If you've got a smartphone in your pocket, chances are you've got a digital assistant in there too (or you will very soon). For all her smarts, though, Siri can't help much when you hunker down in front of a UNIX shell, so former Google engineer Jeff Pickhardt set out to make the sort of digital assistant that could. "Her" name is Betty and (sadly) you can't verbally rattle off your Unix commands at her. No, she's all text-based, and more of an assistant than a transcriber anyway -- her raison d'etre is all about dutifully converting your typed whims from plain ol' English to the proper (and often arcane) command line syntax.

Punching in "betty give me permission to this directory" prompts her to do just that, while asking her to "give anotheruser ownership" changes those properties without the need to peck out those permissions by hand. Why does this matter? Because for all of the whiz-bang user interfaces that have cropped up in recent years, there still doesn't seem to be a compelling alternative to the spartan wonder of the command line. And as far as Pickhardt is concerned, the right sort of work on this project could help it make it easier for us all to talk to computers away from a blinking cursor, too.

"Long term, the project could move beyond the command line," he told Wired. "I think there should be an open version of the intelligent personal assistant, to control a computer with natural language input.

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Betty helps you conquer the console by translating English to Unix commands