Computer, tell me a joke

I just remembered this story the other day & thought I’d share. I swear, this really happened.

Back in the mid-90’s when I had just gotten the latest & greatest version of System 7 installed on my Mac, I was playing with a new feature called Speakable Items. The OS came with a folder of AppleScript scripts that would listen for your commands and perform actions, sometimes even speaking back to you. This was a technology we had been waiting for since first seeing it in Star Trek.

Scotty: "Hello Computer!"

Hello computer! Tell me a joke!

Of course, these scripts were very basic–they could tell you the time, launch an application, or tell you a knock-knock joke. We weren’t going to create the process to manufacture transparent aluminum, but still, it was an exciting time–the dawn of verbal human-computer interaction. Exciting!

The computer could listen at all times for one of these commands (very CPU intensive), or it could start listening when it heard its name (e.g. “Computer”), or you could hold down a configurable “listen” key (say F10) to make it listen to you.

I thought I’d start simple, with the script called “What time is it?”

What time is it?


Computer, what time is it?

Silence. I decide to hold down the “listen” button.

What time is it? … Computer, what time is it?


“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it’s having problems with that script. Let’s see, what else can I ask the computer?”

Computer, tell me a joke.

The time is 7:34pm.

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