Friday, October 21, 2011

The future arrives

This is a fascinating look at what Apple had in mind more than 20 years ago. The article links to an Apple concept video, "Knowledge Navigator", of a university professor organizing his day in about 2011. It was produced in 1987.

He uses a tablet computer with an assistant like the new Siri, video chat like FaceTime or Skype, and knowledge search on the Internet.

It shows how long ideas can germinate before the underlying technology catches up. Apple was too early bringing out its Newton handheld device in the 1990s, which became a bit of a joke.

Nobody is laughing at the iPad or iPhone.

The video is also fascinating as an example of how we think about and imagine future alternatives for daily life. It was so far- sighted, but also so traditional. A professor in nice house thinks about his class later that day. Very ordinary.

AI may be the next major wave which sweeps through technology - again, after previous bursts of enthusiasm for it decades ago. I remember a huge burst of interest and apprehension about the Japanese "Fifth Generation" computing project in the early 1980s, which went nowhere at the time. It would seem strange to those researchers back then that we would be excited by a software assistant that can send a text message for you. But we are.

IBM's Watson project is another recent example where a computer can now interact with people - in this case, play tv's jeopardy game.

The technology may now be maturing enough to make daily AI viable, with potentially huge impact on the workplace and the economy. Siri already seems to be the first AI product to be a major mass market hit. I haven't used it yet myself. But it feels as if it may be a rubicon of sorts.

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