ubiquity of handheld computers and cellular phones has enabled them to dynamically map detailed information on social networks and model human behavior in a process they call "reality mining" .

Using Finish message logging software called Context, the mobile phone logs the ID code of every Bluetooth chip that it passes, the location of every new phone mast it contacts, the number of every person phoned or texted, and every time an application is used. Each piece of data is time stamped and sent for storage on network's servers. The software learns by prompting users to enter where they are and what they are doing every time the phone moves into the range of a new cell mast- so it can associate activities like socialising, or working with certain locations.

Linking mined data to a Symbian Series 60 phone like the Nokia 6600 allows it to remind you of how long you spent working or partying in any one week, as well as answering questions like when you last saw a friend, what you did and who else you met. If you have a big presentation at work the following day, the phone could be programmed to warn you not to drink too much. By analysing how often you meet your associates, the phone will be able to work out the strength of friendships. It might even pick up on a flirtation before you notice.

"No one has ever been able to capture this kind of data before, because cellphones and Bluetooth were never as ubiquitous," Eagle told New Scientist magazine.

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