After many alterations in what I was going to do for the subject of my Research Board, I finally settled on discussing an alternative to the screen-based interfaces which are on almost every single thing nowadays. First I discussed what the Research Board would be about and then moved on to why screens are good and why they are so popular. Afterwards, I talked about the disadvantages of screen-based interfaces and finally the alternatives. Which was mainly voice-controlled technology.
In future presentations and essays on the same subject, I plan to go more in depth in to voice-control and other alternative technologies.
Below is a PDF of the Research Board, and below that is all the text that is in it.
Research board A2
Will we ever move on from screen-based interaction?
Nowadays screens have taken over almost every aspect of interaction that we make with technology, from phones to computers to even the watch which has now been converted to a ‘modern’ smart watch, complete with the standard stock screen interface so we can check social media in a different location. Many people experience the subconscious compulsion to take out their phone whenever they are bored or feel uncomfortable and it separates them from everyone around them or even the more important task they should actually be doing (Krishna, 2015, 59-62). I am wondering if there is an alternative to the screen-based interfaces, whether it be a current technology that is only just starting out or a theory on the future of human-computer interaction. However, it is difficult to think of any kind of alternative because we have all used screens for so long, many of the younger generations have even been using tablets and computers since ages as low as 5.
Due to screens having such success, all the major technology companies, like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, have been making amazing developments in to the screen technology, especially touch screen, which has enabled the quality of images on the screen to drastically improve as well as the great responsiveness of today’s touch screens.
Why have screens become so popular?
Screen based technology has been around for over 60 years, with the first televisions arising in the 1920’s and then the early computer monitors coming in the early 1970’s with the Datapoint 2200 (Britannica, 2009). Before the invention and success of the computer monitor, computer interfaces or outputs, used by the first computers like the ENIAC, consisted of a IBM punch. The punch would punch holes into paper cards and these cards would then be automatically printed into a table of numbers using an IBM tabulator (Goldstine and Goldstine, 1946, 97). With screens becoming common use in computers very quickly after the 1970’s introduction, alongside with the explosion in the accessibility of commercial computers, it didn’t take long for screen interfaces to be a central part of what we use in our daily lives.
Having had screens around for so long has brought them into almost everyone’s daily routines, even the elderly who might usually have been forced out of the loop with the latest technologies, are using tablets, e-books and the internet just because of how useful they are. With everyone using them it makes designing applications and software much easier because it does not take the user anytime to learn how to use anything new when its screen based.
Touch screen is something that has quickly consumed almost every form of interface we have over the last few years. Surprisingly, it was first actually invented back in the 1960’s (Acante, undated), but was not used in mobile phones (its most popular use) until the 1990’s (Acante, undated) and since then, has gotten drastically more popular.
Screens are very useful in so many different situations. They can be interacted with using a mouse and keyboard, television remote, video game controller, touch etc. These are only the most commonly used forms of screen-based interaction. Recent years have shown many innovations into other ways of interaction such as gesture control, eye-tracking and voice control. Most of these are still in their early stages so they are mostly quite slow and require a bit of time to get used to. Unlike the established, simple, and responsive mouse and keyboard we all use with our computers.
What are the disadvantages to using screens?
Unfortunately, in today’s world screens have been forced onto every single thing you can imagine. There are fridges with screen interfaces, vending machines with screen interfaces, fast food restaurants allow you to order on a screen interface. I was in McDonalds recently and where there used to be an ordinary card menu behind a glass pane, it had now been replaced with a LED screen, which had no interactive qualities what so ever. It seemed unnecessary and in my opinion it’s not as nice to read from a screen than it is to read from card/paper printed writing. Another example is before the 2012 London Olympics, 100 public bins with screen interfaces were placed around the city, to make the city appear more ‘futuristic’ (Krishna, 2015, 40). It seems to be the consensus that if something is modern or futuristic then it must have a screen on it, which I think, by repeating the same thing that has been around for the last several decades, but just on a broader scale, is kind of going the opposite direction of futuristic.
Besides the absurdities of these screen placements, many of our useful devices which we use every day (our phones, tablets, TV’s and computers) obviously all come equipped with screens so we can interact with them. Many studies show that this constant use of screens, we so frequently expose ourselves too, does have a negative effect on our eyes, but the most harmful effect is believed to be the effect blue light (the light produced from electronic screens) has on our sleep when we use screens late at night. “Not only does light reset the human circadian rhythm, but the same blue light that has the strongest impact on dinoflagellates has equal power to reset our own clocks…” (Holzman, 2010)
Is the rise of voice control technology going to be the alternative?
Voice controlled technology seems to have come out of nowhere in recent years and a lot of companies are investing into it. All of Apples newest iPhones come equipped with Siri, Windows 10 came with the personal assistant Cortana and Google has a speech feature which allows you to search the internet, open apps and make calls just using your voice. Personally, I find it a bit uncomfortable talking to a voice in my phone. The only times I have actually used it has been when I have been at home by myself or using it as a joke to see what kinds of things the AI responds too.
Alongside the some of the awkwardness of it, people with speech impediments or an unusual accent will often have trouble getting the device to understand what they are trying to say. This is quite a serious issue due to the amount of speech impediments across our population as well as the number of foreign speakers, or even native speakers with an accent, who might want to use such a device.
Put as for the potential for this kind of technology to become the alternative to screens it is one of the most likely. Currently, without even looking at your phone you can ask Siri to set an appointment in your calendar or set an alarm for tomorrow morning at 7:00am. These kinds of features are getting much more advanced with each new edition of the personal assistants. Amazon recently released their own personal assistant, Alexa, which is designed to work with their Echo device. This device could be the first major step towards getting rid of screens, because the Echo doesn’t have any screen on at all, it is just a speaker tower which replies to everything you ask it, whether that be any kind of question or what you have to do today. You can be at the other side of the room and it can still supposedly pick up your voice even over background noise.
This kind of technology brings to mind the many robot assistants from almost every Sci-Fi film, where they would just ask something out loud and a voice would reply with the answer, Star Trek had their voiced computer, I, Robot had V.I.K.I., Iron Man has Jarvis etc.
Krishna G. (2015) The Best Interface Is No Interface. United States of America: New Riders.
Britannica (2009) John Frassanito. Britannica. Available from https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Frassanito#ref1026089 [accessed 29 November 2016]
Goldstine H. and Goldstine A. (1946) Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, Volume 2. American Mathematical Society.
Acante (undated) A Brief History of Touchscreen Technology: Part 1. Acante. Available from http://www.acante.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-touchscreen-technology-part-one/ [accessed 27 November 2016]
Acante (undated) A Brief History of Touchscreen Technology: Part 2. Acante. Available from http://www.acante.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-touchscreen-technology-part-two/ [accessed 27 November 2016]
Holzman D.C. (2010) What’s in a Color? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(1) A22-7. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831986/ [accessed 1 December 2016]