I read David Gelernter’s The Second Coming — A Manifesto today. I agreed with most of what he said and even when I didn’t agree with a specific prediction he made, I agreed with the motivation behind it. I’ve been saying for a long time that the desktop metaphor was unnecessarily constraining. It is fine if what you are trying to do is mimic the operation of a pre-computer office. The problem is that nobody wants to mimic the operation of a pre-computer office. The computer has changed everybody’s expectations of how an office should run.
I have been telling people that the future of computers would be based on constantly shifting clusters of computers, for example, if you walk into a room and you have a small hand held computer with you, it will form an ad hoc federation with the input and output devices in the room. If there is a display on the wall, your computer will associate with it. If there is a camera in the room, your computer will use it to watch you and look for you to make gestures to tell it what you want it to do. As Gelernter says, the focus will shift from the computer and the programs to what you want to accomplish.
I also agree with the indictment he makes of computer users for putting up with such horrible software without even complaining about it. I think the reason for this is that the average person doesn’t know how bad things are or how good they could be. There is a conspiracy between the people that understand computers to keep the people who don’t in the dark about what might be done with a little imagination.
All in all, the Manifesto is a great read. It inspired me to rethink my attitude toward software development. It helped me imagine the emergence of artificial intelligence just any day now. Go read it! Now! I’ll wait for you.