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.”

Grading my predictions for 2014

grading predictions.pngEach year about this time I look back at the prediction post I made the previous year December (200620072008200920102011, 2012, 2013). I didn’t do predictions the first year I blogged but have managed to do one every year since.

 

Now it is time to look at 2014. I said that 2014 was going to be a year of instability. Depending on what industry sector or organization you’re in that was definitely true – but that’s the kind of easy prediction any fortune teller could make. Let’s get into the details:

 

I’ll grade myself with the following scale again this year:

A: Big changes during the year that are having wide effect.

B: Notable progress through the year and isolated areas of significant impact.

C: Progress with some impact

D: Little progress or impact – but work still taking place

F: No progress or the concept abandoned in any commercial sense.

 

Grade

Prediction

Rational

B

Shift from commodity services to a value play

This is definitely happening but slower than I thought it would.

C

Relationships shifting up the stack (from IaaS to Paas or SaaS to business services)

Although business-based outcomes are becoming common, there is still more smoke than fire here.

C

Similarly the view of BYOD will shift to more of a services perspective.

This one I also give myself mixed reviews. Although the BYOD momentum has shifted to more services, we are still not seeing real security brokerage services or other high value services in a standardized form.

A

New style of business

We have definitely seen much more discussion about the business capabilities and new needs provided by new computing capabilities. The concept of a race with the machine has definitely gained in mind share in 2014. Although the self-aware enterprise is still a long way off.

B

Wearables

I have mixed feelings on this rating. Although you can’t throw a rock and not hit someone coming to market with a new wearable device, they are not being effectively embraced in business processes and enterprise user interface design. They are also not yet forming networks of functionality.

B

Software defined anything

The open approaches of   OpenStack for Cloud OS and OpenFlow for software defined networking have definitely come into their own in 2014. There are still distractors who are fighting this rising tide but most see where this is headed and incorporating the shift into their mental model.

B

Software and analytics

2014 has definitely been the year for big data and analytics buzz words. I don’t think it has come to the point of there being widespread embracing of systems of action. Mobile is still viewed as something special and not just one of the many the interface points by most working in the ‘mobile’ space.

D

Software portfolio assessment

Of all the prediction areas, a fundamental reassessment of the software portfolio against the revised needs of the business, is an area where we’ve most missed our potential in 2014. Most organizations have not shifted to a holistic environmental perspective that will empower the organization and enable them to empower others. Organizations still need to assess what is abundant in this new world and maximize value from what will still be scarce for them and others.

A

Engaged and motivated employees will still be scarce

This is definitely true. In this age of automation, the value of good people and a predictable talent creation pipeline may actually be more important than ever. People are not fungible and as we increase our automation, that will be even more true, not less.

 

Based on these scores, my predictions for 2014 were at least not too conservative. My personal goal is to get close to a C+. If I get too high a grade, I am not trying to stretch my thinking (or yours for that matter) enough. Maybe I should strive to stretch enough to get at least one D??

 

My view is the same as when I finished up my post in 2011:

 

“Having said all that, it is a great time to be in IT. Most of our concerns are currently driven by an overabundance of capabilities that most organizations have not tapped into effectively. Those who can have the vision will be in for quite a ride this year as they look to do more with more.”

 

I should have my predictions for 2015 out later in December.

 

 

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.

 

HP announces a blending of the physical and the virtual

 

sprout.pngHopefully, anyone who is interested in 3D printing saw the two announcements by HP yesterday. They focused on having a Blended Reality that will change how we interact with technology and the world around us.

 

The first announcement should clear up the long rumored entry by HP into 3D printing. This multi-jet fusion approach of ‘page-wide’ printing is significantly faster than traditional 3D extrusion based printing. It is also much more finely grained and accurate. I handled some of these prototype parts a while back and I found it very exciting, when compared to any of the 3D printing efforts I’ve done myself. The potential ability to manipulate color, finish and flexibility within the same part was something I found unique. HP has a very strong materials science foundation ever since HPs commercial definition of ink jet printing in the early 80s and this approach really takes advantage of that experience.

 

The other shoe that dropped was Sprout. This link has numerous movies about how others have used this technology in their work. I’ve seen somewhat similar techniques applied in research projects for a number of years now, but not a commercial solution that you can ‘just buy’ that integrates touch, 2 and 3D scanning and multiple displays in such a seamless and functional way. Although I have talked with people about this effort about a year ago, it is great to see it become a reality – and I’m anxious to get my hands into its platform. There are some interesting perspectives that if you do work that involves your hands it may be the computer for you and the view that it is a solution looking for a problem – I can see easily see its use.

 

One of the things I find most exciting about these products that they enable a different kind of creative environment that functions as a springboard for greater creativity. These sort of environmental enabling view will be an ever increasing part of new business value generation in the future.

 

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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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