Michael Dertouzos, “Doing More by Doing Less” - MIT LCS35 Birthday Conference 4/13/1999

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DERTOUZOS: Ladies and gentlemen, there is no reason we can't talk about the future while having a little fun. So let me recollect something for you. Last year, a few of my colleagues and I were heading to Taiwan. The flight as you know, is very long. And in the airplane, I was trying to make something work.

Now that something was a laptop-- brand new laptop, the latest. It was running Windows. And a little card on which you download your software-- you download your addresses, you download your calendar, and then you take the card in your pocket.

I had been at it for three hours. And my problem was that when the card software was happy, the operating system wasn't, and vice versa, as you well know. So we're in the plane. So I turn to one of my colleagues, and I say, Tim, would you please help me?

Well Tim Berners-Lee is a very gracious man. So he said, of course. He said, I think I can help you. So he picks up the machine. An hour and a half later, he hands it back to me-- still very polite, still very British-- says I'm sorry, I can't make this thing work.


DERTOUZOS: So I turned to my friend and associate director Ron Rivest. And I say, the inventor of the web couldn't do it. How about you?


DERTOUZOS: Inventor of RSA? And Ron, with his characteristic wisdom, looked at me and said, no, Mike. Thanks.


DERTOUZOS: And then the youngest member of our delegation-- whose name I shall not mention to protect the innocent-- jumped up. And he says to me, you guys are a bunch of old fogies. Let me show you.


DERTOUZOS: Good LCS attitude. Two hours later, he hands it to me with expletives surrounding this.


DERTOUZOS: I went to my seat and I did what every expert does. I tried the various wizards and lizards that were coming up at me. And I kept typing at random things in the fields until finally, three hours later, it worked. Total elapsed time nine hours.

AUDIENCE: Long battery life!



DERTOUZOS: Good point for those who make batteries. Now, ladies and gentlemen, why do I bring this up? Our field is young, so I don't bring it up to complain so much. This is to be expected.

But we are at a junction. What I experienced with that example is typical of what we have done for the last 40 years with our field. We have focused on designing for machines. We put little envelopes. We call them operating systems, we call them browsers. We call them network software. And then we throw all this stuff at the user.

Now the image that this evokes to me is a user-- you-- sitting in your car, a car that's very early vintage. And you've got two rings in every finger. And on every ring is attached a wire. And you've got a wire for fuel mixture. You've got another wire for advance of the ignition. You've got another one for the valve clearances, the brakes and this and that.

And you're sitting there with all these wires. And we say to you, go from Boston to New York. Ladies and gentlemen, this must stop. 40 years is enough.


DERTOUZOS: This brings me squarely into my vision for the 21st century. Stated in simple human terms, it is simply this. People should be able to do more by doing less.

Now when I say these simple words-- which have been characteristic of every revolution up to now-- I mean three things. First, we should bring the technologies of information into our lives. Now when I read in the papers and the magazines and I hear the pundits talk about cyberspace where we're going to go-- this other space! We're going to leave our lives and go into cyberspace. We're going to put on glasses-- gigabyte-infected suits.


DERTOUZOS: And we're going to live in an exciting world. Well, you know, when the Industrial Revolution came, we didn't go into motor space.


DERTOUZOS: The motors came into our lives. We turned them into refrigerators. And we called them refrigerators, not motors. We turned them into cars and called them cars. And they absorbed themselves-- the motors did-- into the functions and tasks that the ancient humans have been doing except now with new tools.

So the first thing is bring the technology into our lives. And that's exactly what I think will happen-- and what I wish will happen-- with the Information Age. They will come into our lives-- the new technologies-- and they will serve our ancient needs.

The second thing that I mean when I say doing more by doing less is increased human productivity and increased ease of use. With respect to increased human productivity, first imagine that I'm holding a Handheld Take us to Athens this weekend.

Now, you'll see later a system that does this. It took me three seconds to say that. The computer knows that us is two people-- but we like to travel business class. It knows the weekend is Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

It connects with ease to Saber. It starts doing the exchanges. It tries for Friday. It doesn't find an aisle seat. We like aisle seats. It goes to Saturday, finds two seats, but something else is wrong. Finally books on Sunday.

Total elapsed time in actual experiments for this is minimum three minutes maximum 13 minutes. I will take five minutes as an acceptable average. Five minutes is 300 seconds. Nod. Divided--


DERTOUZOS: You went to Harvard for a while, I thought--


DERTOUZOS: Divided by the three seconds-- the 300 seconds-- it gives us a ratio of 100 productivity leverage. But in business terms, that's 10,000%.


DERTOUZOS: We have achieved a 10,000% increase in human productivity. Now this is actual. Now, maybe I do it once a day and you say it doesn't count. But if I was the travel agent for a large organization, it would count.

