The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Rethinking User Interfaces

User interface design has gone down some interesting paths in recent months. I just saw this project based on some work out of Purdue that creates 3D designs much like a potter creates pottery. The project is called Handy-Potter.

 

 

The program demonstrates a gesture-based shape modeling, winning the best paper award in ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conference. The 3D designs created by this approach is much more intuitive than using traditional CAD tools.

 

Now that computers are starting to have more gesture-based interfaces, some real innovation in business applications and their interface should be possible. It may not be limited to PCs though, with the level of surveillance enabled by the Internet of Things, we may just tap into the sensing that's around us.

 

There are also cases where the interface is the sensor itself. A while back, I purchased the Kinect Interface for windows to enable some 3D scanning (of larger objects). It actually worked fairly well even with just the 3D builder from the Microsoft store.

 

 

Most of the real design heavy lifting (to stitch together a 3D model) is left to the software, so the user interface is intuitive.

 

With these relatively low-cost but high-power capabilities, maybe it will bring the Minority Report style interface into normal business applications.

 

As I said back in 2006 when I saw G-Speak:

“I can't wait to see a BPMN interface defined that allows the movement of work functions and resources around a screen. I can easily see a room of business folks really think about the problem differently when they can physically flail around and reach a common understanding of new and existing business functions.”

Internet likely to move beyond the clouds

riding comet.pngA few years back I posted about project Loon, an effort to provide Internet access to areas difficult to reach. Now there is an increased interest in using low earth orbit satellites to address to provide Internet access to the same remote market.

 

Satellite Internet access has been around for quite a long time. Signal Latency was always the Achilles’ heel. For a geo stationary orbit the roundtrip time is about ¼ of a second. That will pretty much prevent any chatty applications from being user friendly. A LEO satellite network should be able to get the latency down to a tenth that delay.

 

If these orbiting devices are more than just routers, but provide computing capability and storage as well, some real interesting possibilities could fall to earth. Although I doubt the initial implmentations will do much of this, a SkyNet approach is almost inevitable, though hopefully focused more on ubiuitous and abundant computing than defence.

Machine Intelligence, business applications and retooling

 

thinking.pngOne of the areas that has had a significant renewal of public interest recently is the application of AI techniques, both in our personal lives as well as within the enterprise.

 

For those interested in learning more there are some courses on Coursera and EdX that cover the foundations of AI, but I have yet to find one that goes into real world applications. It seems there could easily be some industry specific coursework defined. Have you seen any that are useful??

 

I was in a discussion just this morning with someone and asked them about the intersection between User Interface Design and Automation, since in many cases humans are scarce and computing is abundant so a human centered design may actually be self-constraining. This will shift the kinds of designs we will accept.

 

The Machine Intelligence Research Institute recently put out A Guide to MIRI’s Research, which I’ve found to be an interesting resource for those thinking about the application of AI techniques and possible unintended consequences.

 

It states: “AI theory currently isn’t about implementation, it’s about figuring out how to ask the right questions.” That aligns with a post I put out a few weeks back about the goal of cognitive computing.

 

Although the Guide seems to be targeted at people looking to work in AI, there are some areas useful for those interested in learning more about the foundation of the topic. MIRI is fairly focused on AI safety – essentially not having a SkyNet scenario.

 

Whenever I read material in this space I always think back on the Heinlein book: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

 

Displays value is in the eye of the user

 

eye.pngThere was a story a few weeks back that caught my eye but I didn’t have time to blog about it. It was about 3D printing contact lenses with built-in video. The concept of having sensors and displays directly on the eye is not new, but this is the first time I’ve seen discussion of them being 3D printed.

 

This particular effort is funded by the US Air Force and could be used for display of information or sensing the “state of the wearer's retina and possibly monitor pilot health without invasive implants.”

 

I can easily see these high impact/cost applications increasing in availability over time and being integrated with those roles where timely access to information can make a big difference. There will need to be some significant work on user interface design, since an on-eye display will be always in the way of the user’s vision.

 

The sensing application would be useful for those situation where immediate action could be the difference between life and death (for example diabetes intervention). I have a hard time imagining its use for every day service interactions, but I could easily be mistaken. It does make me wonder about the possibilities when integated with cognitive computing capabilities.

 

Automating programming in a self-aware enterprise

 

AI.pngThere was an interesting article in NewScientist about a new approach to providing computing capabilities, computers with human-like learning that will program themselves. They talk about new approaches for computers to program themselves.

 

Earlier this year when ‘the machine’ was announced at HP Discover, this scenario was one of the first things that came to mind, since memristors can be used to provide neuron-like behavior. When you have universal memory whole new possibilities open up. When I saw the NewScientist article, it did make me think about a number of applications in the enterprise, since these techniques will be as far beyond today’s cognitive computing as today’s approach is from the mainframe.

 

Always bet on the machine is in a post from 2008, that was contemplating the future of development. What I probably meant was: those who learn to work with the machine will still have a career.

 

I’ve mentioned before that much of today’s management function is ripe for automation. With approaches like this, an enterprise autopilot is conceivable that can optimize a businesses’ response to normal business situations. Questions probably has more to do with ‘when’ than ‘if’.

 

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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