Wanted: Computers as easy as phones

In an interview, W. S. "Ozzie" Osborne makes a "nod your head in agreement" statement: As ubiquitous as we think computers are, for many individuals, they are still too complex for routine use.

The powerful microprocessor is still primarily a business tool, says Mr. Osborne, general manager of voice-recognition systems for IBM. Computers just aren't as easy to use as they might be, despite the progress of point-and-click technology.

If we're honest, we might admit that much of the computing we do outside work is more like work than leisure. (I say this after having spent the better part of two weekends setting up a new computer system at home.)

This is going to change - and change by a quantum leap - in the next decade, says Osborne. Thanks to nearly universal wireless communication networks linked to ever more powerful microprocessors, and exponential advances in voice-recognition software, our lives will be transformed in ways we can barely imagine, at a pace many will find difficult to keep up with.

Think how the telegraph gave way to the telephone, he says, but compress the time required from a century to a decade. The wired technology of the telegraph (a tremendous advance in speed over mail) really didn't touch the lives of the masses until the wire connected to a telephone in the home.

The key to the power of the microchip is still a keyboard, a monitor, and software. Each requires technical skills.

Conversation is natural.

When we can talk to a cellphone-like device, connected to unlimited computer power via a wireless network, the masses will start using the power of the microchip the way we use the telephone.

E-mail Ideas@csps.com.

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