back to article Apple predicted AI assistant for tablets in 1987

At Apple's iPhone event yesterday, the company talked-up its voice-activated AI assistant, Siri - a feature of iOS 5 that'll first see beta release on the iPhone 4S. This concept is nothing new, though. In fact, Apple predicted a virtual assistant would hit tablet-like devices back in the 1980s, when Steve Jobs was busy with …


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  1. M man


    whos word do we have for this being real? Apples?

    I could well envision this being knocked up as a PR exercise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In which case...

      ...please direct me to a HOWTO on "how to distress digital video footage in Final Cut Pro so it looks like it came off a knackered-out NTSC VHS tape from c.1987"?

      I'm not saying it's not possible - simply that if it's a fake, it's a pretty well-executed one, don't you think?

    2. Nick Gibbins

      It's legit - I first saw this video a decade ago. It's very well-known in HCI circles.

  2. Annihilator
    Paris Hilton

    Specific beta

    "a feature of iOS 5 that'll first see beta release on the iPhone 4S."

    Although I'd seen the Beta symbol plastered all over the Siri release, you're implying it's part of iOS5, being beta-tested on the 4S and presumably then cascaded across the rest of iOS5 devices?

    Seems very odd, regardless.. Especially if the processing is done "in the cloud".

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is 'Siri' a reference to 'Sirius Cybernetics'?

    1. Sadako

      Share and Enjoy

      Yes. Apple are "Sharing and Enjoying" the voice search funciton that Android users have had for over a year :D

    2. nyelvmark

      Sirius Cybernetics Corporation

      "Your plastic pal who's fun to be with".

      It never fails to amuse me that despite 20 years of everyone experiencing just how dumb computers are, they are still prepared to believe that this kind of intelligent behaviour is just a few years away. If you meet someone who claims he can build such a system, don't lend him any money.

      1. nyelvmark

        Following up on my own post...

        I had some thoughts this evening about AI, and I thought I'd run them up the flagpole here:

        A computer is a deterministic phenomenon. It takes a variable input, combines it with another, carefully designed input called the "program", and produces an output which is determined by the input data and the input program. If the output is not determined in this way, it has no use, and either the computer or the program are faulty.

        In order to design a computer/program combination which emulates a human mind, we will need a deterministic model of the human mind. This is not a programming problem. I'm a programmer, and I can write you a program that will behave in exactly the same way that a human mind will, if you can tell me the exact rules about how the human mind operates.

        You can't, though, and nor can anyone else. Psychologists - REAL psychologists, not the unlicensed psychiatrists - will admit that we're not even 1% of the way to a deterministic model of human thought.

        In short - artificial intelligence of the sort portrayed in this video, and in lots of other science fiction, is just that - fiction.

        Advice to those who can't grasp the above:

        1. Be deeply suspicious of any computerised system which claims to emulate human judgement.

        2. If you're a programmer - seize any opportunity you see to get into AI. It's a job for life.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prior Art

    This is Apple gettting it's 'Prior Art' onto the table before the patent trolls start getting the lawyer to start suing apple.

    'Here you go boys'. Dont even bother trying to sue us over this tech.

    Obviously, someone could claim to have developet is prior to that but even their patents from the time will have expired by now

    {or will they?}

  5. leeeeeb
    Thumb Up

    Bow ties are cool

    They also successfully predicted a fashion revival.

    1. Tim Walker

      Prescient indeed...

      I mean: in 1987, Matt Smith probably hadn't even started school, and the good Doctor was being played by an eccentric Scot with a penchant for question-mark-adorned shirts and umbrellas.

      Perhaps Apple have more of a gift for predicting future trends than we thought...

  6. Brian 6


    WOW, a touch screen tablet with folding LCD screen, voice control and face time. All predicted in 1987. Great video. Now that we have folding LCD tech when are we going to see it in a tablet ?

  7. wheel
    Thumb Down


    It looks like 1987 Apple had merely been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. They had talking computers which could manipulate graphical data, and they also had tablet computers called PADDs.

    Hmmm... iPADD?

    1. 1Rafayal
      Paris Hilton

      or indeed in the case of Apple MyPADD

      all your tablets/phones/everything else are belong to us

  8. TeeCee Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    And the winner is....

    The actual Crystal Ball is owned by one Anonymous Coward who posted at 7:38 GMT today (in response to someone else's suggestion that Orange's "Wildfire" service had got there first) the following:

    "No chance Orange can sue, Apple invented it first, they just haven't got round to rewriting history on it yet."

    Well done that Coward! Now could you just tell me the Euromillions numbers for Friday please....

