Tag Archives: augmented reality

The future of human/machine interaction

I’ve been thinking about this one for a while as well. We all know the scene from minority report…

This has been held up as the way in which people will interact with machines, and – indeed – some people have been working to make it a reality.

But is this the way that people will interact with technology in the future? A big part of me thinks no – too much work! Sci-fi tells lots of different stories, and one of the main things people imagine is voice control.

My own feeling falls down a few different paths. I should flag that my agency has clients involved in a few of these fields – Logitech on the more traditional machine interaction side and Nuance on the voice recognition side – but these views are my own and uninformed by discussions with those guys.

1. Traditional man/machine interaction isn’t going away for a while. Mice and keyboards are very effective at getting through many of the tasks we’ve made for ourselves and are very well entrenched.

2. Voice is going to continue to develop. Whilst voice control has always had its fans and its critics, there will be two key things that both limit it and send it on its way. The limitation – is accuracy. In the near to mid term it’s unlikely to reach the 90+% accuracy levels you get when typing. The driving force – is the need for hands free. There are always going to be contexts in which hands-free control over a machine will be important, more so as mobile computing entrenches itself in modern society. So whether its in an industrial context, in a car or on a mobile device there are platforms on which voice would be an optimum control mechanism.

3. Touch. The ‘hot’ interface right now. As someone who owns and uses and iPad and and iPhone I can tell you that I am a convert; initial mediocre experiences on tediously inadequate Windows Mobile devices, unresponsive and stylus-driven, made me very sceptical indeed but the potential of this for innovative and interesting interaction with different applications is tremendous. But I can’t help but feel that the limitation here is the screen…

Which leads me to…

4. AR interaction. I have no idea how far this will go – at the moment augmented reality provides wonderful toys for marketers to play with and the potential for some retail novelty. But if you’ve read Charlie StrossHalting State (as you know I have), you’ll have read of a world in which everyone wears AR enabled glasses, and can overlay ‘layers’ of Internet reality on the real world. So – an overlay of Google Maps on your current view of the street, complete with turn by turn navigation. An overlay of SquareMeal’s restaurant reviews. An overview of World of Warcraft’s avatars, if you are so inclined. An overlay of the police criminal database, giving you information on individuals, crime scenes, etc. Whilst that’s a fun extrapolation, I think there’s scope for more everyday applications, and – as ever – I have no doubt that marketers will be amongst the first to pick them up. Imagine an AR iPhone app, for example, that allowed you to view special offers on a poster, and interact with them to choose the one you wanted to download (app would recognise a QR code, or some such, download the relevant reality overlay from the Internet alongside an interaction protocol, and let you play!). Or imagine a gaming context – in which you could run around, laserquest style, interacting with phantoms like the one in the Lynx ad.

AR is exciting for much the same reason that the Wii was exciting – it involves every day people in an interactive experience – in the real world. There may be screens or bits of tech to support the interaction but over time they will fade into routine mundanity (is that a word? computer says no). Although I do think that perhaps Gmail’s new features might be taking the concept a bit further than it should go.

5. Direct neural interface. Still far away? I’ve not read anything in the mainstream media about this one. A lot of sci-fi features subvocalisation to intelligent digital agents (Peter F Hamilton (link) calls them ‘u-shadows’). I’ve never been sure what subvocalisation is (oh, that’s interesting, wonder what Nuance is doing there…), and over the years of meeting people, the workings of whose minds completely evades me, I’m cynical about the capacity of a machine to interpret the synaptic instructions of a broad subset of humanity. Not without the Cylons taking over, anyway.

One thing’s for sure – there’s a lot going on in this space and it’s massively exciting. Have I missed any particularly interesting ones? Always interested to read.

App request for Google

Can Google please upgrade the Google Translate iPhone app to include OCR so it can do this, but just for plain text on images? I don’t need a video feature or AR capability, or the clever editing that provides the illusion the translated text is on the billboard, sign or whatever, but it’d be awesome if it OCR’ed the text, translated it, and spat out a plain text English (or whatever-language) version of the sign, bit of paper, etc.

I’ve mentioned the coolness of the OCR video translation app (at least as far as the demos go) before, but if you haven’t seen it, check it out. A step towards Star Trek’s universal translators!

Augmented reality all over the shop

@tim has a big piece in today’s FT about Augmented Reality and its potential in advertising. In addition to trying out the FT’s AR app, you could also try Intel’s thin laptop app and check out the AR magician on YouTube. The former two require flash, a webcam, printer and miscellaneous plugin. The latter requires flash, headphones and some imagination.

Augmented reality is awesome and full of practical potential – in design, medicine, gaming and no doubt a dozen other fields – but I’m not surprised its kicking off in marketing first. We seem to be a good test bed for this kind of stuff and have a few people willing to take chances on reasonably nascent technologies.

Charlie Stross’ Halting State has a number of interesting applications (Google Maps overlays, WoW overlays, police grid overlays amongst them) and is well worth a read if you’re into the topic (and Sci-Fi).