Wednesday, 29 October 2008

History and Future of Computing and Interaction

Today I was teaching my class on user interface engineering and we covered a selected history of HCI and looked at the same time at a potential future. We discussed how user interface evolved and where UI revolutions have happed. To my question "What is the ultimate user interface?" I got three very interesting answers (1) a keyboard, (2) mind reading, and (3) a system that anticipates what I want. 

With regard to history in HCI one of my favorite texts is the PhD dissertation of Ivan Sutherland [1]. The work described was done in 1960-1963 when the idea of personal computing was very far from main stream. Even just browsing some of the pages gives an impression of the impact the work had…

For future user interfaces we talked about brain computer interfaces (BCI) and how they very much differ from the idea of mind reading. I came across a game controller - Mindlink - developed by Atari (1984) and that was never released [2]. It was drawing on the notion of linking to the mind but in fact it only measured muscle activity above the eye brows and apparently did not perform very well. However there is a new round coming up for such devices, see [3] for a critical article on consumer BCI.

On the fun side I found a number of older videos that look at future technology predictions- see the videos for yourself: one is a site that has an amazing (and largely funny) selection of predictions. There is a more serious - but nevertheless - very entertaining article on predictions for computing and ICT by Friedemann Mattern: Hundert Jahre Zukunft - Visionen zum Computer- und Informationszeitalter (hundred years future - predictions of the computing and information age) [4].

[1] Sutherland's Ph.D. Thesis, Sketchpad, A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System. 1963
[3] Emmet Cole. Direct Brain-to-Game Interface Worries Scientists. Wired. 09.05.07.
[4] Friedemann Mattern.Hundert Jahre Zukunft - Visionen zum Computer- und Informationszeitalter. Die Informatisierung des Alltags - Leben in smarten Umgebungen, Springer Verlag 2007.

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