Every time I watch an Apple announcement such as this morning’s, I am reminded of a series of vision videos that Apple produced with Alan Kay in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Apple seems to be steadily and unflinchingly chipping away at every aspect of these videos, guided by this 20+ year vision to change computing, to increase the depth into which technology is integrated with our lives, and to attack the form factors and user experience conventions previously associated with computing.
In the video above you see examples of fuzzy search, a touch-screen UI, a tablet form factor, social search, a recommendation engine, and of course speech-to-text as the main user input paradigm. It isn’t so interesting that someone as brilliant as Alan Kay had this vision in the first place, but what is amazing is the degree to which Apple has been focused on delivering this vision — a vision telegraphed by a company nearly 25 years ago that was itself less than half that age at the time.
Just as NASA engineers and designers have accredited a great deal of their vision to the work of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick (via his visual adaptation of 2001) so Apple has slavishly pursued this vision of pervasive and hugely interactive computing with acquisitions like Siri and innovations like the iPad. Sure, there are many reasons for Apple’s market success in this post-PC era — but I would heap disproportionate credit toward building a corporate culture that cultivates, communicates, and ultimately has pursued that vision over the course of the past 30 years.
The tough nut to crack has always been the speech recognition part. Â We are perhaps 25 years into a 50 year cycle in helping computers to understand most nuances of human communication. Â Humans have ways to convey context, via body language etc., that computers cannot yet pick up. Speech is not effectively used without all of these cues and there are many ships on the rocks of this technology frontier. As such I and most of the consumer marketplace have never taken it very seriously, and I don’t expect this to change with Apple’s emphasis on speech reco this morning.
The question is: When we’ve checked off all of the boxes from this video what’s next? What’s the vision for 30 years hence?