The Era of Personal Computing

by Ben Bajarin   |   October 18th, 2011

I have adopted a philosophy in my analysis over the past few years where I distinguish between personal computing and personalized computing.

In a post a few months ago, I wrote about these differences and pointed out that because of the differences in personal and personalized computing the Post PC Era will happen in two different stages.

The first stage is personalized computing. In this era, the one we are currently in, all of our personal computing devices are personalized by us. What I mean by this is we take the time to personalize the devices with our personal content, apps, preferences, interests, etc. In reality, however, how personal are these devices? They don’t actually know anything about us we just simply use them to get jobs done. We customize them and they contain our personal content but they really aren’t that personal.

However in this next phase, the era of personal computing, things may actually get very interesting. In this era our devices will actually start to learn things about us and in the process become truly personal. Our most personal devices will learn our interests, schedule, preferences, habits, personality, etc. I know it sounds a bit scary but that is where we will inevitably end up.

I believe Apple’s latest feature–Siri–demonstrates this future reality of personal computing. As Tim pointed out in his article yesterday, Siri and the underlying artificial intelligence engine, will learn key things about our unique tastes, interests, and more and over time become even more useful as a personal assistant.

What is absolutely central for this personal computing era to become reality is we have to allow our devices to get to know us. Perhaps more specifically we have to trust our devices or the underlying company providing us the personal computing experience.

John Gruber points this very point out in a post with some comments from Ed Wrenbeck, former lead developer of Siri.

In an interview with VectorForm Labs Ed Wrenbeck states:

“For Siri to be really effective, it has to learn a great deal about the user. If it knows where you work and where you live and what kind of places you like to go, it can really start to tailor itself as it becomes an expert on you. This requires a great deal of trust in the institution collecting this data. Siri didn’t have this, but Apple has earned a very high level of trust from its customers.”

In the era of personal computing we will get beyond personalizing our devices and instead enter the era where they truly become personal to us because of their ability to know, learn, and be trained about who we are and our unique interests and needs.

There are many great examples of this in Sci-Fi movies and novels but perhaps my favorite, because it is fresh, is how Tony Stark interacted with Jarvis in the Iron Man movies. Jarvis is what Tony Stark named his personal computer and as you can tell from his interactions in the movie, Jarvis knew quite a bit of the intimate details of Tony Stark.

Jarvis was a personal computer, one that took on an entirely new way to be useful because of the artificial intelligence that was built on top of incredible computing power.

Of course, this all sounds extremely futuristic but it will be the basis of what takes us from having to manually personalize our devices, to a future where our devices truly become personal and indispensable parts of our lives.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio