Microwave? Microfilm? No, Microwriter

Sometimes it is worth taking a look into the past to learn something about the future. Anyone developing AI today would do well not to assume that they have a good idea, but to consider for whom the idea is actually intended. Does my idea make people happier, the world better or more beautiful? Does it advance science? Does it save tedious work, make jobs safer? Or the rather economic question: Does it make a task cheaper or does it make users richer? Can the military do anything with it? Or at least: Is my idea fun?

I think you can say that the director Cy Endfield would have got a “no” to all these questions if he had asked someone. Instead, in 1978, he introduced the world to his Microwriter, a device designed to reduce a typewriter to six keys – one for each finger and two for the thumb.

The classic key distribution we still have today is too complicated, Endfield explained. He made it…even more complicated: to type a letter, you had to memorize a key combination. The combination was supposed to remind you of the outward appearance of the letters – as if you were drawing them. The device made soft rattling noises.

However, the device could not do more – which is why it disappeared again a few years later. I can understand it so well. If you take the trouble to learn finger combinations, then at least beautiful music should be the result.

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