Bring back Clippy

Bring back Clippy

Summary: Computer scientists have created a digital artwork that changes based on the mood of the viewer. The system uses a camera to track eight facial features and then changes a digital image in response.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Computer scientists have created a digital artwork that changes based on the mood of the viewer. The system uses a camera to track eight facial features and then changes a digital image in response. So if the person's expression is happy, the image's colors become more vibrant; if angry, the colors go dark. The researchers from the University of Bath call the technique "empathic painting."

So what?

This technology might have saved the ill-fated Microsoft Paperclip, which made its debut in Office 98. For the benefit of people born since 1998, I'll explain that Clippy worked like this: If it sensed you were (for example) writing a letter ("Dear Microsoft Bob,..."), it would manfest itself chirpily and offer to insert the Letter template. Unfortunately, it often gave what some users considered irrelevant or even counter-productive advice. It soon became reviled in many quarters, and was disabled by default in subsequent versions of Office. (Though it's still there if you want to activate it.)

It needn't have been thus. If Microsoft had waited a decade to introduce Clippy, it could have taken advantage of the empathic software and of the webcams that stare unblinkingly from the tops of so many monitors. Two ways it could work: First, if Clippy sensed that you were having trouble (furrowed brow, foaming at the mouth), it could safely assume that help might be appropriate and pop up with some hope of a warm welcome. Second: If it appeared with advice ("You seem to be writing a Dear John letter..."), it could watch your reaction. If you looked irritated, it could scarper ("Whoa! Never mind!") even before you had a chance to click its little close box, thereby giving you the visceral satisfaction of having "stared it down." Under many circumstances, dominating inferiors is good for a primate's health -- unlike its predecessor, Clippy II could actually do a lot of good in the world.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Do you mean

    That you wouldn't even have to start typing before the ultimately helpful software came up with [url=]this suggestion[/url]?
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Too bad this will never see the light of day...

    ... Since Clippy and all of his friends (including all of the innovative Agent characters) are being dropped from Office 2007.
    Confused by religion
    • Never say never

      Uh, Milly?

      I know you sometimes forget, but "Microsoft isn't doing it" isn't quite the same as "It will never happen."

      If it's actually useful -- that is to say, someone [b]wants[/b] it, unlike Clippy -- then there's nothing to stop people from adding it to software. At least, in countries other than the USA.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Clippy Must Die

    I don't care what Clippy does... give it Gilbert Godfrey's voice again, and I'll want to kill it as soon as it opens its mouth!
  • Correction: Clippy was introduced in Office 97, not 98

    There was no Office 98 for Windows. I think there was a Mac version called Office 98, though.
  • I suggest that you learn a bit more about Clippy first

    I wrote quite extensively about the history of Clippy recently for TechRepublic ( Before trying to bring back the idea of Clippy, you should learn more about it and its history.

    User anticipation requires more than smiling faces or furrowed brows. It needs to work seamlessly. Despite four years of intensive research by some the the brightest folks out there by a company that does more R&D than any company on the planet (except for possibly IBM), Clippy was still a nearly impossible task to get right.

    The new interface for Office 12 attempts to revive some aspect of user anticipation by providing context senstive display. If in the 10 years between Office 97 and Office 12, this is as far as we can get to providing an interface that adjusts itself to the users' apparent needs, I expect it to be quite a few more years until anything like Clippy tried to be will work accurately and correctly.

    Clippy is like speech-to-text. 98% or even 99% accuracy is not good enough. It needs to be 100% spot on, otherwise the help is worse than no help at all.

    Justin James