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A Most Stupendous & Audacious Undertaking

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What I learned from a 1993 issue of WIRED I found in a book box on the sidewalk:
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I didn't know it was from 1993 at first, but I was startled to see a picture of Sonic the Hedgehog on the cover, so I opened it to a random page and saw an ad for an Apple tablet -- no, not the iPad, the Newton MessagePad. The ad copy was very wordy compared to modern Apple, but the feeling was more or less the same. "We have a shiny and brilliant product that will become your indispensable new best friend"

Here are some things I learned by reading it.  I knew a lot of these already, but it's good to have them validated:

- Lots of technologies and products have been around a *long* time and are riding a long, slow curve of decreasing cost and increasing ease of use and features. No one knows when they will pop over a threshold and begin to see market traction... it could be within a year or it could take another 20.  Some things I was surprised to see for sale:
-- Massively multiplayer online gaming
-- Serious games for adult education
-- 3D mice
-- Automatic business card scanners with OCR to automatically read the text on them
-- A Google Maps equivalent (with info and reviews of businesses, directions, etc) that ran off the desktop.  Get one city on a floppy, or all of them on a CD-ROM!
-- TVs with face recognition that would tell who was watching.  (For developing a more accurate TV viewership rating system)

- Software is unique in that just about any software tool (eg a spell checker) goes from expensive to completely free and integrated into a larger package within a few years.   This happens to a lesser extent with electronics and much less with anything that has a significant materials cost. 

- Offering a free, unlimited plan and then switching to an a-la-carte plan will piss off your customers. (Prodigy went from unlimited email for $15/mo to "50 free emails + 25c per additional email per month" in 1990. Users revolted.)

- WIRED didn't see the Web coming at all. It was all about closed, walled-garden online experiences.

- On Steve Jobs:  "NeXT is like [a] model of Steve's head: brilliant, charming, but with no input jacks"

- It's really freaking weird to read a hype-y tech magazine full of ads for cool, futuristic devices and then seeing a phone number to call to learn more about them. Maybe 25% of the ads had an email address you could use to contact them.


Yeah... all the machine learning domains have problems that get a lot easier or harder depending on the number of items to be identified and how much different examples of each item tend to vary. A 1993-era OCR could probably recognize letters and numbers in a narrow range of typical fonts. The Nielsen face-recognition box only had to distinguish between a few different family members and could spend minutes analyzing any given image.

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