Minding Your Business

Humanizing gadgetry to tame the flood of information
Peter Weiss

A telephone call to Roel Vertegaal’s lab may cause a pair of plastic-foam eyeballs to wiggle. Those peepers are attached to a desktop gadget that Vertegaal says could presage a generation of what you might call digital secretaries?particularly insightful ones at that. If Vertegaal looks at the shaking eyeballs, they’ll suddenly stop and stare back at him and then patch the call through. If instead, Vertegaal doesn’t establish eye contact with the little pop-eyed gizmo on his desk, an answering machine kicks into gear. That’s because his digital secretary could tell in a glance that Vertegaal wasn’t interested in taking the call.