Why we need to take computers out of computing

frog's Mark Rolston at GigaOM RoadMap 2011

frog's Mark Rolston at GigaOM RoadMap 2011Computers — the boxes that we consult in the form of tablets, mobile phones and desktops — are wonderful, but they take away from what it is to be human and to really connect with one another. So the challenge and opportunity that lies ahead is how to get the computers out of computing, said Mark Rolston, the chief creative officer at frog. Speaking at the GigaOM RoadMap conference in San Francisco, Rolston took the audience through a vision of omnipresent computing.

“The room is the computer,” he said, as he described putting something like Apple’s Siri voice recognition system into an earpiece, and then being able to interact with a projector in a room to create a screen wherever the user needed one.

“Computing is decoupling. Most computers are composed machines, but if you can image a case where they are externalized resources in a room,” he said. “I can talk at it and wave at it, and maybe I have a keyboard or maybe there are screens or cameras around, but [the computers] compose in the moment as we need them, and they are no more ornate than we need.”

So today, if you have an iPad, that’s all you have. But if computing is decoupled from computers, then it becomes more flexible, and available to become whatever the user needs for the function they need to fulfill. However, if computing is decoupled from the computers, input becomes more challenging. Now that computers have eyes (Kinect for example) and ears (Siri), designers — such as those at frog — have to figure out how to use the human body as an input device.

Things such as figuring out what gestures are universal, or easy to perform repeatedly, as well as understanding how to tell a computer that has eyes and ears that you want to talk to it rather than the person next to you, are all things Rolston and designers are thinking about.

But as we interact with computers in a more human way, and they become smarter, Rolston wonders if we will hit a point where computers behaving in human ways — or doing things humans do — becomes creepy. Will computing hit that uncanny valley, where it becomes so human — but is still clearly not human — that it creeps us out? He cites a video of people riding in a Googlecomputerized car that drives itself, where the people are clearly freaked out, as an example of this.

Regardless, he’s thrilled to be alive and working on these problems, and says that much of the technology is available today to make this a reality. The question will be what user experiences will help drive this level of computing into our products and lives. He said that touchscreens had been around for 20 years, but it took someone with belief and vision to really make them a common reality. So from his perspective, it sounds like the future of computing is here and just needs someone, or several someones, to package it up so people will adopt it.


Photo by Pinar Ozger.

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