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November 9, 2005

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Yet Another View of the Future

This one’s from 1987, made for Apple. And you know what? It’s not all that outlandish.

Posted November 9, 2005 at 8:49 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, EPIC


Not that outlandish at all!-- in fact almost striking in its timidity, at least compared to how we navigate info today. Imagine a professor (well... maybe a young-ish graduate student) going through the same scenario in 2005 -- sans dorky bowtied assistant of course. Everything would be much faster, denser, with windows open all over the screen and a fury of clicking back and forth, copying and pasting. None of this slow-talking nonsense.

Jon Udell's post (also linked from the original) talks a bit more about where this vision is on and where we've fallen short.

I thought the guys demeanor to his bowtie assistant was interesting. all of his statments to the computer were much more cold and than the discussion he had with his friend in the phone call. it was like he was talking to someone that was below his class. i wonder if something like this will become common in the future, since robots have no feeling you can be a jerk to them.

also this just made me think of how much i still want the librarian from snowcrash.

Posted by: Paul Cloutier on November 9, 2005 at 05:05 PM

I was struck by how many of the Knowledge Navigator's innovations seem in line with what you guys charted out with EPIC: I especially liked how when the prof asked his digital assistant to find articles on global warming (which was a slightly different issue in 1987 from what it is in 2005), the assistant pulled up the prof's friend's article first (and identified it as such).

But I'm wondering, too, as I'm thinking about 1987 vs. 2005, how this may have been read then. In 1987, the PC is really just a toddler: not only is there no internet, Apple's graphics-based OS has been out for only four years, Windows only for two: a lot of computing is still run on command-line DOS. What's more, the vast majority of people have no idea how to use a computer at all, beyond maybe a few scrappy, limited and idiosyncratic programs. The entire interface of computing is an impediment to the average user.

And this is where we diverge with our own past. The world of 1987 is the world of the secretary, the typist, the answering service, and the research assistant. In 1987, most people probably believed (and their friends and co-workers would probably insist that) the information and applications they needed were available on a computer, or at least on some computer. They just didn't know how to get it.

The world of 2005 is the world of e-mail, the cubicle, the stand-alone PC, all-in-one machines and applications. We all know how to type and use a mouse: the interface is readily accessible to just about anyone, and we all use it all of the time.

For us, what's remarkable about the Navigator video are the finer points of its information processing: its smooth integration of data from different sources, its ability to move easily between different kinds of communication, something like a social recommendation engine for research. For 1987, what's remarkable is the idea -- which we still haven't entirely figured out -- that you can speak to your computer in your natural voice (or more to the point, the way you would speak to an actual subordinate) and it could quickly give you what you wanted.

The computer could become a part of your everyday life, and your routines at home and work would not be terribly different from what they were in 1987. In 2005, the computer has become part of our everyday life, and while the computer has definitely changed, it's impossible to deny that to a large extent -- an extent which apparently 1987 would have found it quite difficult to imagine -- the great majority of us have changed our lives, meeting the computer at least halfway.

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