by Michael L. Dertouzos
Dertouzos has a vision of human-centric computing, where the human-computer interface is at a level much closer to the way humans interact with each other than the way that people currently interact with computers. The technologies at the core of this vision are voice recognition, automation of tasks, individualized information access, computer-supported collaboration, and customization. Why should we have to wade through hundreds of features that we have no use for while using a word processor? Why should web searching be so difficult and time consuming? The first-order answer is that doing something about these problems is hard! In this book Dertouzos is essentially calling for a concerted attack on usability problems by academic researchers and by the computer industry. This is a laudable goal, and the book is refreshingly down to earth and free of utopian dreams about swarms of intelligent agents milling about doing everyone's bidding. The Unfinished Revolution is usually well-written and occasionally very compelling; I would recommend it.
There were only a few things that I didn't like about this book. First, I would have liked to see more differentiation between which goals are within easy reach and which are probably not. For example, complex software that is meaningfully customized to individual users appears to me to be a difficult goal: the realities of mass-market software production ensure that companies will always target the largest market segment that they can, and this in turn ensures that the average user will be swamped with useless features. Furthermore, suppressing the complexity of unwanted features is far more difficult than hiding infrequently used menu options (as seen in MS Office 2000). My second gripe is with the very first sentence in the book:
The Unfinished Revolution sets forth a radically new direction for information technology and the way it could be used to make computer systems serve people ... rather than the other way around.Radically new? On the contrary, this has been stunningly obvious to at least some practitioners in the field and also to computer users for several decades. The value of this book is not to propose radical new ways of using and organizing computers, but rather to gather together a collection of arguments for human-centric computing, a readable description of the technologies that might be used to develop it, and a vision for what it could look like and how it could increase our productivity during the next couple of decades.
copyright © 2001 John Regehr