Electronic “How Things Work” Articles: Two Early Prototypes

Franz G. Amador, Deborah Berman, Alan Borning, Tony DeRose, Adam Finkelstein, Dorothy Neville, David Notkin, David Salesin, Mike Salisbury, Joe Sherman, Ying Sun, Daniel S. Weld, Georges Winkenbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Electronic Encyclopedia/Exploratorium (E3) is a vision of a future computer system—a kind of electronic “How Things Work” book. Typical articles in E3 will describe such mechanisms as compression refrigerators, engines, telescopes, and mechanical linkages. Each article will provide simulations, three-dimensional animated graphics that the user can manipulate, laboratory areas that allow a user to modify the device or experiment with related artifacts, and a facility for asking questions and receiving customized, computer-generated English-language explanations. In this paper, we discuss some of the foundational technology—especially focusing on topics in artificial intelligence, graphics, and user interfaces—needed to achieve this long-term vision. We describe our initial prototype system and the technical lessons we have learned from it, as well as our second prototype currently under construction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-618
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1993
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


  • Electronic books
  • electronic encyclopedia
  • hypermedia
  • interactive CAD systems
  • interactive graphics
  • interactive simulation
  • model-based reasoning
  • user interface


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