Interactive Intelligence

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Artificial intelligence. Rocket science. Interactive television. You may think those three subjects aren't interrelated, but you'd be wrong. A group of former NASA scientists joined a handful of entrepreneurs and new media pioneers in the late 1990s to work on artificial intelligence software, forming a company called Biap. The goal was to develop ways consumers would access information from the Internet.

But that vision has been expanded to television, and earlier this year Biap signed a deal with Time Warner Cable to license its software and applications. The software development kit provides the MSO with a localization and smart aggregation tool that automatically and continuously retrieves, updates and delivers content to TV sets through intelligent agents.

The MSO is testing the service in Austin, Texas, and has begun quietly rolling it out in other markets. Based on their preferences, customers can automatically receive updated information, such as local weather reports, updated sports scores and local school news. “It's hyper-localization and hyper-personalization,” said Biap CEO Tim Peters.

Peters is a veteran of the ITV space, having worked at Source Media — later sold to Insight Communications Co. — with founder John Reed. Reed has since started Bluestreak, a gaming software company that also has trials running on Time Warner systems.

GERM OF THE IDEA

“Biap was started six years ago by NASA rocket scientists,” Peters said. “Three years ago, a venture capital company came to me asking for advice on getting into the set-top box world.” Peters conferred with some colleagues in the business, and looked at the software that shrunk Biap's base artificial intelligence software into a 580-kilobit footprint. “They had it running on cell phones, BlackBerry [wireless communications devices], and they were doing secondary-level thinking with AI,” he said.

The wheels started turning for Peters. “The footprint was so small, you could get it into a set-top box,” he said. At that point, Peters saw the software could be used for both cable television and high-speed Internet applications.

Over the past few years, the company pitched cable operators, while tweaking the software and waiting for an event to get MSOs refocused on ITV. That event was Rupert Murdoch's purchase of DirecTV Inc.

Time Warner has rolled out Biap software to 1,000 homes in its Austin system, downloading the software from the headend to Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s Explorer 2000 set-tops. “They call it I-news, and it totally localizes their system,” Peters said.

“They have an agent that retrieves information from Web sites and personalizes it.” The Biap agent monitors the Web site and when new information is posted, an alert is sent to the TV screen via a crawl.

“The agent goes from the set-top box to the Internet and just uses the return path,” Peters explained. Subscribers use their remote control to set their preferences, he said.

Using a box-specific code, or media access control address, the agent can scour the Internet and return information tailored to the user's preferences, Peters said.

Information can be retrieved from the Internet or from a walled garden that an MSO has set up, he said. The Austin trial uses a combination of both.

Broadband providers can deliver special promotional message or programming alerts, via the crawl. Under sports, subscribers can select favorite teams from Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the Women's National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer, as well as college sports, to get scores and updates.

MADE TO ORDER

The stock ticker allows subscribers to get personalized stock information from more than 10,000 stocks and market indices. The weather section taps into forecasts from major cities across the country.

Perhaps the most important feature is localization, where subscribers can get local news, event calendars, local traffic, school information and other fare that direct-broadcast satellite providers can't supply economically.

Peters said the software is cross-platform flexible, “You can build agents on high-speed Internet and send those agents to the set-top box.”

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