RE: Paradigms

Subject: RE: Paradigms
From: Joseph T Chew <JTCHEW -at- LBL -dot- BITNET>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1993 08:11:10 PST

> This morning I heard an NPR report about the new Pentium (sp?)
> chip that's five times faster than the 486. Whoah! The reporter
> concluded that computers using this chip would not need manuals;
> the computer would do the learning for the user.

Oh, Christ on a tortilla! The Pentium (which sounds a bit less
impressive if you call it "80586," eh?) is certainly a piece of
work. But it's a lot more impressive in the context of affordable
desktop systems (read: PC/Mac/NeXT) than in the larger picture of
workstations and whatever-frames. Besides which, learning is the
function of software (and is probably more appropriately the
domain of neural nets than of regular von Neumann architectures
anyway, as long as we're taking beer bets on the future :).

With a Tecate on the line next time I'm in Lubbock, I'll bet that
we *will* see a paradigm shift in manuals, from poke-this-and-that-
will-happen instruction toward "education." (Maybe Donald Knuth's
"TeXbook" approach will have the last laugh after all???) This
will be driven, properly, by users and their needs.

I think there will always be a need for the "traditional" manual,
though, for three purposes:

1. Before I let up on the mouse button, I'd better find out
just what this choice will do.

2. How do I override this damn fool automatically learning
computer and make it do what I want, not what it thinks
I want?

3. Help! I'm a novice in using the computer (though maybe I'm
an expert in the task to be performed) and I'm not ready to
tackle the "TeXbook" yet -- where's the big-dummy book?

Point 3 perhaps bears a little expansion. I suspect that desktop
computers have often been used not only to automate/facilitate
tasks that people had already been doing by hand, but also as
entryways for people who were novices at the task as well as the
software. One suspects that many tens of thousands of people
who didn't know Helvetica from Leviticus five years ago are now
jackleg compositors, illustrators, and layout artists, having
learned (or mis-learned) everything they know from PageMaker.
The implications for both manual writing and this putative
automatically learning software are most interesting.

Whether this "traditional" manual is paper or online, of course,
is quite another matter.


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