Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Apple's Knowledge Navigator (1987)

In 1987 Apple Computer produced a concept video for a hypothetical product called the Knowledge Navigator.

Having a normal conversation with your computer as though you were conversing with a friend seems to be the most paleo-futuristic aspect of this video. The inefficiency of such a system certainly raises questions about the user interfaces of tomorrow.

(Inefficiency aside, there's no doubt that I'd make my virtual butler wear a bowtie too.)

See also:
The Road Ahead: Future Homes (1995)
Picturephone as the perpetual technology of the future
AT&T "You Will" (1993)
Face-to-Face Telephones on the Way (New York Times, 1968)


Unknown said...

An anime series called 'Serial Experiments: Lain' was released in mid 1998 which had a lot of references to the Knowledge Navigator (see the Wikipedia reference for the show). It was how I first found out about the idea (and potential product) actually.

Given that the show came 10 years after the original concept had done the rounds and it was fairly obvious that Apple was not going to deliver there were a few references to Be (which, at the time, seem to be set to become Apples replacement).

The NAVI is not an idea that has died though - there are many that are still seeking a way to achieve it. It seems that it was assumed that all information would become available to us (and that is pretty much the case) and we would need help filtering and correlating it (which is still the case but without a clear solution in site). I think most people have dropped the idea that this agent would be a pseudo-human though - I personally would be more comfortable dealing with something that was obviously artificial.


PS. Came across your site via a link from Reddit (to a different post). You are now on my feed-reader list (a primitive NAVI in some ways).

Anonymous said...

That computer butler is so ripping off Bill Nye's style.

MattyMatt said...

I remember seeing this video about ten years ago at a school that had a teaching-relationship with Woz. One of the instructors said that after the video was made, a lot of Apple folks freaked out about the human agent; they considered it taboo to order around a human, and wanted the agent changed to a talking dog. Which still would have been better than a paper clip.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that is Bill Nye the butler guy.

Unknown said...

If you think about it, the lady talking to him is possible with the new version of iChat that has desktop sharing as well.

The idea of a butler is just ridiculous though, and why would they use they a super rich academic to talk about this, that kind of a person could afford an actual assistant with a fancy bow tie anyway. I don't understand why they wouldn't just use a more believable normal person. Then people might've bought into it.

Love the video though.

Anonymous said...

First of all, lovely site, Matt, keep up the great work (fyi, posted a link to paleo-future on our futureblog 'a thousand tomorrows')

As for the knowledge navigator, part of the story of its impact on the Apple team, goes that when former CEO John Scully at the time saw the video, his first reaction was: 'when are we going into production?'.

As such, the knowledge navigator is a classical example of how hi-fi prototypes of a future experience, can a) give the impression that the portrayed situation is/could soon be reality (and as such make it easier to reflect on it and give feedback) but also b) risks to become the dominant image for a solution to a problem or challenge, thereby making it difficult or in some cases nearly impossible to break the pattern and look at the challenge from a different angle, explore alternative solutions (something crucial to design problem solving/solutions generation). This is why different phases of a development process or goals one aims for (e.g. making people reflect upon possible futures), require different types of 'visualization'/prototyping.

BTW, it goes without saying that many ideas similar to those of the knowledge navigator also remained central issues in the whole discourse on intelligent software agents (cf. Pattie Maes et al.)

mat said...

It seems that, at that time, Apple cared about topics like the rain forest and global warming. I wish it was like that today.

mat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

OH MY GOD! In the year 2000 my networking professor at Florida Gulf Coast University used this to illustrate what the future of networking would be like. Then she asked us to do a project predicting what the networking world would be like in 2030. As part of my group's project, I wrote a fiction story called "Daily Travels". Here's the link: http://mywebpages.comcast.net/stacydlacy/dailytravels.html

Anyway, I had no idea that the video was already 13 years old at the time it was shown to my class! I was given the impression by my professor that we would have the technology from the film within the next 4 or 5 years. 7 years later and I'm still waiting.


Salo said...

There are several places in the video that indicate that the year is 2010 (like the spreading of the Sahara during the last 20 years - the final year was 2009).
While operating system like that would be - as a a whole - a bit inefficient, I would love to use something similar with, say, Excel or similar program, where the functions itself are very basic but there are so many of them that it's hard to keep track where is what.

Of course, the problem would be to execute it without ending up with Darth Paperclip, which wasn't able to recognize when the user knew what he was wanting and when he was lost. Also, how hard would it be to associate the undoubtedly vagueness of commands to specific functions? In the video the computer was able to do several leaps not indicated by the user...