Computer science experts recently undertook an exercise to imagine where scientific research, as regards the human-technology interaction aspect, might be in 25 years’ time.
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the renowned US educational and scientific computing society, recently held its annual Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference, which brought together players from across the world to discuss and debate the relationship between Man and Technology. Part of the 2014 conference, which took place on 26 April - 1 May in Toronto, Canada, was devoted to looking 25 years into the future to see what pioneering inventions or research areas might appear on the 2039 conference programme. Fifteen projects were selected for publication in a document entitled ‘CHI 2039: Speculative Research Visions’, curated by Eric Baumer, a postdoctoral associate in Communication and Information Science at Cornell University, New York State. From among the semi-fictional predictions we look at the three most interesting areas.
Making man-machine communication easier
The first area for speculation is how far bio-engineering will augment the capacity of the human body in the coming year. Mass production of low cost implants and prostheses might make it quite usual for people to have extra fingers on their hands. The paper submitted to the CHI Conference puts the ‘optimal’ finger count for efficient interaction with electronic devices, especially those controlled by keyboards, at 12.5 fingers! The second area for thought was to what extent our relationship with the environment will be affected by technological progress. Given the likelihood of shortages of natural resources, people might by 2039 need to produce food ‘in their backyards’, the paper speculates. Among the innovations put forward are an electronic ‘Sun Tree’ system, which will use solar energy to produce both water and food, and the Plantastic system, a social network for plants. Online information will by then enable people to target fertile terrain by using nanosensors. The third major area is making interaction between people easier through the concept of ‘co-design’ – robotics and social technologies enabling shared, collaborative education between people from different countries as easily as face-to-face exchanges are today.
Looking into the future to guide present-day initiatives
The researchers contributing to the CHI paper are convinced that human-computer interaction is here for the long haul. However, the speculative hypotheses put forward at the conference are all based on topical current issues: interactions with the environment, the use of prostheses in the health sphere, the connected car, the energy transition, data collection, human memory and ‘Augmented Man’. And if this kind of speculation about where future scientific research might lead us seems rather far-fetched to some, Eric Baumer nevertheless firmly believes that you have to take an interest in the future if you want to have a clearer understanding of what is going on today. The introduction to the CHI 2039 Speculative Research Vision paper points out that “the choice of a 25-year interval intentionally makes for a time point that is simultaneously both proximal and distant” vis-à-vis today, concluding with an important question: “What do these visions of tomorrow suggest as important research questions to pursue today?”