Have you ever noticed that after a long stretch of sitting at your home or office computer, you feel somehow less human? You stand up from your chair, muscles creaking and vertebrae popping, and you feel more like a machine yourself. When you consider increases in repetitive strain injuries and the amount of time the average person spends in front of a computer, we're long overdue for new kinds of interaction that reduce the time we have to spend on a traditional mouse, keyboard, and monitor. We should be making better use of microphones for voice recognition, multi-touch screens, and 3d holographic projectors. Does this sound too futuristic? Maybe it's not.
My inspiration for this post came from several sources, but chiefly a Microsoft video describing their vision of what the future of computing would look like.
In the video, there are lots of touch-screen interfaces and systems for recognizing hand gestures and that sort of thing. Speaking of gestures, have you seen the movie Minority Report? The gesture-driven computer that Tom Cruise's character uses in the beginning of the film was based on the work of an MIT student whose work is being devleoped by Oblong Industries (awesome!) It was also spoofed in a recent episode of The Simpsons.
At work, we have an interactive SMART Board--It's basically a very large touch screen with a projector. After using it for a while, I'm always frustrated going back to a regular computer screen, because I'll reach up to tap on a button or icon on the monitor, and nothing happens! Once you start using touchscreens, it's hard to go back to a keyboard and mouse, where you're one or two steps removed from the content you're working with. I recently watched a TED talk in which Jeff Han demonstrates a large, multi-touch surface, and he said there's really no reason not to interact with computers in this way from now on. Maybe that's optimistic, particularly since the capacitive touch screens are relatively new and expensive, but it's clear that technology (especially in cell phones) is heading this direction, which will drive down costs.
One of the more exciting visions of computer interaction I've seen was featured in a Discovery documentary called 2057. About 1 minute into the chapter titled "The City," a boy is navigating his way home by following a 3d hologram of a dolphin, which is coming from a GPS receiver and projector on his arm.
I was enthralled with this idea, not just because I'm a sucker for dolphins, but also because I hate getting lost. Later in the film, the boy's father introduces him to a newer model that combines the projector with voice recognition and speech synthesis. How cool is that!? The projection may look like science fiction, but it's been done, and it's only a matter of time before these things are small enough to carry around with us. I hope I live to see the day when we can interact with machines in ways that are less mechanical and more human.
If you could do away with the mouse, keyboard, and monitor, what would you substitute it with?
Update: Reader sent me a link to another cool TED talk with some other ideas about computer interfaces
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