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able big new dreams. Let me suggest some, which might fuel the
next part of the story of personal computing.
Engelbart imagined a gure called an "augmented architect":
"Let us consider an augmented architect at work. He sits at a
working station that has a visual display screen some three feet
on a side; this is his working surface and is controlled by a com-
puter (his clerk ) with which he can communicate by means of a
small keyboard and other devices....Every person who
does his thinking with symbolized concepts...should be
able to bene t signi cantly."
Are we taking full advantage of the power of computers
to augment our intellects? I don t think so. Computers are
currently unaware of their environments---of the people
and objects around them. The computer does not have
cameras to see what we see, to know what books and pa-
pers are in the room. We don t interact with the computer
in natural ways---for instance, by drawing on paper (while
the computer watches with its camera) or on electronic pa-
per (on which the computer could draw too). We don t talk,
listen, or gesture to computers the way we do to each other.
And we re no better at entering into the computer s environ-
ment than it is at understanding ours. The best commonly avail-
able immersive technology we have today is the video game, not
the architectural design package. We, sadly, spend much more of
our collective energy and focus on virtual reality for entertain-
ment than for education and augmentation.
Worst of all, computer software doesn t really interact with us.
It executes what we request but doesn t initiate actions on its own.
Our computers do not understand the goals of the projects we re
working on. They don t think ahead and work, unprompted, in
concert with us toward those goals. In reality, we work alone.
We have, or will soon have, su cient computing power to
build interactive, immersive, and aware software, so that the
rooms in which we work, as architects or engineers, scientists or
students, can routinely become immersive and interactive envi-
ronments. We need to sponsor the hard research needed to make
this dream a reality---to nd and to fund the dreamers.
Your (Pocket) Personal Computer
Nearly 50 years ago, J. C. R. Licklider imagined computers as a
communications device. When we look at today s smart mobile
devices, the BlackBerries and the Treos and the Nokia Commu-
nicators, we underestimate their importance. Their capabilities
are relatively limited. Compared to phones, they re big and bulky,
but compared to notebook computers, they have frustratingly
small screens and keyboards. Few people have them. They don t
really feel like our most personal computers.
But I think they are. The power of such devices will grow rap-
idly, as did the power of the PC. And they will become intensely
personal, because they will be able to do more for you than any-
thing that is as portable. They will thus naturally become the
focus of improvements in connectivity and communication.
Much as the Google query you make from your home r uns on
machines located elsewhere, software run on behalf of your
pocket PC could reside in remote ser ver farms, on computers you
time-share with others---but that you don t have to maintain.
Does this mean that desktop PCs as we know them will disap-
pear? I m not suggesting that. Rather, I think, we will nd that
these larger computers with keyboards become less personal, be-
come shared devices. In my household, many of us have accounts
on several di erent computers, which share our personal infor-
mation among them. None of these is "my" computer, yet all are,
when they need to be. The individual machines are becoming ac-
cess points to my presence on the network.
Your smart phone will bene t greatly from
the next 100-fold improvement bestowed by
Moore s Law. It can acquire more sensors, be-
coming a personal medical scanner, tricorder,
translator, recorder, and interpreter. There are
many worthy dreams for such devices!
Note to Government: Think Big
Engelbart s research found strong support
from the government. But that was a long time
ago. Federal funding for speculative research
has now, largely, dried up; agencies looking for short-term pay-
backs now typically sponsor work on speci c problems rather
than the kinds of pure research, of unfettered thinking, that leads
to the birth of whole new industries, as Engelbart s did.
During the Clinton administration, I served as cochair of the
President s Commission on Information Technology (PITAC).
Fellow members of the committee and I recommended that the
government think big and recognize that computers will be key to
all economic growth in the future, not just the growth of the com-
puter industry itself. We argued that there were industries where,
without new computer applications, the United States would be-
come substantially less competitive.
Historically, the most cutting-edge research in computing was
sponsored for national defense, with a very long-term view. We
recommended that the government fund, in a similar way, a
number of large computing projects. Each of these projects would
cut across disciplines and make di erent assumptions (call them
guesses) about what the future would be like. Each would create
an imagined environment and determine what it would be like to
live in it. The projects would result, we hoped, in inspirational
prototypes, NLS-like demonstrations of how the great advances
in computing and communication, the next 100-fold improve-
ment, could be put to use by the next generation of Engelbarts.
The committee s recommendations were not followed.
Though a President Gore would have been supportive of them,
the current administration has not been, and the long-term trend
toward a short-ter m focus in government-sponsored research
continues. The young Doug Engelbarts of today will be hard
pressed to nd support for their dreams.
What a shame. It s possible now, more than ever, to augment
human intellect. We should boldly set our sights on Engelbart s
goal. John Marko has done us all a great service by writing a
book that reminds us of the great value of thinking big. ■
Bill Joy was the architect of Berkeley Unix and a cofounder of Sun
Microsystems. He is now a partner at venture-capital firm Kleiner,
Perkins, Caufield, and Byers.
Are we taking
of the power of
I don t think so.
unaware of their
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