In 1987, under the direction of CEO John Sculley, Apple produced a vision of the future. It served two audiences, evangelizing the masses with a glimpse of Apple’s market-leading vision, and providing the company’s engineers with a challenge and a goal.
Note: This is actually a much later video from the 1990s, supplementing Sculley’s original vision with a framing presenter and more use cases for the future technology.
While the overall idea was the domain of science fiction in 1987, the individual pieces needed to make it a reality were well into development. Knowledge Navigator was, in fact, a conservative bet to someone immersed in the high technology of the age.
Apple’s new Siri product, born of research from the prestigious SRI, showcases how far we’re come in 25 years. There may not be a man in a bow tie personifying our computer, but we can now interact with our information conversationally, and that’s powerful. For days following Tim Cook’s Siri presentation, bloggers were quick to call Siri the embodiment of Knowledge Navigators vision. What’s really spooky is, as Andy Baio pointed out, there are things in the Knowledge Navigator video that point to it taking place in September 16, 2011 — just shy of Apple’s October 4th announcement.
This isn’t the first time comparisons were drawn between Knowledge Navigator and the present-day state of the art, however. We all want to believe we live in the promised future. Jim Carlton’s 1997 book Apple proclaims:
A decade later, the Internet’s World Wide Web would explode, providing the same ability to scan vast databases as the Navigator promised while communicating with other people through the computer at the same time. […] Sculley was also years ahead of his time in predicting the importance of big 1990s trends such as the computer’s new ability to combine video and sound. For all his later failing as CEO, Sculley would go down in computer history as a great visionary and seer.
It seems Knowledge Navigator is still serving it’s original purpose. It’s providing us with a vision of the future and giving us something to measure our progress against. It may be another 25 years before we see something exactly like it, but developers will keep striving toward it and continue celebrating each part they successfully create.
Since it’s a holiday weekend, here’s some additional reading/viewing that’s well worth your time:
Knowledge Navigator Implications (1988) : Steve Wozniak, Alan Kay, Ray Bradbury, Alvin Toffler and others pontificate on the features included in the Knowledge Navigator vision and how we might interact with computers in the future.
Bud Colligan weighs in : In the comment section of Andy Baio’s piece, Apple’s Director of Higher Education Marketing from 1985 – 1988 describes the genesis of the Knowledge Navigator concept.
The Making of Knowledge Navigator : The video’s co-creator describes the ideas & some details behind how the video was made.
Dave Greelish interviews John Sculley (part 1) (part 2) : A late 2011 interview with John Sculley, revisiting his days at Apple and the decisions he made. They also discuss Alan Kay, his Dynabook concept, and the Knowledge Navigator.
If you like this, Dave recommends…
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