名人故事之Cliff Kushler

名人故事之Cliff Kushler

Cliff Kushler, Swype输入法的发明人

  • Cliff Kushler发明了T9键盘,并且是Swype创始人之一
  • Kushler过去的工作集中在残疾研究和软件开发
  • 这个软件怪人甚至想找到一种方法让电脑和海豚交流

上世纪90年代,Kushler发明了手机T9键盘,帮助人们提高手机输入效率。在此之前,他为残疾人开发过一款曾经很流行的语言输入方式,叫做gizmo

现在,Kushler已经58岁,伴随着Swype,他再次重新思考键盘的输入方式。

Swype的技术能够让用户手指不离开屏幕而输入一个词语,具体来说就是在键盘上按照词语字母顺序滑动,输入法自动识别路径输入词语,用户不用担心滑动路径弯曲,因为Swype能够自动并且很精确的识别出用户想要输入的词语。

在Swype还没有进入Android Market的时候,公司开放了beta版本测试。在短短的时间内,他获得了超过500000的下载量。在触摸屏上输入原本就是一件苦差事,即使是最熟练的BlackBerry使用者,都不能和Swype的输入效率相比。

为了展示这项技术的巨大进步(leap forward),三星电子召集了一批年轻的办公一族,在Swype西雅图的总部现场演示。 Franklin Page用Swype和一部三星手机打破了世界文字输入吉尼斯纪录(Guinness world record for text-messaging speed)。

但是在八月, Page的短暂记录就被英国人,Melissa Thompson,打破了。她同样适用了Swype。

“It has the potential of moving the needle a little bit on how people use their phones,” Kushler said of his invention, with a healthy dose of his legendary modesty.

Swype CEO Mike McSherry is more blunt about his goals. “I want Swype to be everywhere,” he said.

A man of faith and ethics

Kushler像一个圣人,有着白色的头发,a more-salt-than-pepper(不会翻译,囧) beard和温暖的笑容。他说话缓慢并且非常仔细。

A resident of Ananda Village, a small commune at the foothills of the Sierras near Nevada City, California, Kushler and his wife meditate for about an hour every morning. He almost always finds time for the daily ritual, though he still hasn’t made time to chat with dolphins.

“I’ve delved into different kinds of spiritual pursuits on and off for decades,” Kushler said. “My wife and I are very serious about it.”

“I think ideas flow from – I don’t know – different places,” he added. “I don’t think everything that’s come out of me is something this little brain has generated. I don’t want to say I’m channeling somebody or something, but I think [meditation] opens you up to a higher level of intuition.”

On one of his semiregular trips to San Francisco, Kushler met a CNN reporter for lunch. Sitting with perfect posture, attained through yoga and martial arts training in his youth, he took infrequent sips of tea and bites of rice with chopsticks wielded expertly.

Friends describe him as humble, mystic, honorable and brilliant.

“Everybody loves and respects and follows Cliff,” Swype CEO McSherry said in a recent interview. “He has incredible business ethics.”

Convincing McSherry, a co-founder of cellular carrier startups Boost Mobile and Amped Mobile, to join Swype was tough. McSherry was weary of having to negotiate deals with cell phone manufacturers, Kushler said.

“I wanted somebody with experience in the mobile field, but a lot of it was just a person-to-person connection,” Kushler said. “I just saw sort of a kindred spirit in Mike.”

Trust quickly grew between the two. McSherry worked on Swype for six months without a contract – “not even a verbal statement of exactly what the understanding was,” Kushler said – but trusted that he’d get a fair deal.

Helping the disabled speak

Kushler’s path to improving typing on phones was preceded by work on helping the disabled communicate. And before that, dolphins.

As a young man, the Michigan native spent time as a self-described “hippie vagabond.” He traveled around the country in his car – “my dog and I, and a backpack and a guitar,” he said.

Destination: California, to find a scientist named John Lilly, who was working on a computer interface that would allow him to speak to dolphins.

“I got obsessed with whales and dolphins and the idea that there’s another form of consciousness on this planet,” Kushler said. “We don’t have to wait for E.T. to land in Washington to have some other intelligence to talk to.”

Kushler still believes this, but he keeps getting sidetracked.

“I decided before I went [to find Lilly] that it would probably be much more effective if I actually had some skills in the computer realm,” he said. “So I decided to go back to school and study computers, so that I could someday talk to whales and dolphins.” At Michigan State University, he met John Eulenberg, a professor and director of the Artificial Language Laboratory. Kushler said he explained to Eulenberg that he’d taken only one computer class in his life but that he wanted to join the college’s master’s program to eventually have a chat with some aquatic creatures.

And Eulenberg said OK. Eulenberg was one of the earliest researchers in augmentative communications – helping disabled people talk – and continues to teach today. He introduced Kushler to his field, and Kushler said the professor was a major inspiration. “If you look at the nature of the things that [Kushler] has worked on, they’re ways of liberating people in big ways,” Eulenberg told CNN in a recent phone interview. “He believes in doing good.”

Kushler didn’t graduate from Michigan State. Instead, he took a scholarship to study at the University of Tokyo, where he eventually earned a degree in computer engineering with a focus on disability communication. There, he became fluent in Japanese. (He’s currently helping to develop the Japanese version of Swype’s keyboard.)

