How can we bring back the excitement of the PC industry? It won’t come from Microsoft — Windows has a huge amount of system overhead, it costs too much, and it’s designed for a “desktop metaphor” — TV screen output, typewriter input.
It’s time for a whole new direction. I call it Isaac.
Isaac is a Linux box designed first as a home 802.11 server It provides a stable firewall, anti-viral software, optional cyber-censor and full home networking interface for under $400.
It includes interfaces for 802.11 local or wide-area networking, or it can connect easily with a wired network running through your phone, a cable, or your electrical system.
Isaac has no screen or keyboard. You access it through the other PCs in the home. But Isaac opens lots of opportunities to create add-on applications:
Home Security – Buy some sensors, turn on the local 802.11 network, and program Isaac to call the police if there’s a break-in. The whole kit costs $200, with no monthly fees, and you can do it all yourself. Home comfort – Interface Isaac with your heating and lighting systems to cool your home before you get there and turn on lights randomly when you’re out at night. The total cost is about $150. Home Entertainment – Interface Isaac with your TiVo and choose the shows you’ll watch tonight from work. Costs just under $100. Home Calendar – Remind kids of their chores, remember to take your medicine, and keep everyone on track. The software runs on Isaac for just $50, from sites like Download.Com.
The best thing about Isaac, however, is the optional voice interface. Train Isaac to your voiceprint, create some standard commands, put some microphones and speakers on the home network, and the whole family can talk with Isaac. Come up with a brainstorm? Tell Isaac. Need to remember a doctor’s appointment. Tell Isaac. Forget your homework? Tell Isaac all about it.
Isaac, the invisible robot, is not sold in stores yet. It is not available anywhere. But all the technology needed to create Isaac – both hardware and software – exists today, and it’s all very cheap. What we need, simply, is a little entrepreneurial will, and we can get this economy rolling again. Think of it as Moore’s Law in action.
What Isaac needs, to become a standard (thus cheap) is a voice operating system built on a stable platform, Linux.
Instead of controlling computers through mice and typewriters, all tied to a TV screen, control it through speech, spoken responses, and observed behaviors. Work on such an OS was halted, really, by the rise of the Internet. But super-fast chips seeking a market give software developers a big incentive.
With a voice OS, you tell the computer you’re leaving and it locks the house up for you. You announce your return and the house is unlocked. You remember a coming appointment and announce it to your calendar. The speaker reminds you of it in time to get there. The PC and network surrounds you, in your office or home – it’s not something you have to go to.