Human-computer interaction is undergoing rapid change. A crucial shift, as the negative effects of current formats, are becoming increasingly clear.
Today, it is perhaps difficult to understand just how ground-breaking Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 computer presentation was. Rightfully known as ‘The Mother of All Demos’, Engelbart presented the early incarnations of many of the systems that form the backbone of how we use computer technology to this day. Early versions of graphics windows, word processing, and, perhaps most importantly, the computer mouse were all part of the demonstration.
As the gathered computer scientists rose to their feet to give Engelbart a standing applause, neither they nor he could have imagined the longevity of those systems.
Taking smartphone touchscreens out of the equation for a second, graphic windows, the computer mouse, along with the qwerty keyboard (from around the same time) remain the way we interact with computers — and through them most other technologies — to this day. A strange fact when considering that they are amongst the least natural ways for humans to interact with anything.
Now, that is all changing rapidly, thanks especially to recent advances in technologies such as AI and VR/AR.
The Unnatural Way
Human-computer interaction can roughly be split in two: human interaction with technology (how we tell a technology to do something) and the use of technology as an intermediary for human-to-human communication (emails, chat systems, etc.).
Let’s start with the latter. If you went back just a couple of generations, using ten fingers — or in the case of a smartphone two thumbs — to talk to someone would strike people as a peculiar idea. Why not talk to them face-to-face?
However, this is how many of us spend the majority of our time communicating with other individuals.
Research shows that it has a host of negative knock-on effects.
example, it can lead to people becoming distrustful and non-sharing in
the workplace. Instead of collaborating, they tend to keep ideas to
themselves, which hampers collaboration, learning, and innovation.
Employees are often left feeling isolated, and as a result, often have
low job satisfaction and feel less commitment towards their employers.Technology is rewriting the rulebook for human interaction
Consider the following two situations.phys.org
Human-technology interaction is also limited by the current setup. An average human can speak around 150 words per minute. In comparison, we can type around 40 words in 60 seconds. So speaking to technology would be almost four times as fast.
Voice Is Not The End
in areas like AI have led to new possibilities when it comes to the
interaction between humans and technology. Perhaps the biggest trend it
has led to is the explosion in voice interaction with computer systems.
For example, ComScore data shows that 50% of all search will be via
voice tech by 2020. This is one of the reason why so many technology
giants, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Lenovo LINE, and Samsung, are
making smart speakers.The voice search explosion and how it will change local search – Search Engine Land
Voice search usage is seeing unprecedented growth, with personal assistant devices leading the way. Columnist Wesley…searchengineland.com
Speed is not the only reason why we are quickly turning away from the keyboard and computer mouse — and touchscreens. Current forms of human — technology interaction also lead to physical injuries, like the painful carpal tunnel syndrome. Furthermore, speech is also a more natural way for humans to interact with something.
As Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC, puts it:
“While there’s no single (or simple) answer as to what makes certain devices, applications or services have a broader, faster impact than others, I’d argue one consistent thread across most of them is that they connect to some fundamental aspect of human nature better than others.”
Speech is not the only interaction form being explored. Nor the only form of human communication that AI-powered systems can interpret better and better. Voice tone, gestures and facial mimicry are just a few other avenues. A good thing too, as more than 90 percent of human communication is non-verbal.
New systems, such as the Connectome Virtual Human Agent (VHA) will not be only capable of understanding these parts of communication but also able to use them during conversations with users.
Giving Technology a Human Face
VHAs are a central aspect of a larger, rapidly growing trend. Since the inception of computers and electronic devices, humans have had no choice but to move towards technology. To adapt our behavior to it.
That is no longer the case. And a good thing too, as our reliance on technology, and thereby need to interact with it, keeps growing. There is an almost exponential growth in the number of systems and sensors around us. Softbank recently predicted that by 2025 there will be no fewer than one trillion connected sensors and devices in the world. Most, if not all of them will be connected to AI-powered devices. Together they will turn our homes, work-places and almost every place we go into smart environments. Interacting with these systems on a constant basis is impossible.
New interaction forms, like virtual human agents, are needed as the intermediary and platform for our interactions with technology. In other words, making technology more humanlike.
It is a development that carries over into human-to-human interaction. For example, when interacting with co-workers. Instead of a ‘unhuman’ medium like emails or texts, this can now happen via VHAs. Thanks to their human form and abilities, they are like a colleague that helps deliver messages and tie a company together, increasing the sense of community and belonging that previous technology interaction forms have hampered.
If Douglas Engelbart were still alive, he would probably view this as a shift in technology on par with the systems he presented back in 1968.