An unfair question

October 4th, 2013

As part of the “In Motion” series, I did a few interviews about screen graphics and the way they are portrayed in futuristic sci-fi movies, and one of the “usual” questions I ask the person is where they see the human-computer interaction going in the next few decades.

And then, as I was talking with Scott Chambliss, the production designer of “Star Trek”, about how he approached designing the computer environment of the Enterprise Bridge, especially given that it’s happening in a rather distant future (250 years from now, give or take), I realized that I’m not really being fair.

Asking such a question immediately puts the other person on the defense. Look at where we were 25 years ago, and look at where we are now. The pace of technological evolution is incredible, and there’s an amazing amount of research going into all these different directions, some proving to be niche experimentation, and some reaching and changing lives of hundreds of millions of people. Asking somebody (who is not an extrovert futurist) to predict what will happen in the next 25 years is unfair. There’s just no way to be able to do that, and there’s an extra layer of being indexed forever and having people point fingers at your old self and how completely wrong you were at the time you made that prediction.

So here’s my resolution. I’m not going to ask this question any more. No more “Where do you see human-computer interaction going in the next 25 years”. Instead, I’m going to ask about where they would like it to go. What is bothering them now, and how that can be eliminated? How this can make our lives better? How this can be enriched without isolating us even more from our fellow human beings?

My own personal take on this is that interacting with computers is too damn hard. Even given that I write software for a living. Computers are just too unforgiving. Too unforgiving when they are given “improperly” formatted input. And way too unforgiving when they are given properly formatted input which leads to an unintentionally destructive output. The way I’d like to see that change is to have it be more “human” on both sides. Understand both the imperfections of the way human beings form their thoughts and intent, and the potential consequences of that intent.

What about you? Where would you take the field of HCI in the next 25 years?