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MIT 6 871 - Knowledge­Based Computer Purchasing Advisor

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A Knowledge-Based Computer Purchasing Advisor Jasper Vicenti 13 May 2005 Abstract Choosing which computer to purchase can be a daunting task, especially for those new to computers and other technologies where the options are near limitless. This paper will present a tool to assist in the decision-making process, simplifying the task into plain English terms using knowledge about the typical tasks performed by users. This protects the user from being bogged down by technical specifications and jargon. 1 The Problem The decision to purchase a new computer is usually an easy one. Most people will replace their machines every three to five years. Those familiar with the process are accustomed to what needs they have when they decide to make the purchase. The variety of current models available as well as the configuration options for each model can overwhelm even those in the industry. If asked to recommend a computer to a friend or neighbor, they would likely end up playing a game of twenty questions to find out what their individual needs are. Even then, those questions would probably not be applicable for the next person. Generally each person has their own set of circumstances and requirements for what they need the computer to do. Someone new to computers may not have much idea at all the variety of programs available. This can greatly affect which computer they would purchase in order to perform the tasks appropriate for their needs. 1Computers have infiltrated into almost all aspects of our culture. As such, more and more people who are less technologically inclined are exposed to their usage. Many users do not want to worry about the operating system used, amount of RAM, size of hard drive, or speed of the processor. The most important questions they ask are: 1. Do the programs I need to use work? and 2. Do the programs work sufficiently well to be productive? The first question is targeted towards support and functionality of a program, and is beyond the scope of this paper. The second question is the focus of this paper. Any person can purchase the most expensive desktop computer or notebook com-puter available and expect that it will adequately meet the needs of the user. At first glance, this seems like a reasonable statement. Putting more money towards the problem will usually result in an improvement over a less expensive model. However, this may not be the case at all. When considering a laptop computer, for example, the more expensive model might be more than fast enough for the present and future performance requirements, but it may be far too bulky for a user who will be lugging the machine to work and back on a daily basis. Similar tradeoffs can exist for desktop computers, where perhaps it will be used in an en-vironment where too much noise can be a factor. The best performing computers tend to be the ones with the largest number of fans. 2 The Task The goal of the tool is to take into account as many of the needs of the user in order to provide the user with a few good recommendations. As described before, the intention is to shelter the user from much of the jargon associated with the computer industry. Instead, the user will be asked questions about what their primary and secondary uses would be, what computers they currently use (if any) at home or at work. What their general price requirements are. If, for example they do not know what they are intending to use the program for, the advisor will inquire about their current job and area of work. From these few questions, a picture unfolds as to which computer systems would be more appropriate than others. In general, the user’s needs are guided by the type of programs that they use. Someone who wants to use the latest 3d games would need the highest performance machine available. On the other hand, a user that is only using email and writing documents could probably still use a computer that was cutting edge five or six years ago. The low end range of computers that are available today are easily 2able to handle many of the more complex tasks such as digital photo archiving and editing. 3 Example A simple example follows demonstrating the interaction between the advisor and the user. Commentary has been interspersed within the dialogue to explain the reasoning behind the questions being asked. What is BILL’s expected spending amount: Medium This is generally a known value. When a person is shopping for a system, it is unusual to not have an idea of the amount you expect to spend. Is it the case that BILL does use a computer at work: Yes What is BILL’s work computer: Windows Is it the case that BILL does have an existing computer at home: No Again, this is asked to determine the platforms used at work and home. If there is no pre-existing computer at home and no computer is used at work, then no bias is given towards either platform. Is it the case that BILL does want mobility in a computer: No This is used to determine whether a desktop or notebook computer would be more appropriate. Since Bill answered No , no further questions are asked regarding mobility. What is BILL’s expected primary use of the computer: Dont-know This is usually the area where the requirements of the system are determined. A range of choices are available such asemail ,web,design, etc. There is also a secondary usage option in order to more accurately gauge the user’s needs. What is BILL’s job-title: Admin-Assistant Whit is BILL’s area of work: Government When information about the expected is not available, basic inferencing about the performance requirements of the computer can be made from a person’s job title. In this situation, since Bill did not know what the primary use would be, he is then asked what his job title is. As an administrative assistant, it can be 3Figure 1: Bill’s Example Results determined that his performance requirements for a new computer will be fairly minimal. Is it the case that BILL does expect to bring work home: Yes The advisor is also taking information about the type of computer used at work to determine an appropriate operating system. Familiarity with the computer system used at work (or home) is usually one of the largest factors in deciding

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