‘Ultimate Computer’ (Steve Jobs Imagination for mid 21st Century)

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The Ultimate Computer

Earlier this week I wrote about the ongoing addition of feature after feature to cell phones-most recently, satellite TV. I suggested we’re at the start of a dramatic period of rapid technical evolution, wherein our information and communications devices are going to morph into all kinds of new combinations. One reader commented:

Name: Joe

Hometown: Fort Worth

When you continue to add all these features to different sorts of devices, I can see everyone in the not-so-distant future carrying their “life” with them in the form of some electronic piece of equipment. Just another thing people will be slaves to.

Exactly right, Joe — although, I think it’s up to us as to whether we’re the slaves of these devices, or vice versa.

However, besides cramming next-generation computing and communication into a single personal device, there’s another element we need: massive information storage, so we can archive everything we do in life, from e-mail to photos to videos, and have it all available at our fingertips. And that’s exactly the direction that Google’s one-gigabyte, highly-searchable GMail could take us.

About ten years ago I asked Steve Jobs for his vision of the ultimate computer — the machine that might be possible midway through the 21st century. He said it would be a flat, tablet-like device that you might get as a child; you’d unwrap it, and, via speech and voice recognition, it would ask your name, where it was and then begin learning everything about you.

You’d carry it everywhere: do your homework on it, store all your books and correspondence, and it would subtly integrate itself into your life. It would ask, for example, where you were going and you’d say, “To my tennis lesson,” and it would respond “Would you like me to remind you about your tennis lesson at this time every week?” And then finally, Jobs said, you’d be 17 or 18 years old, sitting on your bed talking to your computer, and you’d mention that you’d just broken up with your girlfriend. And the computer would say, “Steve, it’s the third time it’s happened that way. You want to talk about it?”

Perhaps that will always be science fiction. But this decade we’re seeing the elements of that vision start to come together. Our computers still need to get much smarter, of course, but the ingredients of constant connectivity, massive memory and friendly interface design are on finally on the way, and it’s going to be an interesting ride for the next few decades.

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