"OK, what's the first thing you need to make a daiquiri?"
The young woman smiles expectantly from the computer screen, a full-service bar behind her. The computer screen fades to an array of bottles. A viewer touches a rum bottle's image. The computer beeps. The woman fades back in.
"That's right, you need rum," she nods. "How much do you need?" Fade to a screenfull of choices: .5 ounce, 1 ounce, 1.5 ounces.
Finger touches screen -- 1 ounce. Beep.
"I'm afraid that's the wrong amount of rum," -- still smiling -- "remember, I told you 1.5 ounces?"
More choices, more beeps.
"All the correct ingredients are now in the shaker," the woman finally says. "Now what do you do?"
Screen fades to: Stir? Shake? Pour?
Touch the screen. Beep.
"Right you are. I'll shake it up for you now. And we serve it in a stemmed cocktail glass.
"Not bad," she winks, taking a sip. "You'd make a pretty good bartender."
The application may be trivial, but this computer-based, interactive teaching program, one of a few in the public domain, represents the future for companies whose interests range from computers to video technology.
The technology is called multimedia -- next-generation computer simulation that simultaneously uses graphics, text, images, motion video and sound. It can be used to teach anything from medical mathematics to how to run a steamship boiler room, and the potential market for such "courseware" exceeds $1 billion, industry experts say.
But training and education is just one application, and companies across a staggering range of industries -- marketing and advertising, home entertainment, telecommunications, data processing, viewphone-type electronic communication -- have a chance to get in on the ground floor of this next frontier in computer technology.
"Every single federal computer workstation will be a multimedia workstation in the future," says Dr. Lawrence Welsch, manager of the Office Systems Engineering Group, Systems and Software Technology Division of the National Institute of Standards and Techology. "Multimedia will become the standard for the desktop."
One of the largest initial markets for companies in the multimedia industry will be the federal government. At the departments of Labor and Education, for example, interactive multimedia systems already are being developed as curriculum packages for schools nationwide, and to train federal employees.
Experts at the Department of Defense, which for years has usedinteractive computer-based training, are transferring several such programs to the private sector. One is the Job Skills Education Program, called JSEP, created by the Army to help recruits qualify for technical schools. This computer-managed instruction program will be used in adult education centers and elsewhere to educate illiterate adults.
And there's more good news for multimedia entrepreneurs. Only a few courseware programs are now or will soon be on the market. One, called Perseus (see story at right), contains Ancient Greek texts and translations, and color video maps with still and moving images of sites all over Greece.
Another is "Windows on Science," a videodisk curriculum adopted in August by the state of Texas, the first state to adopt such
a curriculum as an alternative to recommended textbooks.
But several technical hurdles remain before multimedia technology make inroads into the marketplace. A major barrier is known as "portability," the ability to use multimedia software on any computer, video or audio system regardless of the manufacturers.
The daiquiri program, for instance, runs on an IBM computer hooked to computing and video components made by Sony and Visage. Next to this array -- collectively known as a computer platform -- is an Apple computer hooked to AT&T; and Panasonic components. But the daiquiri program software can't move from one multimedia system to another without software changes.
To make such complex software portable requires development of a "standard" computer architecture (the organizational structure of a computing system) for computer-based multimedia.
A good example of this kind of standard is in the electronics industry, which early in the development of the audio equipment market reached a consensus on standard connectors to be used for audio components such as amplifiers, speakers, tuners, turntables and tape players. These standards allow virtually any brand of speaker or other component to work in any brand of amplifier.
At the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, scientists in NIST's National Computer Systems Laboratory are working with experts from industry and the departments of Defense, Education and Labor to make such software compatible with -- or portable to -- a variety of computer platforms.
NIST scientists have been working to increase multimedia portability for about a year. In October, NIST opened a multimedia research lab to help develop a standard approach to the technology. In the meantime, Dr. Welsch and others are preparing a report that details a proposed "open systems" architecture, to be released this month or next.
Unlike proprietary architectures, which are designed by specific computer companies (IBM and Apple, for instance) to accommodate their own software, an open-systems architecture is a generic approach that allows a vendor to freely develop software that will run on any system.
Some vendors don't understand the importance of an open systems environment, Dr. Welsch explains.
In the federal government, multimedia courseware is viewed with growing interest by agencies that have the greatest stake in training workers: the departments of Defense, Labor, Education, and the Small Business Administration.
In a letter to NIST's Dr. Welsch, Jules Lichtenstein, chief of the SBA's Applied Policy Branch, said estimates of training costs for U.S. workers range from $20 billion to $100 billion per year, depending on the training provided, the source of funds and the number of workers involved.
