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Cognitive radio is viewed as a novel approach for improving the utilization of a precious natural resource: the radio electromagnetic spectrum. The cognitive radio, built on a software-defined radio, is defined as an intelligent wireless communication system that is aware of its environment and uses the methodology of understanding-by-building to learn from the environment and adapt to statistical variations in the input stimuli, with two primary objectives in mind: · highly reliable communication whenever and wherever needed; · efficient utilization of the radio spectrum. Following the discussion of interference temperature as a new metric for the quantification and management of interference, the paper addresses three fundamental cognitive tasks. 1) Radio-scene analysis. 2) Channel-state estimation and predictive modeling. 3) Transmit-power control and dynamic spectrum management. This work also discusses the emergent behavior of cognitive radio.