From keyboard to Neuralink via digital assistant? In your dreams

Brain test
Image credit | shironosov

One well remembered comment from a tech conference in the last 10 years was about a keyboard. It was a TM Forum event in Nice and the speaker was MIT deity Nicholas Negroponte. ‘Why,’ he demanded, looking really quite cross, ‘Oh Why, did whoever designed the QWERTY keyboard put the CAPS loCK key above the shift key?’

Pause for laughter. Then, on he went, with his then crusade about laptops for all.

Whilst it was amusing and WE all make the mistake of hitting the caps lock kEY, the keyboard has become a very current issue.

How we input data into a device is something that is now absorbing a lot of very clever people’s time, including Mr Negroponte.

Elon Musk is not just talking about but building a Neuralink that allows eyes to input data directly to the brain. Mark Zuckerberg is thinking more of a mind meld type arrangement and Nicholas Negroponte believes that one option will be to ingest information in the same way as we take a pill.

Leaving aside the question of whether our brains can take that level of data input without shutting down/frying/going mad, it does beg the question: how long does the keyboard have?

In our recent interview with Niall Norton, we briefly touched on the keyboard issue and agreed that with digital assistants, the keyboard will disappear, quickly and quietly.

This sounds fine, in an article, and you would be forgiven for nodding wisely. The sad truth is that, like many things in life, digital assistants are slower, stupider and more frustrating than typing (and many other things).

The fact is that we are used to a keyboard.

As Richard Windsor points out (listing reasons why the growth of digital assistants has slowed), “Stupidity: Digital assistant are badly suited to be powered by the kind of AI that is in widespread use today. This AI is based on deep learning and as such only really works well where the task being addressed is very well defined and where nothing changes. Human conversations are neither of these things which is why all digital assistants very often fail to fulfil the requests being made”.

If you have a digital assistant you will be more than aware of how limited and frustrating it is. And if you are sitting next to your partner who is shouting at the digital assistant, how tempting is it to tap a query into the laptop or tablet and give them the answer? Mind you, doing that will probably not solve the frustration issue (and might initiate an attack with a handy keyboard).

The stark fact is that the keyboard is here for a few years yet because the gap between then and now will simply not be filled with digital assistants in their current state. These ‘faux’ AI devices have to get better.

Let us hope that when neuralinks or mind melds or digestible input devices appear, someone doesn’t put the caps lock in the wrong place.

That could cause real problems.

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