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AT LARGE: Welcome back

AT LARGE: Welcome back

So what have we to look forward to this year? Well, there's another Star Wars movie coming out. And another Lord of the Ring movie. And another Harry Potter movie. And another Toy Story movie. It's even possible there's another Star Trek movie coming out.

All up, it's not going to be an altogether original year at the old box office.

So, as always, the world will turn for inspiration to the computer industry. Come on, folks, what have you got? What revolutions await? What innovations will inspire us out of our shamefully derivative rut?

Will it be Apple, with its new iMac that looks like a 1930's table lamp? Possibly not. It's a very cool machine, and not the least bit unattractive, but it doesn't stop one in one's tracks the way the first iMac did three years ago. Part of that machine's appeal was that its design was eminently copyable - peripheral manufacturers fell over themselves to build colourful translucent widgets. Achievement the iMac II may be, but I can't see Epson rushing to build printers that look like table lamps.

Will it be Microsoft, with its revolutionary XBox game console? I'd say no. Hype aside, the XBox cannot escape the immutable truth: it is a game console. And before you write to me about convergence and digital appliances and so forth, be prepared to show me the proof, not the promise. XBox will be the way of the future in the post-PC era, which Microsoft is now trying to bring about. But that's not a revolution, that's a marketing ploy.

I had a bet with a colleague some years ago about speech recognition becoming "prevalent" by the year 2001. I was for the negative. As I sit here, typing and notably not dictating this column, it suddenly occurs to me that I'm owed twenty bucks.

Or will speech recognition be the revolution in 2002? What's holding it back? Perhaps people are self-conscious about talking out loud to a computer. I'm not - I lost two gigabytes of data the other day, and you should have heard the things I said.

Or maybe it's some Chomsky thing, and the bit of the brain in charge of written language isn't the same as the bit in charge of spoken language. Maybe we simply can't speak the written language, and for speech recognition to take off, developers need to overcome the fundamental architectural limitations of the human psyche. That would impress me, I think.

Matthew JC. Powell welcomes attempts to impress him. Viva la revolution on mjcp@optushome.com.au


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