  9. HCV

    I remember this!

    I was at EDUCOM that year -- I remember thinking that the look of the majordomo was a snarky shout-out to their then-former colleague, who at that time was years away from assuming the turtleneck, and was in fact often seen rocking the bow tie.

  10. maxillius

    You can tell this is from 1987 (not just from the copyright date) by the fact that he didn't take his tablet with him.

    I *really* like the idea of a foldable screen though. More research on eink to make it faster could make that possible.

  11. HMB

    Eating it all up, Crystal Bull

    What really?

    You think that Siri is an artificial intelligence?

    Again... really??

    The work they've done could be impressive, but I already have a mic button on my virtual keyboard. When I talk to my Nexus One it sends what I've said back to the cloud, that analyses it and presents me with a nonsensical alternative to what I actually said. I can insert this nonsense into email or text messaging whenever I want to confuse people and make myself look like I've finally lost all my marbles.

    What's worse is that without a great signal, it gives up on being able to send what I said back to the cloud.

    Oh Siri is different? Obviously someone wasn't paying attention to the keynote, where the cloud and Apple's data centres were mentioned in relation to Siri.

  12. Adam T

    No attitude.

    Unlike the HAL9000

    It ain't believable if it ain't paranoid.

  13. Richard Avery

    Fax Bob

    This is not so far removed from the capabilities of the Apple Newton software being able to 'Fax Bob' back in the '90s.

    Sure there is voice recognition but that has always been on the cards.

    Also much better contextual understanding plus t'internet but this is just scale.

    The Newt was the iPad v0.1

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Fax Box

      No, the Newton was the iPad 10.x The iPad doesn't even have a usable pen.

  14. rurwin


    Fortunately they got their climate science a little wrong. So far as I know the Sahara has yet to swallow Ghana.

    Either this was a very lucky hit, or they just rushed Siri out to hit the due date, in which case it will be unusable..

  15. G Watty What?

    What more evidence do we need?

    Things going faster than the speed of light, now apple dredge up a video accurately predicting the future. It's time travel I tells yer, that or help from Aliens. Either way we live in scary times!!!

    Tin foil hat being super-glued to head as we speak.

  16. Adam Foxton


    IT'S NOT A TABLET! It's a DESK. Look at the thing- it doesn't move when he slides the external storage device onto it, so it's rigidly fastened down.

    Also, it predicted external storage on Apple devices and bowties on people so it's not THAT close. And that academics would decide to use the same data format for complex data modelling., which means it's predicting the utterly impossible!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kudos on this find!

  18. amanfromearth


    It's comforting to know that Apple thinks 24 years ahead in it's product planning.

    Not like those Android companies who can't see further than next week.

  19. Jolyon Smith

    Did nobody else spot...

    ... that the tablet in the future of 1987 had an external storage slot ?

    Not in the iPad version of that future of course. ;)

    Also notice that a lot of the "voice interaction" is actually nothing of the sort - it's extraneous expositionary commentary. "Thinking aloud" moments. Precisely the sort of thing that computers are hopeless at interpreting and impossible to accomodate in such user interfaces.

    There are basically two approaches when a computer receives voice instruction that it doesn't understand -

    1) ask for clarification

    This will lead to constant requests for clarification when you have those "thinking aloud" moments. "Hmm, that's not really very useful." Computer: "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you need. Try rephrasing"

    So the obvious alternative is:

    2) ignore voice commands that aren't understood since they may not be commands at all.

    This of course leads to even more frustration when what should be perfectly valid commands are apparently ignored.

    All this can be solved with sufficient technology and computing power ?

    Maybe, but unless and until it can be demonstrated as having been achieved, you might just as well say "This will be solved by magic".

    Voice interaction with computers today is not much more advanced than it was 10-15 years ago. What other aspects of software or hardware technology have stood so still for so long ?

  20. Christian Berger Silver badge

    This was pre-Jobs Apple

    Back in the 1990s, they even had a tablet computer you could actually do something on. It was called the Newton. It was able to recognise what you draw on the screen and act on it. Even in it's earliest incarnations you could just write a name somewhere, and mark it so you could call that person. (by beeping out DTMF, mobile phones weren't that popular back then)

    Of course Jobs cancelled the project just when it's main points of critique have been fixed and Apple was about to get a huge order.

  21. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Hmm, come to think about it

    It's a computer, I enter text into and it responds with text and graphics.... where have I seen this before, right, a command line.

  22. Ben Norris
    Thumb Down

    And Star Trek 'predicted' it in the 60s. Theres a long way from dreaming up what something might do to inventing how it does it.

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