The final day of FITC Toronto 2010 has just wrapped up and without a doubt John Underkoffler’s presentation entitled “It Has To Be This” resonates in my mind as the most thought provoking and forward thinking talk of the day -dare I say, the whole conference.
The overall theme for this year’s conference was playground, inspired by childhood memories of tinkering and creating things from scratch; challenging established rules and paradigms of thought. In fact many of the talks I attended over the course of the last 3 days have, in some way or another, shared this common thread by celebrating the importance of experimentation, inventiveness and creativity in all the work we do (or aspire to do).
It’s amazing to witness first-hand the unconventional thinking and problem-solving of individuals like Brendan Dawes, Ralph Hauwert, and Mario Klingemann whose work I would characterize as relentlessly fuelled by a desire to explore the unexplored -to push the boundaries beyond where most would stop. For these individuals (and many more of the speakers at FITC) curiosity is an inherent attribute of research and development where the tendency is to not merely use technology, but effectively invent and shape its future.
Continuing with this theme of shaping and inventing our tools and technologies, John Underkoffler provocatively began his presentation by showing an image of the original Apple computer which he aptly described as a device you purchased, brought home, and it did absolutely nothing until you did something with it (e.g. write a program). Underkoffler’s next slide fast forwards 30 years to the present day displaying an image of Apple’s latest iPod and iPad devices -2 closed and seemingly uncreative tools representing 60 to 70% of Apple’s current ecosystem -that is, 2 devices you in fact cannot use to create anything new. Pausing for a moment I think to myself -brilliant! This is a tangible example of the notion of computer interface going backwards in terms of its ability to be shaped and manipulated. Moreover, this was a perfect segue into one of Underkoffler’s arguments that we must ultimately abandon traditional screen-based user interfaces and input devices (e.g. windows, pull-down menus and buttons designed and optimized to be driven by a mouse) in favour of something new in the form of g-speak (g short for gesture).
Underkoffler’s g-speak research is essentially a real world, working prototype of the gesture based UI first seen in the futuristic science-fiction movie Minority Report. But, this isn’t science-fiction as Underkoffler explains, this will be commonplace for most computer systems in 5 to 7 years time.
We’ll have to see what the future holds for physical gesture based UIs -but for the time being I suppose we’re still stuck with our clumsy mouse inputs and tablets.