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The Laughing Computer

Wednesday, March 22, 2000
by Mark Hurst

Leave it to a computer science professor to tell you to hug your computer. As described in this PCWorld article, a recent Intel symposium (the "Computing Continuum") featured professors offering tidbits like this -- as paraphrased in the article:

People want to communicate with PCs the way we communicate with each other. Such communication is more gratifying, but today's PCs are totally blind to it. Interaction will improve if computers can understand human nuances.

Communicating with a computer like a human is "more gratifying"? Last I checked, most users want to spend their time communicating with other people, not communicating with the computer.

I wasn't at the symposium, so I may be misunderstanding what happened there. But I have to laugh when I think of a roomful of computer science profs and Intel researchers, all discussing the coolest ways to create even more technology for us to deal with every day. How much are the interests of the average user -- who is already overwhelmed by bits -- really being served here?

If I had spoken at the symposium, here's what I would have told Intel: let's get more effectiveness from less technology. Not a bunch of buzzwords or futuristic laughing computers. Just get the bits to do what the user wants them to do, and then make the bits go away.

The Web has brought together some awesome technology that allows us to improve our lives in some ways. But increasingly, the user's problem is that there is too much technology getting in the way of a good experience. We should work on improving technology so that we deal with it less and get more benefit from it.

But new technology just for the sake of new technology is the wrong solution. It might make the industry lots of money, but that tends to obscure the industry's only real measure of success: a benefit to the end user.

Rather than building the laughing computer, I have a better idea for Intel and the professors: let's create simpler technology that primarily serves the user, and that lets users get the most benefit from it.

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