Faster ComputersWhat we really expect from the enormous new power of tomorrow's computers is convenience. It will appear in computers themselves first. When the software we struggle with today develops common sense word processors will understand out text well enough to notice our errors such as that we promised to discuss four major topics but only mentioned there. Spreadsheets will recognize that a calculation can be performed but does not make sense in the context of what we are trying to accomplish. And intelligent agents will hunt for information on the Internet, schedule our appointment by negotiating with out colleagues agents and perhaps even handle our routine shopping.
Computer as media butlers
One of those agents will inhabit your television (or the future computer integrated version of it). The saving grace of having all those new cable channels is that we will never have to watch them or even scan a TV Guide the size of the Manhattan telephone directory. Our intelligent television will watch all those channels for us. It will also keep a continuous watch on the Internet, scanning the news groups and Web pages we prefer and occasionally adding a new service to its list.
And it will know what interests us. Whenever we check in with the machine it will deliver our e-mail, flag interesting items from the Net, and offer a short list of television programs it has stored for possible viewing. If some new topic has caught our attention, we will be able to ask it whether it knows of any programs or Net sites dealing with that subject. Like all our other appliances the media butler will learn and grow continuously better at meeting our personal needs.
The phone system will perform one more service as well. It will translate our conversations in real time so that we can talk with some one who speak only French, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese any of the seven or eight most common languages without bothering to learn anything but our native tongue. Most of these chores are theoretically possible even with today's technology. In 10 years the growing power of computers will make them practical.
All of these functions and many others will be united by a local area network built into your house or apartment and if you do not yet work at home able to link itself with network at your office your media butler lighting system and appliances will not just contain their own Intelligence cut off from the rest of the world, they will share information. When you sit down to read in he den, the lights will automatically focus on the page and slightly dim the rest of the room. They will also notify your telephone where to find you so that when you get a call only the nearest extension rings and no one else in the house is disturbed. Or if you prefer the media butler will tell the phone to hold all calls. Later it will mention that the telephone has a message for you or deliver the message itself. And so on.
Nicholas Negroponte founder of the famed Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology once suggested that if you want yesterday's closing price on the Dow Jones industrial average served up with you breakfast you could have it automatically branded on your toast. No doubt he was half joking but an intelligent toaster linked to your media butler could do it easily. As they learn what we find most convenient these increasingly brainy artifacts will automatically find ways to insulate us from the endless inconveniences and irritations that have become inescapable parts of life in the late twentieth century.
We see the early twenty-first century as a kind of Wonderland, in which our possessions talk to us and to ach other. But unlike the Mad hatter's teapot they will usually make perfect sense. And unlike All the computers antagonist of when they act behind our backs they will be plotting to do us good.