After school, Kushler worked on a system called the Liberator, which became a leading communication device for people who couldn’t speak. The system uses a sort of shorthand with graphics and letters representing vocabulary words. Press $-W, and the Liberator says, “I want.”

Work on augmentative communications technology became the basis for many of Kushler’s breakthroughs. T9 came from T7, which was eye-tracking software for text input designed to help paraplegics. And the new keyboard for smartphones came from an idea about an input method for the disabled, set forth by Swype co-founder Randy Marsden.

While it quickly morphed into a mainstream product, Swype set aside a chunk of its seed money for funding disability applications. Making use of this is one of Marsden’s primary initiatives, Kushler said.

Rethinking how we write text messages

In the mid-1990s, Kushler, along with Dale Grover and the late Martin King, invented a method for quickly inputting text on a standard phone keypad. Called T9, the technology allowed users to press fewer buttons in order to type words.

Rather than pressing 44-33-555-555-666 on a keypad to spell “hello,” as early texters did, T9 reduced that to simply 4-3-5-5-6. The software guesses what you meant to type from a dictionary, and if it flubs, you can cycle through other options.

At the time, “text messaging wasn’t that big,” Kushler said. “It was sort of taking a leap of faith that this would be any kind of commercial success.”

Like his later bet on touch screens with Swype, this, too, paid off.

“Cliff is a smart guy, able to do great things with technology,” Grover, his former partner, wrote in an e-mail. “Cliff is the voice of reason in situations where others of us were overreacting or not seeing the big picture.”

And the big picture, it turned out, was that T9 made people drastically faster typists and reduced the frustrations with inputting text on a phone. And that was the selling point.

Tegic Communications, the Seattle parent of T9, initially ran into resistance from cell phone makers because they rarely licensed technology at that time and failed to see the benefit of Kushler’s software.

It didn’t help that early T9 versions used a nonstandard keypad layout that Kushler says was five times more efficient. Letters seemed awkwardly grouped together on each number. When Tegic finally bowed to pressure and changed its layout to a standard ABC keypad, phone makers took notice. Samsung was the first to sign on.

Tegic also met with cellular carriers to show them the magic of T9.

“We were going out to the carriers and saying, ‘Look, if your phones have this technology, people are going to write more text messages. You’re going to make more money!’ ” Kushler recalled. “So we got them to, in some cases, dictate [to handset makers]: ‘You must have this technology on your phone.’ ” Soon, most cell phone manufacturers were eager to sign deals to carry T9. This tactic – of convincing cell carriers so that they put pressure on their handset partners – has been a key to Swype’s business, too.

AOL acquired Tegic for an undisclosed sum in 1999, when more than 90% of wireless makers were already licensing T9. About seven years later, AOL sold Tegic to Nuance Communications for $265 million.

During his year at AOL following the acquisition, Kushler tried to persuade the internet giant to invest in an idea to help deaf people. Because of AOL’s dial-up modem business, the company was “in this amazing position,” he said, to bridge the gap between the Web and the then-limited devices for the deaf.

After what he described as “total noninterest” from executives, he left AOL.

Big goals for Swype

Swype’s popularity has risen almost in line with the excitement over touch-screen phones. Kushler began developing the technology out of his home more than eight years ago.

Early development was done on Hewlett-Packard’s iPAQ, a touch-screen phone with a stylus. This was long before touch-screen interfaces were anything more than a gimmick serving a small niche.

Kushler’s son was 2 when development began, and the child and app grew up together. When Chanda Kushler was 4, he Swyped his first sentence: “I love hot cocoa.”

On a computer keyboard, Kushler does “three- or four-finger chicken poking,” he said. With Swype, he can type at 60 words per minute. But “I don’t actually text that much,” Kushler said.

Microsoft has taken an interest in Swype, and executives from the two have had several meetings in which executives from the software giant have asked about Swype’s “ambitions,” McSherry said. But Microsoft has locked its new Windows Phone 7 system from third-party keyboards like Swype’s.

Apple, too, took an early interest in Swype. The companies have had at least two meetings, one as recently as a few months ago, McSherry said.

“These companies don’t want to license Swype,” McSherry said. “They want to buy us.” An Apple executive asked Swype to build a version for the iPhone but said it was unlikely that the company would make an exception to allow the app to replace the iPhone’s stock keyboard, McSherry said.

So Swype is using an everywhere-else strategy. In addition to apps for Android and the older Windows Mobile, Swype has versions running on Microsoft’s Windows desktop system, ones for televisions that use Nintendo’s Wii remote and ones for touch-screen car navigators.

Swype hopes to bring its technology to the screens in airplane headrests. Another team is “very close” to having a prototype working on Microsoft’s Kinect camera hardware, which lets you wave your arms and wiggle your fingers to quickly type letters. Today, Swype is based in Seattle and employs 50 to 60 people, including contractors. Despite its success, Kushler has ideas for improving his product. He hopes to eventually enable Swype’s software to interpret sentence syntax and process language to more reliably guess words.

“Swype is maybe 97% accurate,” Kushler said. “Getting that last little bit of accuracy improvement is going to depend on more intelligence about narrowing down – well, what are the words that make sense in the context?”

He’s also busy working on adding other languages and accessibility features to Swype. So when will Kushler find time for working with sea mammals?

“I think you retire and get yourself a sailboat and go sail around Hawaii and find some friendly dolphins,” he said with a laugh. “I think I may have to wait until my next lifetime for that one.”

来源:CNN

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