Rethinking the Computer- Project Oxygen is turning out prototype computer systems

Howie Shrobe's light fixtures are misbehaving this morning. When the principal research scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory instructs the system that automates parts of his office to "stay awake," a voice emanating from a set of speakers obediently replies, "At your service." And when Shrobe, SM '75, PhD '78, tells the system, "Close the drapes," they magically glide shut, blocking out all light from the seemingly normal office. But when he says, "Turn on the lights," nothing happens. Shrobe leans a little closer to the microphone array that sits on his desktop computer and repeats the command a little louder. When the room gives him the silent treatment again, he quickly types something on a keyboard; the lights turn on. He smiles and admits that he was playing around with the system a little this morning, which might explain why it's acting up. After all, it is a work in progress.

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