back to article Mac daddy predicts all-knowing, all-seeing UI

In the future, you'll use a speech-based interface to access all the world's knowledge – including your own personal memories – stored in the cloud, according to a legendary engineer who was a member of the team that designed Apple's original Macintosh user interface. "More and more people have smartphones in their pockets …


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  1. Aaron Em

    NLP hell, we'll need better carriers first

    Because, yeah, at a time when data's getting more and more expensive to do wirelessly, this is going to be the big new thing. Maybe my brain isn't implemented on a RAID array somewhere in some bog-standard datacenter that some marketing dipshit fondles himself while calling "the cloud"-- but, lack of multiple-brain redundancy within my cranium or no, I'm *damn* sure I'll never have to pay ten cents a megabyte to access the stuff I've got stored in it. (And I can outsource all my disaster recovery planning to the local hospital's emergency department!)

    Not only that, does anyone remember how thoroughly they had to rig Deep Blue so it could beat Kasparov, tuning up its play between each pair of matches and all that? Has it occurred to anyone that this Jeopardy outing might well be nothing more than another IBM-standard publicity stunt, with all the suit-and-tie Oompa Loompas carefully swept behind the scenes so nobody can see them running their little orange asses off to keep the rigged demo on the rails?

  2. Herby

    Yes, but...

    A talking/listening interface is SLOW. You can type, point, and click MUCH faster. This is easily demonstrated by trying to talk to someone who is in front of the computer and being TOTALLY frustrated by trying to do it.

    The only thing that really is fast enough is probably a Vulcan mind meld, and we just don't know how to to that (yet!).

    The controlling thing is that absorption via the optical nerve is a VERY high bandwidth device. By comparison, the ear is much slower. So, until the Vulcan mind meld happens, we will need some Borg like interface covering up one of those two high bandwidth interfaces we use everyday.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I agree

      One of the things I find most frustrating at the moment is the rise of information delivered via youtube. Generally when I'm reading information I'm not interested in 100% of it, so I tend to scan the bits I don't give a shit about and pay more attention to the bits I do. Videos don't allow me to do this. This means I potentially have to sit through 10 minutes of guff for the 1 minute I'm actually interested in, because I have no idea where abouts in the video the bit I want will appear. This seems it'll just make matters worse.

      When they introduced the guy as working on the original Macintosh team, all I could think about was Scottie shouting 'Hello, Computer' into the mouse.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        UI designers who don't understand sensory affordances...

        Yes, it's a wonder how many of these hotshot UI types don't understand basic issues of user interaction design, such as different sensory affordances. Even the QWERTY keyboard, with its well-known inefficiencies, is far superior to simple audio recording (forget ASR) as an input device for some purposes.

        Or, say, the rather obvious fact that different people use tools in different ways, so there won't ever by one magic perfect-for-everyone UI technology.

        In any case, anyone who pays even the slightest attention to NLP research knows that the IBM Jeopardy demo system - impressive though it may be - does not mean we're anything like close to deep conversational understanding. People are just beginning to develop effective algorithms for things like conversation entailment. We have a huge way to go.

        Hell, human listeners often have to ask for clarification, and make errors in interpretation. Now let's multiply those failure modes by implementing them on systems that control important technologies. ("No, I did NOT want you to text that rant to my boss! Bad phone! Bad!")

  3. MineHandle

    What about memories which aren't yours?

    "He envisions a day when "every conversation you've had, and every place you've visited, and every memory that you want to keep could be stored on the cloud. It's recorded by your little earpiece that's got a video camera."

    That's hardly recording your memory. It's just recording whatever happens to be in the direction that the earpiece is looking, which might well not be what your eyes are looking at - assuming they are open! For a moment I thought this guy was seriously envisaging a cross between Total Recall and Strange Days...

    1. John 62


      Behold, the moleskine notebook!

  4. David Beeston

    Prior Art?

    Hey, I saw Iron Man too and thought that his computer system was cool ;)

    1. Michael C


      In the book "Snow Crash" the author detailed the Librarian system and that was published in 1992. Isaac Asimov had similar systems used in the Foundation saga published even earierl.

      That said, prior "description" is not patentable, unless that description described systems and processes specifically that would lead to how it was DONE, but just what it looks like. If Sci-Fi could be patented that way, we'd still be in the dark ages respective to our current standing, and only the fiction authors would be rich.

    2. Ammaross Danan


      I think this guy spent a bender last weekend watching Star Trek: NG and Final Cut (for those of you not in the know, Final Cut is a SciFi about a tech that embeds a recorder in the brain, at birth, that records everything the person sees and hears from their visual perspective [eyeballs] and is used to make a memorial video about their life after they die).

