We’ve come to love the Internet, both because it is so rich in content and inexpensive and, perhaps more importantly, because it allows us to define how we communicate. As its ability to carry richer forms of media advances, we’ll find ourselves using it more and more. Once Internet voice delivers quality that rivals (or betters) the capabilities of the PSTN, the phone company had better look for another line of business. The PSTN will cease to exist and become little more than one more communications protocol the Internet happily carries for us. As with most of the rest of the Internet, open source technologies will lead this transformation.
The dream of having our technical inventions talk to us is older than the telephone itself. Each new advance in technology spurs a new wave of eager experimentation. Generally, results never quite meet expectations, possibly because as soon as a machine says something that sounds intelligent, most people assume that it is intelligent.
People who program and maintain computers realize their limitations, and thus tend to allow for their weaknesses. Everybody else just expects their computers and software to work. The amount of thinking a user must do to interact with a computer is often inversely proportional to the amount of thinking the design team did. Simple interfaces belie complex design decisions.
The challenge, therefore, is to design a system that has anticipated the most common desires of its users, ...