The paperless office
As alluring as it may have sounded, the paperless office was one of the great hoaxes of the 20th century, in the same league as cold fusion and the Laetrile cancer cure. The promise was that technology would make paper-based records obsolete; every bit of data an office worker or executive required would be at his or her fingertips, through the magic of computers, telephony, and other forms of electronic communication.
In fact, the paperless office actually predates the PC revolution of the 1980s. The Memex, first detailed in the early 1930s by Vannevar Bush, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s science advisor, is considered the first known description of the “office of the future,” outside of science fiction. While visionary, the Memex was equally impractical in its pre-Internet dependence on microfilm and the postal service for information exchange.
Sixty years later, the paperless office remains a pipe dream. If anything, the technologies unleashed in recent years have made it effortless to generate paper. The multifunction printer -- which scans, copies, collates, and e-mails -- is the hottest thing in office technology.
Until people find reading from an illuminated display to be as soothing as reading from warm, tactile paper, the paperless office will remain as elusive as a unicorn. Not to mention that paper has heft: Nothing thumps a boardroom table like a hard-copy report.
-- P.J. Connolly
The Semantic Web
If you’re the man who invented the Web, what do you do for an encore? If you’re Tim Berners-Lee, you try to do it one better.
Berners-Lee launched his next brainchild, dubbed the Semantic Web, with the aim of solving a basic problem of online information organization. The Web links islands of information into a single, vast network, accessible by people all over the globe. But it’s a disorganized linkage: comprehensible to humans, but very difficult for automated systems to understand.
The Semantic Web aims to solve that problem through the use of metadata that describes the content of pages, expressed in new languages designed specifically for machine consumption. The eventual goal is to make it much easier for search engines, automated agents, and other content-sorting tools to find the specific information you need.
It’s a great idea, and in the years since Berners-Lee published his first road map in September 1998, the Semantic Web has blossomed into a full-fledged W3C Activity and has been much discussed in the media. Other than research applications, however, actual working examples still seem a long way off.
But should we be surprised? In the end, the real paradigm shift of the Semantic Web may not be the technology but the idea of thinking of the Web as a library -- instead of just the “new TV.”
The term artificial intelligence was coined at Dartmouth College in 1956. During the next two or three decades, it blossomed into a huge industry, with countless research projects devoted to exploring its possibilities. Yet today it seems to have all but disappeared.