"According to one estimate that focused on employer-provided training," he wrote, "about 50 percent of the work force receives employer-provided training each year, at an annual cost of $30 billion to $40 billion."
From the Department of Education, working with Dr. Welsch and his group of experts at NIST is Dr. Frank Withrow, team leader for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
The 1988 Omnibus Trade Bill charged the Department of Education with developing a government-wide Office of Training Technology Transfer, Dr. Withrow says, "and the NIST multimedia project is instrumental in helping us move into that format."
This office is charged with assessing any educational course or activity in the federal government that could be transferred to the private sector, he adds, and establish a number of programs with the National Technical Information Service that could be moved into a public distribution system.
"The programs will go into a clearinghouse where we will evaluate their use to the public and the ability to convert them to a usable format. The more compatible NIST's open systems environment is, the easier our job will be," Dr. Withrow says.
In its own multimedia efforts, the department is incorporating past broadcasts of programs like "Sesame Street," to which it contributed more than $65 million over 13 years, and "Music Is," a show with the National Symphony Orchestra that teaches children about music, in multimedia packages that include video disks, computer programs, four-color textbooks, teacher's guides and wall charts.
At the Department of Labor, consultant Dr. David Barbee is working with NIST to develop new technology for human development in training, learning and education.
Dr. Barbee established the Center for Advanced Learning within the agency's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Development to track tools and techniques for human development, particularly in employment training programs.
"Our focus is employment training but we look more broadly than that. We are on the verge of bursting into the multimedia arena because jobs are changing so rapidly, gaining an increasing degree of sophistication and using more computerized tools," Dr. Barbee says.
Using computers as multimedia tools will allow workers to retrieve information from a data base simultaneously as video, graphics and text. Intelligent data bases will help workers answer questions, and a couple of keystrokes away will be a computerized personal "adviser" and a tutor.
Workers increasingly will have access to the information, advice and training that makes them most productive, no matter what they're doing.
"The Department of Labor also sees using the new techniques and tools in adult literacy because in the United States we have 25 million people who don't read or write well enough to hold a modern job," Dr. Barbee notes, "and 40 million more who, as soon as their jobs change, won't be able to learn the next one."
Internally, the Department of Labor has created the Computer-assisted Learning Center where employees can use interactive programs to improve typing and other job skills. The Internal Revenue Service has several hundred such centers for its employees.
For years the Department of Defense has been a leader in computer-based multimedia for everything from managing battles and waging wars to driving tanks and flying aircraft. But in military applications this kind of simulation is used for much more than teaching pilots how to fly, even if they're sitting in a cockpit.
Army Capt. Stephen Maks squares his jaw and scans multiple computer screens in the helicopter cockpit, seeking the enemy. The bad guys' aircraft are red diamonds, good guys' blue circles. As fast as he needs it, Captain Maks accesses critical data about his own craft by barking programmed orders at the computer.
The information appears in color-coded symbols and graphic displays that a busy pilot -- who needs both hands and both feet to keep the helicopter in the air -- can use to decide whether to fight or fly.
Members of the Air Defense, System Simulation and Aviation teams work together in the flight simulation room at the Army Human Engineering Laboratory's Aviation and Air Defense Division at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Captain Maks coordinates division research and development, and this high-tech flight simulator is one of the human-factors research tools used to evaluate advanced technology with one thing in mind -- maximizing human performance. Captain Maks and more than 270 military and civilian engineers, physicists, mathematicians, experimental psychologists, biologists and technical support staff use computers to make equipment of all kinds easier and safer to operate, drive, fly, climb in and out of, and maintain.
In a nearby building, researchers in the Close Combat Division use a computer-simulated human figure to improve equipment design before expensive prototypes are manufactured. Brenda Thein, operations research analyst and chief of the modeling applications and analysis team, introduced Jack, a computerized, fully articulated human body model made up of 5,300 polygons.
Created by the Computer Graphics Research Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania -- with funding and guidance from HEL, the Army Research Office and others -- Jack is a three-dimensional computer-aided engineering and human figure performance model. He -- or she -- is used to evaluate for human use computer-aided design drawings of equipment such as aircraft cockpits or tank holes.
Jack's girth, center of mass, strength and joint limits can be defined for upper and lower arms, legs and most body parts. Using a mouse and a computer keyboard, a researcher can manipulate Jack in and out of cockpits, have him sit in a cockpit and reach for controls, and simulate movements any pilot might make.
The information Jack gathers helps engineers to reposition critical components while they are designing aircraft cockpits or tank troop compartments.