Now I don't expect these kind of gains across the board. But I do expect across the board in the next century-- and I explain this in What Will Be-- about 300% increase in human productivity, primarily in the office sector.

Today, as you look at your browsers, as you look at your email, you're sitting there exercising your eyeballs and your brains just as hard as our predecessors exercised their shovels in the Industrial Era-- except you're using these for your shovels. And shoveling you are!


DERTOUZOS: But it isn't painful because the shovels are stamped high-tech.


DERTOUZOS: All right. Let's take up ease of use. Every time I hear the word-- the phrase-- ease of use from a vendor of hardware or software, I become physically violent.


DERTOUZOS: The invariable image that pops up is of their parading a chimpanzee around dressed in a green suit pretending to be a surgeon. I mean the thing isn't easy to use. The fact that they put floating animals and colors and ergonomics doesn't make it easy to use.

What we want is something that's truly easy to use, regardless of whether it's using graphics or text or whatever. Let me take an example. Browsers and operating systems-- those two worlds-- one catering to local information, the computer, with its computer system-- the other one catering to long-distance information across the browser-- have different commands-- quite different commands.

Now that doesn't lead to ease of use. The image I get from that is that of an automobile-- again-- which, when you're driving it in your neighborhood-- local-- when you turn right, it turns right. But when you're driving it on country roads, when you turn the wheel right, it applies the brakes.


DERTOUZOS: It sounds silly here, but it sounds OK when you highlight an icon in the operating system and take a hot link on the browser with the same command. So we've got to revise this kind of stuff. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is the second thing that I mean when I say that we should be able to do more by doing less.

The third thing that I mean is that when we say we, we should mean the people of the world. Now we feel pretty smug today because we-- the people of the industrially wealthy world-- are largely connected.

But if you stop and look, there are 600 million telephones only, which is 10% of the 6 billion living on this earth. And in term of these 600 million telephones, only 15% are interconnected-- about 80, 90 million people.

Multiply the two-- 1.5% to 2% percent of the world's population, ladies and gentlemen, is interconnected. That's all. 98% percent is disconnected. We cannot hear the millions of voices from the Indian subcontinent, from Africa, and from China-- although, increasingly, they're becoming connected there.

All we're getting is the television feeds and the government feeds. And these people do not have the opportunity to sell their services or their products yet on the world's markets through the new medium.

Now I think it's very important to bring these people in because, left to its own devices, the information revolution will increase the gap between rich and poor people. The proof is excruciatingly simple. The rich get more computers. They become more productive. They get richer, The poor have no computers, stay where they are-- formula for exponential gap increase.

Now everybody says, we can help them to get out of the problems, et cetera. Yes, but we've got to help them. Alone, they cannot get the machines, the communications, the training, and the skills to do that.

It's important that we do so not only for compassion's sake and for altruism, but also for self-preservation, because history teaches that when gaps like this are allowed to grow, they result in bloodshed.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there's so much potential if we do help the poor-- not only poor countries, but poor people within the rich countries. The kinds of services and products they could sell, the way they could rise, and-- it's not always helping from the rich to the poor.

Imagine a Sri Lankan doctor. A Sri Lankan doctor makes $20 a day and speaks English. Imagine that doctor connected through the world's networks, administering health care to homeless people in Boston could go to a kiosk where there's a nurse, there's a blood cuff meter, a monitor. They can talk to the doctor.

Maybe it's not the best health care in the world because the doctor isn't there. But it's a lot better than no health care. And it might cost $2 or $3 per person. At the Lab for Computer Science, a team of undergraduates is building a virtual Compassion Corps that I discuss in What Will Be.

This is nothing more and nothing less than a gigantic want ad website where people who wish to give human help and people who wish to receive human help find each other according to the categories of help. And they simply match with each other and help. First time in our history, we could do this worldwide.

So-- to make it short-- the vision is to let people do more by doing less. And by this I mean three things. First, bring the technology into our lives. Second, improve human productivity and ease of use. And third, include in this vision all people of the world. Good enough for top level vision.

But now, over what computing model do we see this taking place? Well, for the last 20 years, you've heard me talking about the information marketplace. And I'm not going to change my tune because we haven't yet realized it.

So the model I am proposing is the same model-- the information marketplace, which I define as follows. People and their computers-- about half a billion to a billion in the next decade-- plus appliances, gadgets, embedded computers and the like that are unmanned interconnected together, doing three things-- buying, selling, and freely exchanging two things-- information and information services.

Now with respect to buying and selling-- currently we're at $50 billion per year on the Internet. My estimate is $4 trillion in the next 30 years or so. Doing this by going predominantly down that half of the industrial economy which is called the office sector-- previously white collar work. Half of our economy is office sector. And that is where the bulk of it will come.

