Oct. 5, 2011 at 3:04 PM ET
Almost 25 years before Apple introduced the SIri personal assistant for the iPhone 4S, the company teased its vision of the future in a video released in 1987 that seems to be a road map to where they are today.
Like any good sci-fi wishlist, the "Knowledge Navigator" video — which is coincidentally set in September 2011 (the calendar comes up as September 16 and then the academic-type protagonist calls up a 2006 article) — captures an imagined scene in a future where digital personal assistants are smart enough to talk back to us in smooth English, without any computer inflections. In this scenario, the assistant is a fresh-faced, bow-tie wearing lad with a pleasant demeanor, to match the Zen-like manner and surroundings of the not-quite absent-minded professor.
The assistant answers the phone, leaves messages, takes messages, reminds his owner of pending birthday obligations and appointments and looks up several articles for his research, with lightning-speed.
User Interface Engineering dug up the video in 2007, 20 years after it came out. The article explained, "The team at Apple, inspired by the work of Alan Kay's Dynabook project, decided to imagine what computing could be like in 2010. They created this video, a 4-minute enactment, that would demonstrate their vision."
The video reminds me of a lot of sci-fi movies and TV I've grown up with that incorporate virtual personal assistants: "Total Recall," "Minority Report," "The Jetsons" and "Star Trek."
Jared M. Spool describes how the video seems to lay out Apple's moves in the last two decades:
The most impressive aspect of the envisionment is how it guided Apple's design direction for the subsequent twenty years. In 1991, 4 years after the envisionment's release, Apple produced its first notebook computer, the Powerbook 100. A few years later, they introduced the Newton, predecessor to today's tablet PCs. The Knowledge Navigator has inspired Apple's high-powered desktop computers and today's MacBook Pro, which features the built-in audio and video capabilities sported in the video's device. We can easily see the iPhone as a next step in this same technology vector, sporting multi-touch and high-resolution internet capabilities.
And now today, as of Tuesday, we have this vision for Siri:
Thanks, TechCrunch, for the headsup.