June 19, 2004

What future? I don't even wear a watch.

I just finished reading The Unfinished Revolution: How to Make Technology Work for Us--Instead of the Other Way Around. This one is for a class, so it's outside the range of my usual reading list. Basically it's a manifesto on how computers could be made easier to use by making them more "human-centric" -- fitting the computer system to the way people need to use them, instead of forcing people to learn how to work to fit the computer.

The author, Michael Dertouzos, was head of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, so his examples are filled with his own actual experiences using (guinea pigging?) experimental computer applications developed by colleagues. There's a flight-reservation system that operates on speech recognition technology instead of keyboard input, and a "meaning processor" that attempts to spider information as you use it and tag meaning on your behalf to create an ever-expanding index.

The ideas are interesting, but they seem too future-oriented to be of near-term interest to me. Somehow, the technologies required for his vision -- speech recognition, automation scripts, advanced information indexing ("Semantic Web"), easy and effortless collaboration across language and OS barriers -- all without hackers or virii wiping us all back to the Victorian era somewhere in the middle -- seem unlikely to spread to the average consumer and small business level anytime soon.

But "Good thought," as my high-school chemistry teacher always said when we had a decent, but wrong, answer.

These things take time. Personally, I'd just rather wait and see what happens. Guess that's why I'm not an Internet billionaire.

Fortunately, in a May 2001 Computerworld interview Dertouzos suggested a bit more clearly what we can do now as opposed to then:
Can you automate stuff people do that does not require intelligence, so you can relieve them of this work? Can you help your people work across space and time more effectively? Can you customize your systems to your people's individual needs?
Now that I might be able to work on.

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