Chapter 7. Tools: My Philosophy about What We Should Be Developing

So far in this book, I have been looking at how people make use of new technology. Now let's look at the nature of tools themselves and of their relationship with people.

In this chapter, I start with some essays that contrast the popular idea of the computer acting as an assistant, interacting in a conversational manner, and following in the image of a robot butler, to that of a tool, more like a screwdriver or piano. Also included is another of my essays that continues to be cited by others and a new essay that I hadn't published yet when I put this book together.


Learning to use things that are difficult to learn is part of being human.

The strange goal of computers as "natural assistants"

There has been a lot of talk lately about how computers are too hard to learn to use. There is a longing for devices you can just pick up and use without training. Microsoft's Kai-Fu Lee was quoted in the New York Times as saying when discussing the more "natural and intelligent" user interfaces he hopes to create, "My dream is that the computer of the future is going to be an assistant to the user."[]

This type of thinking strikes me as strange. We don't ask for our automobiles to be more natural and intelligent, nor do we call for the next generation of cars to be like chauffeurs. With cars, we talk about responsiveness, comfort, power, cargo size, and safety. Tools are effective and ...

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