Now a big part of that is going to be a new kind of activity we haven't seen yet, which I like to call office information work. See, we deal with information as a noun. Information as a noun is text, sounds, images, videos.

Information is a verb is what a doctor does. It's what 1,000 accountants do from Beijing, China, when they sell their services to General Motors in Detroit for $2 an hour-- it is the processing, the management, the handling of information, the service. That is going to be, I believe, a very large part of the information marketplace.

You add to that the non-dollar component-- the family message links, the political discussions, the publishing, the administration of health freely where it happens, do-gooder activities, chat groups, neighborhoods-- all that non-dollar huge component which cannot be measured. We cannot put a $4 trillion stamp on it. But it's just as important. And you have the picture of this information marketplace.

We're not yet there. There's no information work on the current marketplace. There is no automation. There's no capability to do collaboration. All we're doing is we have voyeurs exhibitionists-- [LAUGHTER] voyeurs arousing, exhibitionists are saying look at what I'm selling.


DERTOUZOS: And a few little transactions between them. So we have a little bit of ways to go before we get there. Right. So, let this be the vision of doing more by doing less. And let this be the model over which we will do more by doing less in the information marketplace.

Now that's still pretty general. So how might we do that? What I would like to do next is to announce a major research project that we are launching today at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science.

We call it Oxygen. It's a research project. It involves a new-- radically new-- system for tomorrow that contains a lot of this stuff that I talked about. I'm very happy to say that oxygen went as a proposal $38.5 million proposal to DARPA.

And I'm very pleased to say that DARPA awarded it to us. But they haven't awarded the money yet. So we're negotiating that. While I'm at it, let me say-- you know, we always say bad things about government. Let me say that in the last 25 years, I've led this laboratory. And the 10 previous years, DARPA has been with us and with other major universities. And they've carved computer science and technology on the map.

And let me say that the current efforts of the administration to increase the funding in computer science and the various activities that have happened there are also laudable. So we shouldn't always complain about them. They've been with us. And this birthday is largely due to them.

All right. Oxygen. Now let me make one more qualification before I describe it to you. You know, we're not a corporation with a smooth presentation about a new system. We have a framework. Now, I'm not going to be surprised-- because I'm certain-- that when we're done, the thing will be totally different from what I described to you today.

As you hear the talks of my colleagues, who will speak about various pieces of this, keep that in mind. And as you hear the talks of the others, who will talk about other things while pretending to talk about the pieces, keep in mind that this laboratory does a lot of independent research.

Keep in mind, too, that, as we do all this systems work, our eyeballs are focused on trying to understand the fundamentals and the theories behind this brave new field of ours.

With that as background, what is Oxygen? Oxygen is 8 technologies, which I will now enumerate and describe very briefly. Number one, the handy 21-- for 21 is for 21st century. You see it has a little display right there is a little display, which you can see. If you're nearsighted, it helps.


DERTOUZOS: It's like a cellular phone, except that it has in it a small screen, as you've seen. It has a very small analog part. The rest is all digital, which means it can change like a chameleon. It's got an infrared detector.

And it's got, of course, a few other odds and ends-- which permit it, with downloading to alter its function from a two-way radio talking to other such handhelds, to a network node talking to the campus network, to a cell phone which sniffs the air and decides I'm in France, so I'm going to switch to GSM, or it says I'm in America, I'm using CDMA. And on and on and on.

We have done this early prototype in connection with another DARPA contract that Victor Zue and McCluskey and Clark are involved in. And maybe we'll hear more about it. But that is the first technology of Oxygen.

What we're trying to do with that is make sure that you have a thing that is person-centric wherever you go-- is with you. In the symmetric form, the second technology of Oxygen is the enviro 21, which is environment-centric. It sticks to the wall-- actually, it's big, so it may be in the wall or under the desk.

It's in the trunk of your car. It's in your home. It is in every respect like the handy 21, functionally, but it is much bigger. So it bears a relationship of a power socket to a battery, if you wish. Also, the enviro 21 has tentacles, which are connected to sensors and actuators in the famous appliances we're talking about. And it can control them.

And also, the handy has a little infrared in it in our current vision. And if you want to bring this door into your world you put an infrared tag on the door. And when you point to handy to it, the machine identity of the door comes into your system.

And then you could bring up a model that says, these are the people working behind it. And this is what they're supposed to be doing. And you can go down the corridor and check what's behind every door-- at least virtually. So interesting possibilities with Oxygen.

The third technology is N-21-- Network 21-- which is what we have to add to the Internet to make possible the incorporation of these highly mobile nodes called people because the internet goes to fixed addresses and we want to go to resolve according to intention.

