Monday, September 14, 2009

A brief history of Human Computer Interaction Technology

The article, “A Brief History of Human-Computer Interaction Technology” is a brief description of the history of HCI technology from 1950s to 1990s. In the article, Brad A. Myers talks about the importance of research at universities’ research labs or at corporate or government supporting research labs in the development of HCI technology. Especially, university research labs have led to many innovative HCI technologies. Figure 1 on p.46 shows that, for the major HCI technologies, university research was started earlier than the corporate research or commercial products development.

Recently, HCI technology has been rapidly developed and diversified, so it seems that we are trying to interact with almost every object around us in a way that wasn’t possible before. However, the basic concepts and ideas about the way to interact with computers or computer equipped objects originated from the research labs in the 1950s. These technologies include Hypertext and Multimedia; the ways to input information with machines, like mouse, tablet, and motion sensing device; and effective representations, like GUI and Three-Dimensionality. Also, these ways to interact with machines change the way we understand and interact with the world.

For some of the innovative foundation technologies, when they were born in a research lab, even developers didn’t know how they would be used in the future and how they would change the world. For example, the idea for hypertext which makes possible today’s internet was initially tried in universities’ research labs like Stanford University, Brown University and The University of Vermont. Then, the hypertext idea was developed into World Wide Web, which was created at the government-funded European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) and developed at the University of Illinois’ National Center (NCSA) (p.49). This technology was not only a starting point of the internet but also changed people’s way of thinking from linear and directional to non linear and multidirectional. Also, all these fundamental changes were made possible by creative experiments at research labs, and today’s HCI technology is being developed according to the basic concepts of these changes.

Another important fact that Myers mentions is government funds that make a lot of HCI research possible. Even though there were a lot of technologies and interfaces that were funded by companies like IBM, Xerox, and Apple in the history of HCI, the more fundamental and conceptual changes and experimental trials were started by government funding. For example, The Mouse was developed with funding from ARPA and NASA (p.47). Virtual Reality technology, which is now being developed by many private companies like Microsoft and Nintendo, was also started by government funds from the Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency.

To illustrate the importance of research labs and government support for the research labs, Myers describes what kind of HCI technologies have been created and how the technologies were developed. This helps basic understanding about the field of HCI. Myers explains four different types of technologies: Basic Interactions, Applications, Up-and-coming Areas, and Software Tools and Architectures. For the Basic Interaction technology, he talks about early technologies of basic interface for interaction with computer, such as mouse, windows, and the way to operate objects on screen. For applications, he talks about drawing and text editing programs, hypertext, CAD, and graphical video games. For Up-and-Coming Areas, he talks about technologies for the near future, such as gesture recognition, three dimensionality, VR, AR, etc. For Software Tools and Architectures, he talks about technologies to create interfaces, like UI software tools and interface builders, and Component Architectures.

Reading this article, I thought that the importance and effect of research labs is not limited to the field of HCI. New concepts and technologies in HCI have been an important role in other fields. For instance, the development of electronic art and media art has been largely affected by HCI research. Myron Kruger’s early media art works, like “Videoplace”, would not be possible without his HCI research in the Computer Science lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His early works using interactive technology between art work and participants have become some of the most important and innovative works in Interactive Art. HCI technology brought conceptual changes as well as stylistic changes in art. Interaction and participation technologies like Computer-Supported Cooperative made people think of art itself more as a process by artists’ and audiences’ participation than an object completed by an artist.

Lastly, this article focuses on the importance of a research lab in development of new HCI technologies. However, I think, the role of research labs would be also very important for evaluation of existing technology.

Byul Shin

No comments: