When Worlds Collide #77: Talking with Computers, beyond Mouse and Keyboard

When Worlds Collide, by Nalaka Gunawardene

Text of my ‘When Worlds Collide’ column published in Ceylon Today Sunday broadsheet newspaper on 4 August 2013

Scotty talks to the mouse!

There was a memorable scene in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Chief Engineer Scotty, having time-travelled 200 years back to late 20th century San Francisco with his crew mates, encounters an early Personal Computer (PC).

Sitting in front of it, he addresses the machine affably as “Computer!” Nothing happens. Scotty repeats himself; still no response. He doesn’t realise that voice recognition capability hadn’t arrived yet.

Exasperated, he picks up the mouse and speaks into it: “Hello, computer?” The computer’s owner offers helpful advice: “Just use the keyboard.”

Scotty looks astonished. “A keyboard?” he asks, and adds in a sarcastic tone: “How quaint!”

He then proceeds to use the keyboard with amazing dexterity — too good to be true for someone raised in a future world where human-computer interactions…

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