      The problem with entirely vocal access to computers is privacy. If you've got a nifty in-eyewear screen, ear piece, cam, etc. and you're on a subway wanting to check your bank records... "Computer, open my bank account and display last week's transactions." Yeah, smart move. Perhaps "Computer, pull up that Scottish sheep porn from yesterday." Or, "Computer, open my LibDem activist website." What would be better than a vocal interaction would be to control the computer with a thought. Currently, we have the archaic move-the-mouse hat-tricks, but hopefully they'll work on a more memory-print level or the like. Probably not to the extent of The Matrix, but at least the computer may understand you're thinking about your money and will pull up a HUD with your current funds. Perhaps a bit of look-at-icon-and-think-"click" magic too for the things the computer hasn't been taught to recognize yet (brain imprinting is like speech recognition; it needs to be trained).

      1. Rafferty McDonald


        Well in the Sci-Fi vein, See Ghost in the Shell and cyberization.

  5. bharq
    Big Brother


    and of course "in the cloud" = controlled by some megacorp, be it Googlintosh or Macrosoft or whatever. And anyone not wearing their personal monitoring device is suspect, because "if you don't want the whole world to know what you're doing, perhaps you shouldn't be doing it in the first place"!

  6. Steve the Cynic

    Facts ...

    I wonder if I'm the first to post that the famous "Blue Marble" picture, to which he is undoubtedly referring when he comments about Apollo 11, was actually taken by the crew of Apollo 17... And it's almost always printed upside down.

    Also, I think I'd prefer to have my memories recorded in the squishy thing between my ears. It doesn't always work very well, but it's always there, never has flat batteries, and doesn't require me to go around with a camera strapped to my head.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Struck me as well

      I think the first really distant views of the earth came from Apollo 8. Just one of the reasons why, at the time, it was as big a deal as the first moon landing was later. Being the first human spaceflight to leave earth orbit, fly over 200,000 miles to the moon, and then complete several lunar orbits before returning its crew safely to earth.

  7. /\/\j17


    And when I see somebody: 'Okay, I know his name is Bill, but what was his last name? Where does he live? What does he do?', and I'm spacing out on that stuff, [but] my assistant is watching, and understands the situation, and ... is filling me in."

    ...and Bill is stood directly in front of you having said "Hello again Mr Atkinson" wondering why you are having a conversation with yourself and feeling most put out that you firstly don't remember his surname and secondly voice the fact when you could have just said "Oh, Hi Bill".

    That and you look like a tool/Captain Cyborg wearing a Bluetooth headset.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "the best way to interact with them is going to be a conversational user interface – as long as we can get natural language understanding to work"

    Yeah, that's a bit of a key issue isn't it? No, really, thanks again Sherlock for your invaluable insight, your fat paycheck is in the post. However, may I ask the "legendary engineer" to have a bit less "ideas that smack you in the face", and a bit more ideas that "don't smack you in the face, but are easible and will reach the shop shelves befire star Trek also becomes a reality"?

    I can be a "legendary engineer" too. How about a teleportation device AND that doesn't even need energy! Yeah, they might be a couple of issues to tackle, but I'll leave it to that for now. Where's my paycheck?

  9. Andy Mac

    Train journeys are going to be fun

    While I can see this kind of technological prediction actually coming true, I see public spaces full of embarrassed people murmuring into these little microphones.

    Already we have these automated phone systems that demand you say "yes" or "no" instead of just pressing a button. They always make me feel a little foolish using them in front of other people.

    I think there will be social consequences to this sort of tech, as we're seeing already with complaints about people on phones or MP3 players.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      "They always make me feel a little foolish using them in front of other people."

      They make me feel foolish even when I am on my own.

      Talking to a computer == talking to yourself as far as I am concerned. And I never talk to myself (out loud) even if I am alone.

      When I get those robots I tell them to "fuck off" and hang up the phone. Which I would never do to a real person or even a robot that had the decency to let me press a button for what I want.

      I think this tech is going to make us a lot ruder.

      Talking to robots just isn't right. Speech is full of emotional baggage and robots hate that shit.

      If you say "I'm dying" as a joke then the robot will misunderstand and call an ambulance, unless the robot hates you, which it almost certainly does, in which case it will just bark:


      Is that the world you want? Well if your name is Steve Jobs or Hannibal Lecter then probably yes. Otherwise, no.

      1. Aaron Em

        Wrong, wrong, wrong

        DYING PROCEDURE INITIATED, bah. All you need, in a *completely* emotionless tone, is this:


        "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you say that again, please?"


        "I'm dying! It's a h-- h--*grk*" [CHOKING NOISES]


        "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you say that again, please?"



        "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you say that again, please?"




        "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you say that again, please?"

        [CHOKING NOISES trail off to SILENCE]



        "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you say that again, please?"



        "I'm sorry. Are you still there?"



        "Thank you for using the SAL 10000 Service. Please try calling again later."

