Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fuzzy-Duzzy, The Computer You Cuddle (1976)

The August, 1976 issue of The Futurist magazine ran this blurb about the need for humanized machines, which would make technology less intimidating for the average user. The piece appears to have originally appeared in Hal Hellman's 1976 book Technophobia: Getting Out of the Technology Trap.

We need "humanized machines." Wes Thomas, editor of the future-oriented newsletter Synergy Access and a computer expert, once told me of a "dream" he has. "What I'd like to do," he said, "is develop computer systems that are more 'human,' that people are not afraid of, in fact that they would get along with and even enjoy." He would like, therefore, to develop the "Fuzzy-Duzzy."

Today, he explains, computer terminals are made out of metal and plastic. They are cold and uninviting; therefore most people are immediately turned off by them. And they look menacing, like something a mad scientist would create.

With Fuzzy-Duzzy, he says, "you would put your hands into this warm, inviting Teddy-Bear thing, and you would be able to look inside through a porthole. Inside there would be these big knobs you could get hold of and turn, instead of the usual miniature keys everybody keeps making mistakes on. By moving things around, you'd be able to communicate with the machine.

"And the pictures that come on the screen would not be the usual angular shapes, but nice, round organic forms.

"So I'm interested in developing a sort of organic computer terminal that people will feel at home with immediately."

When I mentioned this to an acquaintance, he became furious. He called it underhanded, meretricious, and worse. A machine has no right being "friendly."

Thomas's "dream" is a bit extreme, I will admit. Yet humanized machines combined with people who are not afraid of them (and who understand where and how to use them) may be the way we will eventually do many of the things that remain to be done in basic education and job training, in health care and perhaps in many other applications as well. Just as the supermarket put the customer to work, so too may it be necessary for patients and prospective patients to do some of the pre-entry work themselves, aided by computers - humanized ones, of course.

Machines will also help us provide sight for the blind and hearing for the deaf, mobility for the lame and dexterity for the handicapped. Will humanization of such machines be necessary too?

1 comment:

Scott said...

Paging Mr. Jobs, Mr. Steven Jobs...