Knowledge Adventure lets imagination lead


December 30, 1991|By Peter H. Lewis | Peter H. Lewis,New York Times News Service

Knowledge Adventure is a delightful and ambitious educational program that flirts with the concepts of multimedia and hypertext. It is not the flashiest example of either, but the remarkable thing is that it works so well on an average DOS-based personal computer.

Unlike other educational programs, which require the user to follow a certain route, to chase the crook on a linear path from point A to point B, and so on, Knowledge Adventure entices the user to explore a seemingly endless maze of information. Children who are old enough to read can start to take advantage of the program, yet Knowledge Adventure also will appeal to parents.

Knowledge Adventure is essentially a data base of text, pictures, sounds and graphics, all linked to one another and to a time line. It includes snippets of information about art, history, science, literature, music, nature and architecture.

The data base is controlled by pointing at different objects on the computer screen, using either a keyboard or a mouse.

While it is possible in theory to segregate such topics as music, science and art, it does not take long to realize they are interrelated. That is the theory behind Knowledge Adventure.

The human brain works in mysterious ways, leaping from one association to the next in random and occasionally surprising ways. A computer's "brain" is mysterious, too, but in an entirely structured way.

Somewhere in between is a class of computer software based on a technology called hypertext, which creates complex systems of links among seemingly disparate ideas.

Put another way, one person may see the word "Beethoven," imagine the opening notes of the Ninth Symphony, picture the composer stalking through the streets of 18th century Vienna and muse about architecture.

Another might start on the same path, hear a different part of the Ninth Symphony, picture the opening credits of "NBC News" with Huntley and Brinkley and wonder when some B-boy rapper will purloin a sample of the music for MTV.

In other words, links that seem random and capricious are simply the workings of one person's unique logic.

In the course of one such ramble through Knowledge Adventure, we somehow forged links among Beethoven, Betsy Ross, Louis Armstrong, the Big Bang theory, the rings of Saturn, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, French Impressionist painters and a swirl of other topics.

Each stop along the way provides a fresh injection of knowledge, whether in text, picture or sound.

For example, a picture representing the first manned landing on the Moon shows the time line at 1969 and a text box. A graphic shows the Earth from the apparent perspective of the Moon.

From there, the user can branch off in several directions, or dimensions. One can explore by time, sliding a bar from 1969 to 10 billion years B.C. Somehow an image of Saturn appears over the astronauts and pointing at Saturn triggers a leap to the planet's rings.

If a word in the text accompanying the rings graphic is of interest, a click on that word drops the user into an index of related terms; clicking on any term transports the user to that topic.

The adventure turns out to be not the knowledge itself, which anyone can get from a book, but rather the connections and associations and abstract leaps from one thought to the next.

The information in Knowledge Adventure is compressed into about six megabytes of hard disk space, which is impressive on a technical level, but which underscores how much information had to be left out.

It would be nice to have more topics, longer passages of sound, greater depth on specific topics, fancier animation and photo-quality graphics, of course, but those amenities require far more power and capacity.

If Knowledge Adventure comes out in a CD-ROM version, a logical next step, many of those wishes can be realized. In the meantime, the program's developers plan to add modules that go into greater depth, including one for sports and one for music.

Knowledge Adventure is for DOS-based personal computers with at least 320 kilobytes of free system memory, six megabytes of free space on a hard disk and an EGA or a VGA monitor. A mouse is recommended.

The software has a list price of $79.95 and is widely available in computer stores. Or it can be ordered from Knowledge Adventure Inc. of La Crescenta, Calif., (800) 542-4240.

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