iPad + Siri = Knowledge Navigator

Jared Spool

October 5th, 2011

[Update: MSNBC picked up on this story and reminded me that I wrote an article deconstructing the Knowledge Navigator a while back.]

Back in 1987, Apple (under the direction of John Sculley, not Steve Jobs), released a video of what Apple products could be like in the future. Called the Knowledge Navigator, it showed a sci-fi mythical tablet computer from 23 years in the future (yup, 2010) that the user talks with to get things done.

Fast forward 24 years and Apple releases Siri with the new iPhone 4S. Siri is an assistant that takes voice commands and acts on them. If you haven’t seen Siri, here’s a demo.

Now, as far as I know, Siri is only available on the iPhone 4S. However, that’s likely temporary, as I don’t believe there’s anything that prevents it from showing up on other platforms, like the iPad.

And once it shows up on the iPad, Apple will have fulfilled it’s 1987 quest. All the components of the original Knowledge Navigator are now available and for less than $500.

In ’87 — when we all used big, boxy CRTs on bulky, loud, slow desktop processors without any notion of communications beyond 9,600 baud (14.4 came in 1991) — there was no way you could have a small, tablet computer to do all the things in that video. Knowledge Navigator was complete science fiction to everyone at that point. Computers couldn’t speak. You couldn’t imagine face-to-face video conferencing across the planet, let alone collaborative workspaces. None of that had been invented yet, except as sci fi.

Yet, if we look close, it’s the path Apple has been on for 24 years. We’ve seen the baby steps. With the introduction of the Mac Book, then the iPhone, followed by the iPad, we got our table. The interwebs provided the connectivity, where Apple focused on its Airport wireless products to get the components tiny. Innovations like built-in cameras and Facetime made the video conferencing a reality.

And now Siri completes the journey. Siri isn’t quite the bow-tied dude who can order a cake for your mother’s birthday party, but it’s damn close. (And I’m not convinced we need avatars to believe the computer is speaking. I think Second-Life ruined avatars for everyone, except those who enjoy online virtual sex.)

In 1987, when Apple first released the video, they received a fax (!) with a purchase order for the Knowledge Navigator. Now they can finally fill the order.

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