October 06, 2005

bran ferren at web2

The first time I saw Bran Ferren speak, he talked about how he helped take the Declaration of Independence on a tour of the USA for the 1976 bicentennial. Yes, that declaration, the real original document. It was an engineering tour de force. Funny, now I wonder if I remember it right, since the web doesn't seem to remember this. Anyway it doesn't matter because he's still a national treasure of an engineer.

His web2con talk went very approximately like this.

This talk is probably more appropriate for the Web3.0 conference. Something like, "What sucks now that will suck less in Web3.0?"

He draws inspiration from his friend Alan Kay, who has been saying for some time that the computer revolution hasn’t happened yet. And Bran agrees, we haven't got very far in the last three decades of computing. But what’s holding up the revolution? What will it take to enable changes to computing that are profound and irreversible?

It’s not Moore’s Law, memory, displays etc, these are all on continuing improvement trends.

The SW world has some hard problems e.g., context awareness, getting computers that understand what you want, or even knows that you are there at all. As Negroponte says, the infrared urinal has a better sense of your presence than your computer does.

We are in the dark ages of human interface, have been for the last 25 years or so. Doug Engelbart’s famous demo worked better 40 years ago than your computer does today. Yes, custom responsive interfaces exist for specialized uses e.g., MIDI keyboards, sketching tablets, game controllers etc; pretty much everything else uses the KVM and that’s pretty strange.

Simple, intuitive interfaces are not the best for subtlety – kazoos are simple and intuitive, where violins are enormously hard to learn but can be sublimely expressive. We’re using kazoo-class interfaces for computers.

So Web 3.0 is going to need a breakthrough in interfaces. How do you break out of the KVM mold? Applied Minds is working on some ideas. He showed pictures, quickly.

A super high res , room-sized down-projected display for overhead imagery, 20-40Mpixels at 60-100fps. You walk around the projection on a raised catwalk.

An Earth interface – a large spherical projection of th eEarth, maybe 4 feet across, at 4Mpixel, 100fps, controlled by an air bearing bowling ball haptic interface on a pedestal. "People like to hold the world in their hands."

A touch-table display, including a version that warps in the z-direction to provide dynamic tactile capability. [I think Danny Hillis showed this video at ETech last time]

A high res 20Mpixel, 60 fps “desktop” display workstation with gesture recognition and various haptic interfaces.

And finally the famous SmarTruck military offroad vehicle.

Yes, I want that Web 3.0 SUV interface. Now that's experience design!

Posted by Gene at October 6, 2005 04:29 PM

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