Fresh: mailbag

XII.4 July + August 2005
Page: 11
Digital Citation

Letters to the editor

Jonathan Arnowitz, Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson

back to top  Invasive Technology?

Ubiquitous or pervasive (invasive), "in your face," human-gadget interaction, as presently designed, presents a bleak vision of things to come in "ambient intelligence."

While our vision of what may be is indeed futuristic, the vision of how it will get there is based on the way systems are programmed today. I think there will be a major shift in this paradigm and that may answer some of the concerns expressed in the recent "Pushing the Envelope" column "Ambient Intelligence" (March-April 2005).

First, though, pervasive computing is going to happen, whether we "vote" for it yea or nay. I'm no big fan of Ray "Oh Boy I'm Gonna Have a Bionic Brother" Kurzweil, and the singularity cheerleaders, but there is a momentum that is hard to ignore. If the government doesn't do it, the corporations will; and as long as the world stays a frightening place for so many, there are not going to be many private places, in the name of security.

Having said that, there many intentional communities popping up and folks choosing to use appropriate technology to get off the grid. (The "off switch" is to be off the grid. But that is not what this is about.)

Most of the other concerns mentioned relate to the interfaces and interaction with myriad gadgets. Hopefully these gadgets can all talk to each other and won't be bothering me for endless entering of user profiles. I do think these gadgets will have manners you can live with, because you are going to teach them what you expect from them. So far, interaction is something a "programmer" puts into the software; our software has relied on the unknown high priest or priestess of "religiously reasonable usability" to give you ways to tell you computer what to do. But those days are numbered, I believe. New trends in ontological constrained concept schemas, merged with natural language processing and concept-oriented programming will give users the tools to program their own gadgets and to create there own interfaces; giving the user those tools is the next frontier in usability.

My point is that while we continue to think that programming user interfaces is the specialty of a subset of programming specialists schooled in usability, real ambient intelligence will happen when the personal interfaces are programmed by the person, and usability designers can go back to making sure the buttons and switches (to the extent they are needed) are in the right place. This does not mean "users" will have an even larger number of bewildering "programming" languages and interfaces to add the techno stress of today's lifestyles, but rather, the programming interface/interactions should be the area of the greatest research and efforts on the part of usability professional.

Most people can "program" their children (poor choice of words, I know) and organize most of theirs and their community's tasks, by passing meaningful instruction and requests to one another in a simple (okay, maybe not so simple) language that most everyone learned by the age of two; that is the language we need to convey instructions to our gadgets and computing environment, and not more geek-speak.

I'm not sure I can argue that you will want that ambient intelligence in your life, but I'm pretty sure I can convince you that you that it would be nice to tell it all where to go when you find the need to sit in silence and really touch intelligence.

Larry Mason
Sentar, Inc.
Huntsville, AL, USA

back to top  Our HCI Community

Human Computer Interaction is not only ever-expanding but it's an ever-demanding field. Thank you for taking the time to document insightful aspects of interaction. I recently read through the issue entitled, "Whose profession is it anyway" (May-June 2005) when I came across a familiar face: Fred Sampson.

Clearly the advantages of continuing to learn about—and develop skills in—HCI can prove beneficial. I particularly enjoyed Fred's article on continuing education. I am currently looking forward to continuing my education this fall with an advanced degree, in tandem with my current full-time job in usability. Like many professionals, I am still learning and still growing into my profession and our community.

I look forward to seeing where we, the HCI professionals of today, take the future of usability. I also hope to see many more articles offering relevant and reliable commentary on our beloved profession.

Don J. Francis
Palo Alto, CA, USA

back to top  Authors

Letters to the editor may be mailed to interactions mailbag, ACM, 1515 Broadway, 17th floor, New York, NY 10036 or sent via email to Please include your full name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity and may appear online.

back to top  Sidebar: "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..."

"You know that guy, Lorem Ipsum?" Check out this Web site and start generating dummy text. Paragraphs, words, bytes, or lists, writing greeked text has never been easier, and it looks realistic although it's a clever random generator. The text is "free of repetition, injected humour, or non-characteristic words"—copy and paste the generated text to your wireframes or comps and worry no more about that distracting reading habit when you share your design ideas with an audience. And did we mention it's free? See and consider sending some coin of the realm to James Wilson, who gets three cheers for beauty, utility, and usability.

back to top 

©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0700  $5.00

Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2005 ACM, Inc.

Post Comment

No Comments Found