        [CLICK of a hook switch]

        [TONE of an open line]

        [OTHER script-y crap]

        [I'M JUST MAKING IT UP anyway]



        [THE BASTARD would do in a PINCH]


        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Aaron

          And just how is that substantively different than calling tech support in India?

          Just sayin... :D

  10. hplasm Silver badge
    Jobs Horns

    In the future-

    You'll be able to spot an Apple use by the way they mutter to themselves as they walk down the street.

    1. Aaron Em

      So the future is, what, last week?

      There's streets in this city where I can see that kind of shit all day.

      It reminds me of the porn theater Mom and I used to drive past in the morning, back when I was still in high school. You would not believe the poor bastards you see coming out of one of those places at six o'clock on a Wednesday morning. But at least the pornhounds know they have a problem.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    "including your own personal memories"

    "computer: what is my opinion on the government?"

    $ you love the government Dave, they keep you safe.

    "I love the government, they keep me safe"

    I think I'll keep my own memories, thanks. Why would I want to be human otherwise?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Unless there is a way to filter out

      ...that one night in my younger years with the Rumplemintz where I woke up the next morning wearing only a cowboy hat having stolen all my neighbors garden hoses* - I won't be getting within 20m of any such devices (assuming of course they actually existed).

      I don't even know WTF happened that night so I sure as hell don't want the cloud knowing ;)

      *btw, that really is a true story - not me of course... this guy I know. Really, not me

  12. Bobster

    I can see where this is going...

    Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

  13. Gilbert Wham

    Seems a little complex

    Why not just divorce his wife & marry a younger one with a better memory? Then we won't all need to be borged into some kind of world-spanning Mac interface.

  14. DN4

    Diabolic plan

    Really. You cannot simultaneously focus on communicating with the `assistant', interacting in the real world and thinking. So thinking will have to go.

  15. DZ-Jay


    This is what happens when the visionaries of yore grow old: they lose touch with the pace of innovation and the desires of the people that guide it. Especially when they haven't been involved in guiding it for so long.

    I admire Mr. Atkinson immensely for his role in shaping the vision of personal computing that we currently enjoy. However, like Mr. Kay and even Mr. Wozniak, they really have very little new to say in the way of technology predictions.


    1. Aaron Em

      ISO standard public dotage

      They all seem to go through it, don't they?

      Stay in the trenches, kids. Maybe no one will know your name when you die, but at least they won't know your name because of 'oh yeah, he's the one who fell for an IBM demo...poor guy'.

  16. JustinClift

    Ugh... hope not

    I hope we do better than that. "Human speech" is soooo slow. Not looking forward to having to use it as a primary human-computer interface.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Next level

    Hows' about going beyond this interface and just_talking_to_each_other. We dont really NEED all that knowledge - has anyone seen beyond this fakery, we don't NEED IT outside of work and education.

    All the knowledge and technology turns us into children, we're spoon fed, but really it's useless to us, its breadthe makes us feel good yet never quite knowing why. We forget to talk to each other - except via interfaces that fail to communicate the whole of our message (eg body language). So - we end up with nothing to say except inanities.

    ... and end up posting in inane forums ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Have you ever had the thought...

      of what would happen if we woke up one day and none of our technology or machines worked anymore?

      ...or what it would be like if the power went off and never came back on?

      Just thought I'd ask

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Anonymous Coward


          Oh wow... thanks for the tip - sounds like a great read!

          This one is on the to-do list :)

  18. Rosco


    I don't want to tell everyone in my vicinity what I'm looking for, where I'm going etc etc. I don't think natural language interface will take off until they can make it private, perhaps by being able to "hear" sub-vocalisations (yes, I've been reading Iain M. Banks).

    Also, on the one hand he's talking about fairly far-future tech like a virtual assistant monitoring and logging every conversation you have (cocktail party effect?), on the other he's saying it will need things to handle current, temporary system constraints like bandwidth. When exactly does he think this is all going to happen?

  19. Tom_

    Bill who?

    If I can't remember his name, he's probably not worth talking to anyway.

  20. Shonko Kid

    And they say smoking too much weed in your youth..

    won't give you brain rot later on in life.

  21. annodomini2

    More like

    He's looking for an excuse not to speak to his wife!

  22. TeeCee Gold badge

    And the little voice in your head tells you.....

    Ah well, at least they can't patent this one.

    Schizophrenia qualifies as prior art here I believe, so ${deity} owns the IP....

  23. Andy E

    Listening and speaking is so very slow...

    Awhile back when I fist got my Mac, I wrote an Applescript to read out e-mails using one of the Mac's built in voices. It also responded to voice commands allowing you to select e-mails, speak them and delete them. It was fun to do at the time but it's not used now. The reason? It is far, far faster to read the e-mails and use a mouse.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've been talking to my computer for years.

    Especially whilst coding.

