By Jason Lipshin
Remember those sweet, gestural interfaces that Tom Cruise used to solve pre-cog crime in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002)? Well, this last Thursday, I attended a lecture featuring the guy who made ‘em! And, in an exciting turn of events, this guy predicts that in the very near future it will become possible to bring these innovative interfaces out from the realm of speculative science fiction and into the ambient spaces of everyday life…
Ever since his days as a grad student at the MIT Media Lab, John Underkoffler has been committed to reimagining human-computer interaction. Specifically, his work seeks to go beyond the dominant, two-dimensional “desktop” model for graphical UI’s to bring three-dimensional, spatiality back to digital navigation. The mouse, he argues, is such an odd and clumsy instrument because it artificially divorces input surface from output surface and reduces the immense expressivity of the human hand to the single gesture of the click. In physical reality, Underkoffler argues, every object has a surface that we can interface with in a variety of ways. For the design of his Minority Report gestural interface, for example, Underkoffler studied sign language in order to help develop a fully communicative, gestural lexicon in which an object could be acted upon not by a drop down menu of choices but by the specificity of the user’s hand actions. So, ostensibly, if you wanted to cut-and-paste a piece of text, you wouldn’t execute your actions from a keyboard or mouse external to the screen, but physically grab onto the text and place it where you wanted it to be. In Underkoffler’s view, such intuitive actions have the potential to “make the pixel live in the room with you” rather than exist simply as an x-y coordinate. He also says, amusingly, that it has the potential to start to diverge from the “clerical, almost Kafka-esque soul” of our current interfaces.
I, for one, can’t wait for the day when all this comes to pass. It seems to me that Underkoffler is truly re-inserting the full expression of the “digit” back into the “digital.”