Robert Taylor by Gardner Campbell in 2008

Robert Taylor by Gardner Campbell in 2008

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A: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Licklider & Taylor Describe Features of the Future ARPANET; Description of a Computerized Personal Assistant

Licklider at the University of Maryland, College Park in April 1979

Licklider at the University of Maryland, College Park in April 1979

In 1968 American psychologist and computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider of MIT and Robert W. Taylor, then director of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office, published "The Computer as a Communication Device," Science and Technology, April 1968. In this paper, extensively illustrated with whimsical cartoons, they described features of the future ARPANET and other aspects of anticipated human-computer interaction.

Honoring the artificial intelligence pioneer Oliver Selfridge, on pp. 38-39 of the paper they proposed a device they referred to as OLIVER (On-Line Interactive Vicarious Expediter and Responder). OLIVER was one of the clearest early descriptions of a computerized personal assistant:

"A very important part of each man's interaction with his on-line community will be mediated by his OLIVER. The acronym OLIVER honors Oliver Selfridge, originator of the concept. An OLIVER is, or will be when there is one, an 'on-line interactive vicarious expediter and responder,' a complex of computer programs and data that resides within the network and acts on behalf of its principal, taking care of many minor matters that do not require his personal attention and buffering him from the demanding world. 'You are describing a secretary,' you will say. But no! secretaries will have OLIVERS.

"At your command, your OLIVER will take notes (or refrain from taking notes) on what you do, what you read, what you buy and where you buy it. It will know who your friends are, your mere acquiantances. It will know your value structure, who is prestigious in your eyes, for whom you will do with what priority, and who can have access to which of your personal files. It will know your organizations's rules pertaining to proprietary information and the government's rules relating to security classification.

"Some parts of your OLIVER program will be common with parts of ther people's OLIVERS; other parts will be custom-made for you, or by you, or will have developed idiosyncracies through 'learning based on its experience at your service."

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