Among the speakers at Wired Live was Oblong Industries founder and CEO John Underkoffler. He spoke about how, if you really think about it, UI MAKES THE WORLD. The premise: User interface is the language-rudder of technology by which we're either masterful or inept pilots of it. So far society is not yet using a UI that's up to the challenges of the 21st century, but it's not too late to reconsider this essential man+machine relationship. According to Stephen Graves, Senior Editor, Consumer Lifestyle & Technology at global trend intelligence service Stylus, this kind of thinking was a highlight, as were new forms of narrative, innovations in accessibility, agriculture, and the future of work.
With speakers ranging from Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, co-creators of Black Mirror to Steve Clayton, Chief storyteller at Microsoft, there was a lot to take in at Wired Live 2018. Stylus senior editor Stephen Graves filed his 16-page report on the summit November 12. The expert trend analysis coming from Stylus equips brands and agencies to make trailblazing decisions and build lucrative futures. By decoding consumer shifts across 20 industries, the Stylus team arms its members with actionable, sector-spanning insights to stay ahead. These insights are available by subscription only, but we’re able to excerpt a few relevant details here at the Ob-log.
In a section of the Stylus report titled Next Gen UI, Stephen noted that the future of work came under the microscope at Wired Live in two bits of technology, one coming from Microsoft and one coming from Oblong Industries. Both the Microsoft Surface Hub 2 (slated for release in 2019 with key upgrades coming in 2020) and Oblong’s Mezzanine (already available with many of the UI features Microsoft has yet to release) are set to transform teamwork with flexible and expansive shared work surfaces, multi-streaming content capabilities, connectivity across distance, and more natural user interfaces. Unique to Oblong are the spatial computing capabilities that enable users to interact simultaneously and to move content across multiple screens, surfaces, and devices, with six degrees of freedom in three-dimensional space.
Stephen highlights that underlying the Mezzanine UI is the basic human gesture of pointing at distant objects. As John Underkoffler explains, "If people know what you're pointing at, then suddenly you've got action at a distance, Anything you can see you can point at, and anything you can see you can control." Taking natural user interface a step further, multi-dimensional UIs in the future could also incorporate contextual voice recognition. John notes, ”If you combine pointing and voice, the pointing gives you space, and the voice gives you very precise depiction and delineation in time. It's like a super-rich button press – like having 10,000 buttons.” Barriers to productivity are erased when the interaction is more natural and intuitive.
Of course the primary concern of UI is seamlessly inferring intention. Stephen notes in another section of the report, context is everything. As artificial intelligence (AI) devices become more prevalent, contextual understanding will assume greater importance. Future user interfaces (UI) could allow users to "peek under the hood" at their workings to gain a better understanding of their decision-making processes. John elaborates: "There's this four-decade-old idea around UI that it should assume and only ever depict a state of perfection. But if we built a graphical depiction of the machine's interpretation of what you're doing, that could be phenomenal. You would make fewer mistakes – and the machine would make fewer mistakes about what you're doing." Imagine what this could mean for our ability to get important work done.
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