13 November 2008
guest post by brad feld
Over the past 30 years I’ve had a series of powerful moments with computers that profoundly shaped my perspective on technology. The first was as a 12 year old when my Uncle Charlie took me into the data center for Frito Lay in 1977, handed me a big black APL book, and sat me down in front of a computer terminal. Another was when Raj Bhargava, Matt Cutler, Eric Richard, and Mathew Gray hovered around me in front of a Project Athena computer in the MIT Student Center in 1994 and showed me Freshman Fishwrap and Wandex running on a very early version of Mosiac. The most recent happened two years ago when I walked into Oblong’s lab in downtown Los Angeles and John Underkoffler slipped some gloves onto my hands.
John and I met at MIT in 1984. I was a sophomore and John was a freshman. Everyone at MIT is “interesting” — from the moment I met John I knew he was “uniquely interesting.” We became very close friends and did a lot of fun things together. When I moved from Boston to Boulder in 1995, I stopped seeing John on a regular basis, but I periodically heard about some of the amazing things he was doing at the MIT Media Lab with new approaches to user interface.
John resurfaced in my life when Minority Report came out in 2002. I found out that he was the movie’s science and technology advisor and had created all of the computer / user interactions. I was stunned by the UI having spent the previous 15 years stuck in the world of keyboards and mice being tethered to a computer screen. With one very public demo, John had created a clear vision of the future of how people would interact with computers that built on all the work he had been doing at MIT over the years. We talked a little over the next few years, but we didn’t get together until November 2006. I wrote about this meeting in my post I’ve Seen The Future
. During that evening, I had one of those special moments where I knew I was not just seeing the future, but interacting with it.
Through my venture capital fund, Foundry Group, we made a significant investment in Oblong. One of our investing themes is “human computer interaction” — we strongly believe that the current way we interact with computers — primarily with a keyboard and a mouse — is obsolete and will feel as quaint in 20 years as the idea of using punch cards does today. John and his colleagues at Oblong have created what we believe will be the next major UI paradigm — something we are calling the spatial operating environment (SOE).
What Oblong has created definitely falls in the “you’ve got to see it to believe it” category. As an avid reader of science fiction, I’m always amazed to look backwards and think how the past of science fiction actually predicted the current of science fact. Oblong is creating a deep, fundamental base of software that in 2002 first appeared as science fiction in the movie Minority Report. While the UI is the first thing that you’ll see, this is merely the surface of Oblong’s spatial operating environment, which understands space, geometry, your hands and what they are doing, and the huge amount of real time data required to make an environment like this work effectively in the networked world.
Over the past two years, Oblong has very quietly put together an incredibly gifted team of software developers to create what we believe is the future of how humans will interact with computers. We hope you will join us on this amazing journey.