Moths to the Flame: Infinite in All Directions
Too Many Secrets
Infinite in All Directions

The Power of Ideas
Just Connect
The Bloody Crystal
The Life You Save
The Machine Stumbles
A Creation Unknown
Order Online!

Infinite in All Directions

Once Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly. He did not know that he had ever been anything but a butterfly and was content to hover from flower to flower. Suddenly he woke and found to his astonishment that he was Chuang Tzu. But it was hard to be sure whether he really was Tzu and had only dreamt that he was a butterfly or was really a butterfly and was only dreaming that he was Chuang Tzu.

Chuang Tzu

Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Today's computer interfaces, the imaginary places where we meet and exchange information with our machines, are simply laughable compared to what's coming. Most of us are still crouched before a screen, attended by a keyboard and mouse. Occasionally we execute little curlicues with the mouse, but mostly we type---slowly---on the keyboard, feeding a trickle of information to the computer, while it spews back a niagara of information onto the screen. We don't converse with our machines, we send them telegrams.

Turning away from the computer, we then talk to a friend, using a much more sophisticated device: our bodies. Besides the actual words we hear, we unconsciously pay close and continual attention to each other's eyes, mouths, eyebrows, postures, gestures, scents, tones, pauses---on and on and on. We speak volumes simply by shifting our gaze, blinking more, or dilating our pupils. All those grunts and sighs, smiles and frowns, let us communicate superbly with each other.

We're a long way from that level of interaction with today's computers. They pay almost no attention to the enormous quantities of information we continually broadcast. The software bridging the abyss between what computers are and what we would like them to be is still very shaky, and terribly incomplete. But it's getting better.

As the decades pass, computers will grow ever more competent at extracting all sorts of information from our behavior. They will eventually notice when we nod and when we yawn, when we smile and when we frown---which will let us better communicate our wishes to them and improve how gracefully we use them.

Once we start using a tool extensively, it also starts using us. We long ago passed that point with cars and telephones, and now we've passed that point with computers. That fact will have consequences that go far beyond simply easing the simple jobs we use computers for today. Ultimately it may change how we view reality itself.

NEXT: The Medium is Massaged