The new command line

Long before Windows, long before MacOS, there was the command line. Long before iOS, and long before Android, the only way to bend a computer to your will was to give short commands that could be interpreted by the operating system.

Today, that world has become mostly invisible to regular users, who generally tap or point and click their way to information. The command line has all but disappeared from the public consciousness, with the exception of power users and programmers, who face it on a daily basis.

But while a whole generation or two of computer users have grown without understanding the command line, it is primed for a comeback in a big way over the next few years.

Hard to believe but millions of users have already made the move through simple invocations like “Alexa, do this” or “OK Google, do that.” In doing so, the computing world is going full circle, creating new challenges for product designers.

For the last 20 years, people involved in developing software products have been able to rely on visual cues as a way to train consumers in sending servers the information they need. In the new world of voice or text-driven interfaces, user interface designers will have to start thinking about conversations as the way to direct the user. Whether it is a bot running on slack or your messaging client of choice, a voice recognition agent like Siri, Echo, or Google Home, the smartest developers will have to find ways to make the path easy to understand for even the most basic of customers.

At CES last week, a new rule of computing appeared to have been born: “if it can be connected to Amazon Echo, it will be.” By opening up access to its platform through “Amazon Skills,” the retail giant has created what could be the next big platform. Just as mobile devices running iOS and Android have taken precedence over computers runnings Windows and OSX, devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are presenting a different version of the future that could supplant the one we currently know. A few years ago, the internet 3.0 era got every technology product to think about the move to mobile; In the next couple of years, expect to see the rise of internet 4.0, which will require every system to have an artificial intelligence layer.

Here’s why? Today’s conversational interfaces are still relatively basic and will need to increase the level of context they understand in order for greater power. Alexa and Siri can easily find and play a particular song but can easily get tripped up when queries become more complex. As a result, the age of artificial intelligence, coupled with a conversational interface, is upon us. To do so will require scientists who can converse as normal human beings and product designer who think hard about artificial intelligence.

Over the next year, you can expect to see me return to this theme on a regular basis as we explore the rise of Internet 4.0.

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