The idea of physically manipulating digital data through gestures, as shown in the movie Minority Report, may seem like sci-fi, but there’s much that applies to the desktop of tomorrow. Speaking at the GigaOM Net:Work event on Thursday, John Underkoffler, Chief Scientist, Oblong Industries — and creator of the interface used in the film — noted how nearly a decade later, people are still talking about it.
“The next disruption will come with big advances in UI because that’s all you have,” he said. Behind the scenes, computers and networks are still abstract machines that essentially flip switches, but people don’t think in the abstract. So the user interface is a way to turn the abstract into concrete efforts that humans understand. How does one “de-abstract” the machine?
The biggest clue, Underkoffler says, is space, and pointing is the simplest human gesture that applies to space. We point for the benefit of others, who can determine what space we’re trying to reference. Applying that idea to computers is what Oblong does, and the key is giving tangible space coordinates to every pixel on any screen in a room. Essentially, an entire room around you can be a desktop.
But you can’t drive three dozen screens with a single piece of hardware, so Oblong is focused on the operating environment to create a user interface that works across networked computers in a way that multiple workers can collaborate. This “removes the tyranny of meeting rooms and conference rooms where one person owns the experience,” according to Underkoffler. Screens for input and output — such as an iPad — can be used as a two-way screen to control main and add data.
We might be using one or two screens today in a desktop environment, but in the near future, every available screen in a room could extend our workplace beyond the constraints of an old user interface.
Photo by Pinar Ozger.