Gates name-checks Microsoft Bob, calls the former product ‘premature’ for its time

Gates name-checks Microsoft Bob, calls the former product ‘premature’ for its time

Today at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, Bill Gates mentioned the former Microsoft product ‘Bob’ in response to a question to how the average consumer can, in the words of CITEworld, “take advantage of software in the same way that a computer scientist does.”

Microsoft Bob is a product that now exists all but only as the hard end of jokes. That fact makes its surfacing interesting: Why would Gates bring up a product all but guaranteed to generate headlines laden with snark? In short, because it’s the sort of tool that he sees the normals use to better navigate the digital landscape.

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Microsoft Bob featured a talking dog that helped you make your PC hum:


As GeekWire’s Todd Bishop stenographed, here is Gates’ on the subject:

It’s been talked about for decades, and now really is possible — where we see where you’re going, we see your calendar, we see your various communications. … We can actually look at the text, look at the speech, try to be helpful to you in your activities. I think we will be more connected and therefore if somebody wants to do a task like find a gift of a certain type, organize a trip in a certain way, there will be a closer match — that is, the gap between what the software can do for them and what most people end up doing, that could be reduced.

But you always make mistakes on these things. When the machine tries to do the table with numbers, or the dog comes up and says, ‘Oh, you didn’t do this thing right,’ Microsoft Bob-style. A long time ago we tried a little personality that was definitely premature. I think it will re-emerge, but perhaps with a bit more sophistication. We were just ahead of our time, like most of our mistakes.

The personality was certainly premature. And few miss Clippy. But Gates is correct about the reemergence of this variety of tech, however we generally just call it Siri. Siri is a similar type of assistant, or guide, and one that combines both snark and directions.

What we often forget in our small domain of tech submergence is that the pace of innovation isn’t a blessing to all, but a sort of tax on their mental cycles; oh look, new shit, great, more to learn.

Quite obviously the above candor is illustrative. Also, the sequence of words is fun to parse. Gates kicks off with a riff on mistakes on paragraph two, lands on Bob, puts it into context, and then double admits its errors as Microsoft’s own blunders.

Will we see Bob return? No. But the idea that your technology should hold your hand isn’t going away, especially as the platform space becomes increasingly crowded, and therefore more complex.

Top Image Credit: Joi Ito

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