Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A rant

It's 2012. Our cars do not fly, are not self-driving, and are powered by fire.

Even though there were personal robots in the american consumer market in the 1980s capable of:
1) Speech recognition (including voice authentication *and* voice command)
2) Goal-oriented programming
3) Real-time procedural generation of original narratives
4) Fairly nuanced navigation and area-mapping, including self-charging, without vision or navigation beacons
the most advanced personal robot on the american consumer market at the moment (barring kit robots like PINO and the PR-2) is the Pleo, which has support for only #4.

Our computers almost universally depend upon a user interface invented in the early 1970s by XEROX and popularized in 1984 -- a user interface now so common that people feel as though no other user interface is possible.

No one has been on the moon since 1971.

The space shuttle is limited to the technology that existed when it was designed (with some exceptions, provided interoperability) in the early 1970s. As a result, at the time of the program's closure, the space shuttle computers still used core memory.

The general design adhered to by tablet computers was created initially by the dynabook project in 1968, and variants on it can be seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The much-advertised SIRI is based loosely on an SRI AI project of the same name. However, Apple's version is not significantly more complex than Eliza or ALICE.

In 1997, the World Wide Web was clearly a simulation of paper under glass, with the occasional hyperlink or animated GIF for distraction. In 2012, most of the web is still clearly a simulation of paper under glass, but elaborate hacks involving abuse of self-modifying code and incredible wastes of bandwidth trick some fraction of the web into instead poorly simulating the 1970s XEROX user interface inside of itself.

In the 1980s, Steve Mann invented a wearable computer that could detect billboards and replace their content with content of his choice. In the early 1990s, the MIT Media Lab worked on a wearable computer that was context-aware and selectively gave reminders and suggestions via subliminal text display when a complete focus shift would not be advisable. In 2012, Google announced that it would work on a wearable computer project, hiring people from the 1990s MIT Media Lab wearable computer projects. Judging from other Android devices and Google's other products, this augmented reality project seems like it will probably involve inserting advertisements where none previously existed, rather than removing them (as Steve Mann's device did).

Whether or not a hyperlink is broken on the web still relies entirely upon the maintenance of the page pointed to, despite all hypertext projects prior to the 1992 Berners-Lee project having solved this problem. Hyperlinks on the web still point to whole pages, or at best single points within pages (given the foresight of the original author to place labels at appropriate points), whereas some pre-1992 hypertext projects supported bidirectional links between spans of content (including multiple overlapping links).

The portable digital music player was invented in the mid-70s. Aside from major storage increases and the occasional feature like video support, portable digital music players have remained largely unchanged in design.

In 1978, a brain-computer interface allowed a blind man to see with the use of a low-resolution digital camera. In 2002, sixteen other subjects had the treatment. It is still not commercially available.

Between 1966 and 1972, MIT developed a mobile robot named SHAKEY that was capable of goal-based reasoning, route planning, environment mapping, obstacle avoidance, object detection, and limited forms of object manipulation.

In 1982, a patent was filed on the use of optical fibers as bend sensors. This was used in a number of 'wired gloves', which use bend sensors and accelerometers to report the state of hand movements to a computer. In 1987, Nintendo commercialized a product similar to these devices as the PowerGlove. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a device used by people who could not afford a PowerGlove (or its more technically advanced brethren), which took the form of a hollowed-out 8-ball full of accelerometers with several buttons on the bottom and a couple infrared beacons. This technology was revived recently as the WiiMote (with the infrared beacons moved to the 'sensorbar' and the cable removed).

In 1991, HP released the HP95LX. It was the size of a modern PDA, had the capabilities of a (low end) stock PC, and ran a stock version of MS-DOS off ROM. It is possible to run Windows 3.x on these.

In 1990, NewTek released the Video Toaster, a piece of hardware that (when attached to a Commodore Amiga) allowed consumers to perform linear video editing, including real time 3d animation.

In short, there are a lot of very cool ideas that have not been implemented, have not been commercialized, or have not been commercially successful. Some of them are very old but still very cool. All of them are still possible. Remember this the next time you are trying to choose between Drupal and Ruby on Rails for your social networking site for iguanas.

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