Thursday, April 03, 2008

Computers to merge with humans

Where we will be in 2020 ...

"By 2020 the terms "interface" and "user" will be obsolete as computers merge ever closer with humans.

It is one prediction in a Microsoft-backed report drawn from the discussions of 45 academics from the fields of computing, science, sociology and psychology.

It predicts fundamental changes in the field of so-called Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

By 2020 humans will increasingly interrogate machines, the report said.

In turn computers will be able to anticipate what we want from them, which will require new rules about our relationship with machines.

Table map

The report, entitled Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020, looks at how the development of technologies over the next decade can better reflect human values.

"It is about how we anticipate the uses of technology rather than being reactive. Currently the human is not considered part of the process," said Bill Buxton, from Microsoft Research.

At the launch of the report some of the authors showed off the types of technologies that could bring the human back into the equation.

At Goldsmiths College, Professor Bill Gaver and his team have developed a Drift table, a piece of furniture which allows people to view aerial photography of their local neighbourhood and beyond.

"It isn't really designed for anything," explained Prof Gaver.

"People can use it for entertainment or learning. One of the people that was given the table used to check out houses in Southampton following a piece on the news about house prices going up in the area.

"Someone else used it to look at the towns they lived in as a child or to visit towns where friends lived," he said.

The table has no buttons and the small display in the middle moves as a result of pressure being put on the table.

"From central London it would take a day to navigate the table to the coast," said Prof Gaver.

Other prototype technologies aimed at putting human needs at the centre of the equation include the Whereabouts Clock.

The interface - designed at Microsoft's research labs in Cambridge - allows people to see where other members of their family are at any given time.

The categories of "home", "work" and "school" are deliberately vague in order to maintain privacy, explained Abigail Sellen, from Microsoft Research.

Other communication devices for the home that Microsoft is working on include Epigraph, an interface that allows family members to "post" pictures and messages to each other via their mobile phones.

Smart devices

The keyboard, mouse and monitor will increasingly be replaced by more intuitive forms of interaction and display, including tablet computers, speech recognition systems and fingertip-operated surfaces.

Boundaries between humans and computers will become blurred over the next decade as devices are embedded in objects, our clothing or, in the case of medical monitoring, in our bodies.

Although paper will still be a reality in 2020, digital paper will also flourish allowing us to create, for example, social network magazines that update in real time."    (Continued via Putting People First, BBC NEWS)    [Usability Resources]


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