It also makes possible networks that rise and collapse as people get together for a meeting, makes possible networks of unknown elements, fuzzy networks with self-adaptation-- and we'll hear more about this later on. These are the three hardware technologies of Oxygen-- with a lot of software in them, of course.

The fourth technology may surprise you because it is an inner hardcore technology. It is built-in speech understanding. We really want our machines to be easy to use. We have to make them interact with us naturally.

None of us is born with keyboard sockets or mouse sockets on our belly. We're born with mouths and ears and that's what we should use. Dr. Zue's technologies are fantastic at the narrow domain level, as you heard from Bill Gates.

What we are doing now is stitching together narrow domains to create a broader listening domain with some human help so that it can help us navigate through these various narrow places and still talk to it. The handy 21 has no keyboard.

The fifth Oxygen technology is individualized knowledge access. By this, I mean that people should be able to access knowledge in ways familiar to them. And we're talking about low-hanging fruit here. We're not talking about high-falutin concepts. You should be able to say, get me that red book next to the blue one or next the document that came from Paris yesterday.

And then if you run out from your own store of goods and knowledge, you go to the store of your friends. And you say, assuming they permit you, do you know the answer to this question? Can I access this from you? And if that doesn't work, you can go out to the web and get the 5,000 hits. But then in Oxygen, we triangulate between those three to try to tailor big hits with friends and individual knowledge.

The sixth Oxygen technology is automation. Now this is the biggest workhorse of the Information Age. No revolution is a true revolution unless the machines can do our work. Take the shovels, throw them away, bring in the electronic bulldozers. That's what we want with that technology.

In Oxygen we offer scripts for you to automate what you're going to do. And you can setup and control procedures that will take place in a given time. Or when something arrives, you can encapsulate physical objects, deal with them together with informational objects, and create a world around you that caters to you by offloading work from your head and eyes to the machines.

The seventh Oxygen technology is collaboration. And this you can think of as a method of keeping track of meetings, a method of keeping track of who said what-- open-issues-- and a way of zeroing in from human summaries, which may be brief, to fragments of speech that took place in the meeting all the way to original work in the meeting that will remind you, if you come back later, of what you did.

The last, the eighth Oxygen technology, is customization. One of the most variable resources in the world is human beings. And Oxygen enables us to customize to individual needs. Besides doing this in automation and all the other technologies I mentioned earlier, it does this with all the software.

In Oxygen, there is no shrink wrap software. Everything is downloaded. And everything is adjusted according to whether a user asked for it or there was an error or there was no software made available.

This then, ladies and gentlemen, is Oxygen. Handy 21s, enviro 21s in the wall, and Network 21, built-in speech, individualized knowledge access, automation, collaboration, customization. Now these eight are not operating individually. They're operating together. And that's where their power lies.

And now I'd like to make a bigger claim. When we envisioned that person with the rings in his finger trying to drive from Boston to New York, we were wishing that we could give him a gas pedal, a steering wheel, and brakes to make it easier to drive.

My claim is that the five software technologies of speech, individualized knowledge access, automation, collaboration, and customization, are essentially the new kids on the block of the Information Age. That of the thousands and millions of things we read that will be possible, a great deal of them can be done with these five.

I believe these are pretty close to the gas pedal, the brakes, and the steering wheel-- at least for the next couple of decades, or maybe earlier. And if that is true, then companies and individuals will do well to ask in their companies and in their activities, how can they maximize their own activities under these five elements?

Imagine a health application under Oxygen. What's the individualized knowledge access? Well, it's the doctor's records, the patient records, it's Medline-- all this has to be put together, triangulated, and help the doctors.

And then you can imagine the collaboration when doctors get together-- what they will put on that-- and the customization for individual doctors, and the automation of routine tasks for x-rays, et cetera, et cetera. So applications will take their color from Oxygen as applications have in the past if our dreams come true.

Now I would like to close, ladies and gentlemen, by observing that both my colleagues and I have been immensely grateful to work on this-- the information revolution-- for the last many, many years. And we're very happy and excited that we're working on it right now at this very moment, at this very junction in change.

The vision of doing more by doing less on tomorrow's information marketplace with Oxygen as our first step is where I see us today. And since we're talking about revolutions, I'd like to close with an observation and a wish.

All three revolutions are based on things. The Agrarian Revolution was based on the plow. The Information Revolution-- which is now happening-- is based on the computer. And the one in the middle-- the Industrial Revolution-- was based on the motor, the chemicals, so forth.

Well, maybe the time has come for us to start thinking of a fourth revolution-- one that is not based on things, but one that tries to understand the most precious resource on our planet-- ourselves. Thank you.