Machines That Can See

The other day I was setting up an all-in-one printer, and I was struck by something in the setup process that was so simple, and so obvious, that I was surprised I noticed it at all. It's a sign that an exciting new wave of computer technology is coming of age.

But first a quick note about printer setup...

When setting up a printer, you often need to perform a "print head alignment". This usually involves printing out a special pattern, then looking on the page to see which pattern looks better. You then tell the software which pattern you liked, and this configures the printer so the output looks as good as possible.

An "all-in-one" printer is a device that contains a printer and a scanner, and can also usually act as a copier and sometimes a fax machine. The key here is that the all-in-one can both output images by printing, and receive input through scanning. One thing to note is that when the computer scans an image, it doesn't comprehend what's in the picture, it just records it, dot for dot.

Until now.

While I was setting up this all-in-one, I reached the point of the print head alignment. It automatically printed the test pattern, but instead of looking at the pattern, the next step was to place the printed sheet onto the scanner. The printer itself, through scanning, was going to determine which pattern looked the best. This thing can see!

I was taken aback for a moment... at first thinking about how complex the software would be that allows this ability. But then, I realized how obvious this is -- a device that can read in an image should of course be able to see its own patterns!

It is at once so simple and obvious, yet so complex. It makes me wonder how many opportunities there are for improvements, but they've been overlooked because we're so used to complexity. It's only when a small leap like this has been made that we can begin to see what's on the horizon.

There are always new technologies in the pipeline, all of which you can read about in the tech news. It's only once in a while that something comes along and actually delivers on the promises, and does so in such a natural way.

The way we interact with computers is going to change soon, because now they can see.