Interview with Woz: To innovate, get personal

The Apple co-founder explains why being human is key to good tech and why technology alone won't fix our schools

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The future of technology is about being more human
There's another factor: being more human, more personal. Wozniak points out that people use technology more the less it feels like technology. "The software gets more accepted when it works in human ways -- meaning in noncomputer ways. ... The mouse is a good example. Using it works like how we see things in space; you're not having to think that you move 5 inches but instead move your hand," and the mouse follows along, with the computer's software intrepreting the distance in context. Still, "people don't use a mouse in real-world activities," he notes, which is why the touch interface became so popular so quickly once the technology became cheap enough and sophisticated enough to feel natural in devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Wozniak cites Apple's Newton MessagePad as another example, a device that took standard handwriting instead of arcane command-line inputs that made people have to think about what they are doing instead of just doing it. Today, voice-based assistants such as Apple's Siri and Google's voice recognition are making a very human form of interaction increasingly normal on computing devices. Wozniak foresees one day that the combination of natural language recognition, artificial intelligence-like analysis and transaction systems, and easy connectivity as enabling technology to be almost a companion for people, working with them very much on their own terms.

Wozniak cites Google Search as an example of that notion today. "Search engines replace a smart person" in terms of finding things, he notes, making everyone much more able to explore the Web and find information than could possibly be done in the past, such as at a library. For Wozniak, "replacing" people with technology really means what he calls "companion computing," where everyone has a personal guide or assistant that is not possible without the use of technology -- a force for democratizing knowledge, services, and ability.

Technology isn't the solution to the education system's flaws
Every since there was an Apple II, we've heard that computers in the classroom would give American students an edge, especially disadvantaged students. Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and many others have or have had strong education computing sales businesses as a result. Today, the cry is to put iPads or other tablets in the classroom.

Despite 30 years of having computers in the classroom, "I don't see any change in how people come out [of the education system] -- they're not smarter," Wozniak says. "We put the technology into a system that damages creative thinking -- the kids give up, and at a very early age." Wozniak believes the mass-production system of education is the key problem, because students must follow a regimen dictated on a weekly basis, rather than "get a goal for the year and a reading list they can explore at their own pace to get to that result."

The education system forgets that "if you love something, you go really far into it on your own," and Wozniak believes that's how schools need to think about education. "We need one good teacher per student" to allow each student to follow their own course, at their own pace, through the learning needed -- under a teacher's guidance. Of course, there are nowhere near enough teachers, nor budget to pay for them.

But maybe one day -- 20 years or more from now -- computers can be those one-on-one teachers, or at least teacher's assistants, Wozniak says. That's that notion of "companion computing" applied to education. "Computers can't do it yet," but some of the pieces are in place today.

The more human that computing gets, the more possible that vision will be -- and not just for education.

This article, "Interview with Woz: To innovate, get personal," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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