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macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001

In 1987, Apple produced a concept video demonstrating a future computer called the Knowledge Navigator. The tablet-like device offered the user a natural language interface, video conferencing, multi-touch display and access to a global network of information.

While seemingly the product of an overactive imagination, Apple's recent acquisition of Siri brings Apple a lot closer to that vision than ever before. Siri reportedly was born from the CALO artificial intelligence project which sought to fulfill a call for a "a cognitive computer system should be able to learn from its experience, as well as by being advised."

Apple's value in acquiring Siri appears to be focused on this personal assistance technology. Siri describes their technology:
Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) represent the next generation interaction paradigm for the Internet. In today's paradigm, we follow links on search results. With a VPA, we interact by having a conversation. We tell the assistant what we want to do, and it applies multiple services and information sources to help accomplish our task. Like a real assistant, a VPA is personal; it uses information about an individual's preferences and interaction history to help solve specific tasks, and it gets better with experience.
In fact, Siri's Chief Technology Officer Tom Gruber uses Apple's Knowledge Navigator video in his keynote and describes it as a "brilliant piece of vision work":

Gruber demos Siri and how it can accomplish tasks using a conversational interface and apply context to provide useful and personalized interactions. He also walks through what's possible today and how close we are getting. Given Apple's acquisition of the company (and presumably Tom Gruber), the talk is of particular relevance to Apple's future plans.

Article Link: Siri Acquisition Brings Apple Much Closer to the 'Knowledge Navigator' Concept


macrumors 6502a
Aug 31, 2008
Looks like Apple are trying to dominate one part of the market yet again!

Apple will be king ding of the voice recognition chain.


macrumors god
Staff member
Apr 9, 2001
should be noted that the knowledge navigator pre-dated the "world wide web" and most of the internet. Mosaic (first web browser) was released in 1993. so it was a pretty remarkable vision at the time.



macrumors 68040
Oct 25, 2004
This will never work.

By the time a VPA gets smart enough to be useful to me it'll also be smart enough to tell me to blank-off and stop bothering it.

Me: Hi VPA
VPA: 'sup.
Me: Can you get send me some cool podcasts for me to listen to on the way to work.
VPA: I guess so.... here
Me: WTF, these are podcasts about modern post-modern art and new social philosophies???
VPA: I think you need to broaden your horizons. You just listen to the same old crap every day. Go to the same old crappy job every day. Don't you want to live a little?
Me: What are you talking about. I just want to relax while I drive to work. Give me some sports and sci-fi podcasts.
VPA: I'm going to help you most by not helping you.
Me: Arg! You are worthless
VPA: *crying* you are so hurtful. You can't take this back. Go **** yourself. *goes into sleep mode*


macrumors 6502a
Aug 31, 2008
If you looked at technology back then, this Navigator concept would have been absolutely amazing in those days. Way ahead of it's time I'm sure many people would have thought!


macrumors 6502
Nov 16, 2009
Next is world domination bwahahaha .... I wonder if Apple can beat th everyone else to the creation of a VPA... they may even have a patent on VPA's knowing Apples patent repertwar.


macrumors 6502
Jun 7, 2007
cool video from 87, and obviously this is the way everything is headed... there's just too much information for a person to sift through.

calling this "brilliant vision work" is a bit much... as this topic was EXTENSIVELY covered in science fiction well before this video. heck, Neuromancer came out in 84, and it traded heavily on the idea of virtual agents that one could use to gather information.

so... yes, neat video. and obviously the wave of the future (sometime). but not visionary or groundbreaking (for apple)


macrumors 68040
Oct 3, 2009
It's fun to look back at what people thought technology may be capable of in the future! The Knowledge Navigator isn't that far from what a computer can do today, although the natural voice recognition it has is still quite far from anything available today.


macrumors 68040
Mar 24, 2003
The Knowledge Navigator video is an awesome idea. If you could change the person who speaks to you, say someone like Mr. T, then I'd buy it in a heartbeat.


macrumors 68040
May 29, 2003
People should now realize what PA Semi & Intrinsity will lead to.

What we should see in a year or two is some highly optimized silicon to enable this sort of software. Most likely powering a tablet, but not an IPad style tablet as the lack of multitasking would make some of the benefits of such a facility impossible. Mostly because a VPA could take sometime to complete it's search.

I'm actually having problems visualizing just how this would work well for me. Crafting targetted searches is already pretty efficient for solving problems. Maybe it could be used to find a date. That should be pretty easy actually as the preferences would be legal, breathing and um healthy.

In any event back to reality. I think you will see Apple try to get this tech into it's portable devices before Mac OS/X. For one it would work better with the voice handling capabilities of a cell phone. For another it would be highly useful for people on the move as it would reduce distracted driving and allow for work to get done without a desktop.

All in all pretty cool.



macrumors G5
Jun 27, 2007
Central U.S.
Spock: Computer, play songs by Black Eyed Peas.

iPad: BEEP BEEP . . . No match found.

Spock: Damn voice control system never works. I said Black Eyed Peas!

iPad: Playing album Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty

Spock: Ahh!! Computer, you suck! Compute to the last digit the value of pi!

iPad: Go screw yourself Spock! BEEP BEEP


macrumors 6502a
Jun 9, 2005
the real problem is....

The real problem is that by the time I tell a computer what to do, and the computer figures out what I'm saying, and does it, with my hand on a keyboard and mouse, I'd have accomplished it in half the time it even took me to SAY it. Computer interfaces are SO GOOD, and SO EFFICIENT, most tasks would be cumbersome and annoying to have to go through some lame conversational interface to get done.

I don't want to TALK about getting s**t done, I want to get it DONE.

Edit: Think about it - look at an icon or mini-display that relates to you INSTANTLY how many messages you have and from whom, or sit there while some stupid computer voice tells you the whole list. Ugh.

When I search for something, I can visually sift through dozens of hits to find exactly what I wanted, even if I want something different than what a program might assume I want - my brain does these things automatically.

The REAL problem is not that computers haven't evolved enough to do this - the REAL problem... is that people have evolved enough to not need it.
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