He adds that the visual side is not really the toughest part of the job. Rather, it's finding an efficient way to understand and display every article. The hope is that any site can throw an article at Guide, and the service will know where and when to put up the accompanying charts, photos, and videos.
"What we really consider ourselves to be and we aspire to be the best in the world at is understanding content, analyzing and recognizing different types of content, and then adding enough understanding of it to display it in the most intelligent way possible," Laker says.
Then again, to talk to Laker for even a few minutes is to understand that thinks on a grand, even grandiose, scale. He calls himself a "diehard futurist" and an avid science fiction fan. He peppers the conversation with references to his favorite films and books, and has even named his blog takemetoyourleader.com. Indeed, even as he discusses the limitations of his current product, he is also concerned with the distant places it could go in the future.
"Our vision is that someday in the next couple of years, Guide is the beginning product that you'll basically be able to walk up and say, 'Good morning, Guide, show me the best in tech news, read me my five most important emails, and show me the weather,' " he says. "It recognizes me, presents my news back to me dynamically, and does that as almost this living entity."
Whether customers are excited for such unheard-of technology may be a shaky proposition. Then again, that question may also be immaterial. Steve Jobs was famous for his philosophy that Apple would tell consumers what to like, rather than asking them. Likewise, news readers may not say they want their New York Times articles read aloud by a talking anime character, but that doesn't mean they won't buy it. The iPad was met with skepticism, after all, but it soon became ubiquitous and sparked a tablet war between computer manufacturers.
Either way, Laker knows all too well that being first doesn't equal being successful. He is the son of British airline entrepreneur Freddie Laker, a pioneer in the field of low-cost air travel. His Skytrain airline company faced regulatory and financial difficulties—not to mention some muscling from bigger airlines—that led to its 1982 bankruptcy, only five years after it began operation, but it is recognized as a forerunner to successful airlines like Ryanair and Southwest Airlines.
"I would hate to be the guy who broke in a whole new industry," says Guide's creator. "Sometimes they say the first guy rarely succeeds. I would like to make sure I don't replicate that."
If text-to-video news were to become a reality as common as tablets or low-cost airways, experts say it could have profound implications for how news is presented and consumed.
"Internet content is always going to be buyer beware," says Dan Birman, a broadcast news expert and professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "If we call that news, even if we have an android-looking person reading the news to us, it starts to take on an air of acceptability."
For example, if a Guide user follows both TMZ and the Financial Times, that could mean juxtaposing stories from both sources in one newscast. When a news anchor reads these new stories in succession, both a gossipy Lindsay Lohan story and an analysis of Ben Bernanke's interest rate policy could take on equal weight and, perhaps more importantly, equal integrity. And though Guide will explicitly show on-screen the sources of any given story, the person on the elliptical machine at the gym may not notice.
"If you think about a visual newscast, there are these wonderful visual cues that take you from one content to another," says Stephen Masiclat, director of New Media Management at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications. Over the shoulder graphics or even simple camera angle shifts or musical interludes can signal shifts between segments. If Guide can't get those nuances right, it could flatten some articles.