An adaptive interface for a programmable system, for predicting a desired user function, based on user history, as well as machine internal status and context. The apparatus receives an input from the user and other data. A predicted input is presented for confirmation by the user, and the predictive mechanism is updated based on this feedback. Also provided is a pattern recognition system for a multimedia device, wherein a user input is matched to a video stream on a conceptual basis, allowing inexact programming of a multimedia device. The system analyzes a data stream for correspondence with a data pattern for processing and storage. The data stream is subjected to adaptive pattern recognition to extract features of interest to provide a highly compressed representation which may be efficiently processed to determine correspondence. Applications of the interface and system include a VCR, medical device, vehicle control system, audio device, environmental control system, securities trading terminal, and smart house. The system optionally includes an actuator for effecting the environment of operation, allowing closed-loop feedback operation and automated learning.