There’s a great documentary about ARPAnet at google that all the net geeks are watching. I love how visionary the founders of the Net were, especially how they got it at the very beginning that the Net is about society, not technology.
As I watched it, I wished that I could be watching a “Pop Up Video” annotation of it at the same time, where someone could give me more information about the technologies I was looking at, and the people, and what they went on to do later. Then I remembered that there already is an annotation of this documention, sort of, and it’s a book I read last year, Where Wizards Stay Up Late.
Last week I saw another old video, from the late 1980s–this one was by Apple–which explained their vision for computing of the future, Knowledge Navigator. Just like the ARPAnet video, everything that they predicted is here already, or almost here. Except for one thing, and this was mentioned in the ARPANet video as well: natural language processing.
I’ve used Apple’s natural language control of their OS, and I’ve used dictation software as well. I think that they both work and I would love to use them. Why don’t I? Because I work in a cube. The visionaries of technology of the last twenty years did not conceive of a world where computer users wouldn’t have any privacy. The idea of a cube farm would seemed humiliating, as it does to every academic I’ve ever known. They expected that they would talk to their computers in a private office. Even the professor in the Knowledge Navigator video is all alone, with his computer and his network, like all these visionaries worked.
There’s something far more disturbing about hearing a person talking to their computer than simply talking on the phone. Phone calls in a cube farm are bad enough, but imagine a cube farm full of people talking non-stop to their computers all day: giving commands, composing and editing text. It won’t happen until we can have privacy at work. And that won’t happen until we are working at home.