Put that there

Put That There is a video from the MIT Media Lab Speech Interface Group back in 1979. Yep, that’s right, back in 1979 people were creating voice & gesture recognition interfaces. It was basically the original prototype for Alexa… kinda.

Keep in mind that this was created in an era where:

  • Texas Instruments introduces the TI 99/4 with a 16 bit processor
  • Motorola introduces the 16 bit 6800 chip which operates internally with 32bit registers, and used in graphical orientated computers.
  • Intel introduces the 8088 which uses a 8 bit data bus, but inside still operates on a 16 bit architecture.
  • Space Invaders and Pacman are released
  • The “Ethernet”, introduced by Xerox, DEC, and Intel becomes a standard for local networks
  • Usenet was born
  • Atari introduces the first micro-computers (Atari 400 & Atari 800)
  • Emoticons are introduced by Kevin McKenzie as a way to suggest emotion through type

Understanding the limitations of the time, and seeing what these people developed at MIT Media Lab should be an indicator of our potential human abilities. Now contrast their limitations with our unlimited possibilities today. The only thing holding us back is our imaginations.

By 1980, the MIT Media Lab Speech Interface Group was improving with complex shapes and modified voice commands in group settings.

While a lot has changed over time, some things still remain the same. For example we’re still trying to figure out an elegant solution for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). This is undoubtedly reflected in the recent emergence of voice and gesture recognition within today’s hardware like Alexa. This world really does work in cycles.

These ideas and experimentations have existed for over 25 years and I’m only stumbling upon their origins now. There’s a lot we can learn from the past. It can help mold our future and secure our foundations. Technology and Design have obviously existed in tandem for decades now, and a stronger integration of the two appear to be the future direction. You can learn more by reading this year’s Design in Tech Report from John Maeda.