    I wonder if i can run voice recognition in the backround and work out the most common epitaph slung at it.

    1. Aaron Em

      Er 'epithet' I think you mean

      "FUCK YOU YOU GODDAMNED PIECE OF SHIT" is only an epitaph when you've carved it on a tombstone.

  25. Aaron Em

    So, basically...

    ...Atkinson has entered the ISO-standard period of public dotage required between end-of-career and end-of-life for pretty much every 'name' this damned industry produces.

    Poor guy. I hope he enjoys his second childhood.

  26. Aaron Em

    "That building is the Bank of America building."

    There is a Bank of America building in my city, right downtown. My company has servers collocated in a hosting facility there.

    It says "Bank of America", in very large type, right up at the top of this building -- even lights up at night. It also says the same things on the glass doors to the lobby, just in case you're too close to the building to see the big glowing sign right up at the top of it.

    I fail to see where HAL 9000 needs to enter the picture.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      and besides

      taking pictures (or video) of sensitive buildings (i.e. where the bankers work etc) is ILLEGAL and subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without charge.

      I wanna be the very best

      Like no one ever was

      To catch them is my real test

      To train them is my cause

      I will travel across the land

      Searching far and wide

      Each terrorist to understand

      The power that's inside

      Terrorist! it's you and me

      I know it's my destiny,

      Terrorist! Oh you're my best friend

      In a world we must defend

      Terrorist! a heart so true

      Our courage will pull us through,

      You teach me and I'll teach you,

      Terrorist! gotta catch'em all

  27. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Surely speech is faster than typing.

    However, a computer accepting "natural language" is and should be a very long way away. Too many mistakes will be made. I want a formal command system. Otherwise:

    COMPUTER: You have another e-mail from your boss.

    YOU: Oh God! Just shoot me now.


    (If you're wondering what you were shot with, it's the reason why you're usually not allowed to eject the DVD while it's still spinning. "Shuriken+RW." Or, of course, the laser beam. Yes, your PC contains components outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.)

    1. Dave Murray Silver badge


      For you maybe. But for those of us who can type no way is speech faster.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I disagree, in part

        Some things are definately easier and quicker to frame vocally.

        "Where is the nearest pizza shop?"

        "What's the current dollar/pound exchange rate?"

        "What time is <film> showing at the <local cinema>?"

        Sure, you could fire up Firefox, type something into Google and trawl through some webpages, a few clicks and you have the answer.

        I guess the whole point is that if you are querying a large body of information then natural spoken language is the most efficient and easiest way for us to interact. We're just not used to doing in public with other people around to a device.

        I think the guy has gone off the rails a bit regarding his idea that we could record our lives and later recall, but natural language *for some things* is the inevitable future.

  28. The BigYin

    Has he been watching...

    ..."Ghost in the Shell" or something?

  29. justkyle

    Hey, wait a second...

    Just got to thinking about this with tax time coming up...

    Is it really kosher for you guys to let our I.R.S. know that this App sold 50,000 copies at 4.99 a piece?

    We all know what the developer's take on an app sale is.

    Let's hope Bill reported that income...

  30. Astarte

    Déjà vu

    Dave: Shut yourself down, Hal.

    HAL: I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that.

    Arthur C Clarke's forward-thinking was iconic but I don't like the thought of anything which will increase the amount of moronic jabbering into mobile phones on the trains, on the busses or in the street.

  31. TheOtherHobbbes
    Big Brother

    Wait, what?

    He thinks *banks* are still going to be around when this happens?

  32. Michael C

    Screw flying cars...

    I want a librarian, ala "Snow Crash."

    Not just find what I'm asking for, but act on it, and present the data the way I want to see it, and adaptively.

    1. Baskitcaise

      I want a librarian,



      Nearest I could get to a monk....... beep......[NO CARRIER]

  33. Dave Murray Silver badge

    Speech interfaces? Again?

    I thought everyone that doesn't write for Star Trek had realised by now that speech interfaces don't work and are not the future of computer interfaces. How is it supposed to cope with several people in the same room, some of them talking, one of them using the computer and a TV on in the background? Noisy environments like a train? Or regional accents?

    Add in the fact that for those of us who can type it will be slow as hell and all you have is another failed 70s dream.

    1. Oninoshiko

      Even star trek....

      had various forms of keypads all over the place (hell IIRC they had one on every wall), sometimes it's just more effecent.

      But, presumeably it would apply some type of noise filter (what, they dont have magic noise filters? but it HAS to be true! I saw it on TV)

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Oh Shite ...

    Dealing with people on an everyday basis is getting increasingly more and more difficult today because it is becoming utterly impossible to drag them away from their FaceFuck or iPhone obsession/addiction as it is. Trying to keep on message and remind the fuckwits why you are there (on billed time) is in itself a full-time job.

    This will spell the end of human society and civilisation completely.

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