The science fiction genre is a wonderous storytelling vehicle. It gives us a glimpse into our future, the technologies we might be using, and how we’ll possibly interact with one another amidst the vast information networks influencing our world.
Since its release almost a decade ago, Minority Report remains one of the most referenced sci-fi movies for futuristic user interface design in recent memory. If there were ever an interactive design textbook or manual containing required viewing and inspirational cinematic pieces, Minority Report would almost certainly be among the top 20.
Admittedly, I’ve used various screen captures from scenes involving the PreCrime Unit and the funky gesture-based interface Tom Cruise and company used to catch criminals on a few creative mood boards over the years, as have a lot of other art directors I imagine.
There’s no denying gesture based UIs will someday replace mouse and keyboard inputs. Technologies like Pranav Mistry’s SixthSense UI and more recently Apple’s Siri, suggest we’re heading towards a dematerialized future of seemingly invisible devices in which conventional screen based interfaces will eventually be replaced by more natural forms of input. Speaking and physical body movements come to mind. In fact someday simply clicking a mouse or tapping a touch sensitive screen may feel like a painfully archaic way to interact with information. Let’s hope repetitive strain inducing forms of HCI one day become a thing of the past.
I recall seeing John Underkoffler demo his g-speak (short for gesture speak) UI research at FITC back in 2010. It was amazing. I thought to myself, the UI concepts depicted in Minority Report were no longer science fiction, but were arguably becoming science fact.
Underkoffler said he believed (at the time) we were 5 to 7 years away from interfaces similar to Minority Report. Though I now tend to think a more ambitious mind/UI leap will materialize in the form of cybernetic implants akin to The Matrix or Brainstorm (no, not that thing you do at meetings—the 1983 sci-fi movie starring Christopher Walken).
But it’s fair to argue cybernetic interfaces may be much further off —after all, who really wants a network ethernet cable plugged directly into the back of their neck? Who would want their thoughts recorded and played back for others to experience?
Perhaps learning jujitsu in a matter of seconds would have benefits. Why bother going to martial arts classes for years when you could perform a near instantaneous knowledge transfer downloaded directly to your cerebral cortex.
One day, something similar to this mildly disturbing scenario may play out and finally render books, television, digital texts, and all conventional forms of media consumption permanently obsolete.
Oh, but how would advertising function in such a hyper-knowledge based society? Would we pay subscription fees to agencies like Rekall providing weekly memory implants and virtual vacation experiences to Mars like the ones Douglas Quaid took?
The Nexus-6 Replicants engineered by the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner, though not human, were given memory implants to artificially provide an emotional cushion.
The years of experiences we generally take for granted provide a sort of mental stability in our lives, but would otherwise create a distressing existence if obstructed or removed —human or otherwise.
Maybe those of us employed as the UX designers and application developers of today will be the ones crafting the memory plug-ins of tomorrow.
True escapism and one of a kind out-of-body immersionsTM, all for the incredibly low price of $195 per petabyte of data assimilation. Sounds like a bargain, until you have a psychotic break from reality.
Still, these types of synthetic experiences characterized by direct mind/device neural interfaces sound down right nightmarish compared to current augmented reality concepts. In fact, the dystopian themes running rampant through sci-fi are made all the more explicit by such ideas and the popular notion we’ll eventually form an insidious bond with the technologies we use.
So, had enough doom and gloom yet?
In reality the next user interface you’re bound to experience (if not already) may be something a little less invasive. It’s possible Steve Jobs’ swan song, Siri, was inspired by a funny scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (yes, that strange image gracing the top of this post).
Captain Kirk and the Enterprise team travel back in time to save the world from, you guessed it, some advanced alien intelligence threatening to destroy the human race. Commander Scott finds himself in front of a primitive computer of the day (a Macintosh by the looks of it, circa 1986).
Low and behold Mr. Scott is surprised to learn he must use a keyboard instead of (gasp!) voice recognition. “How quaint, a keyboard” he says, as he begins to effortlessly type out the molecular formulas for 1-inch thick transparent aluminum.
Was Steve Jobs a Star Trek fan? Maybe Jobs, after watching this scene, had an epiphany for Siri and voice-op UIs back in 1986? Or maybe it was the scene involving the SAL computer in the 1984 film 2010 – The Year We Make Contact.
In any case, talking to our computers will soon become a normal activity while clicking a mouse, even touching a screen, perhaps going the way of the hand-written letter.