I have recently read Bill Moggridge’s wonderful book, Designing Interactions. It looks at a number of key points in the lifecycle of technology as we know it today and the people and processes involved in making it a reality. Chapter one of that book is dedicated to the desktop interface we know and love today and the interaction device that made computing more accessible and usable to billions of people, the mouse. The man widely credited with the creation of that device, Doug Engelbart, sadly passed away this week. To say he ‘just’ created the mouse would be to do him a great disservice. His pioneering thinking on the collaborative uses of technology to augment the ability of humans was revolutionary back in the 60s and has still not been realised today. This classic video demo, from 1968, of a multitude of technologies and methods of interaction with computers is still mindblowing, I can’t even imagine what the reaction was 50 years ago let alone the impact it had on computing. There is a quote from Doug at the beginning of this video which resonated with me strongly;
“If in your office you, as an intellectual worker, were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive to every action you had, how much value could you derive from that”
Watch the demo and you will see all kind of wonderous things such as collaborative editing, video conferencing and a method of interacting with computers that along with computers themselves was alien to most. As I sit here writing this on a very flaky work machine which has limited collaborative capabilities I can only hope that in another 50 years time the truly pioneering vision that Mr Engelbart had will have come to fruition in all large enterprises.
The other things that I read and enjoyed this week include a look at where the next innovation hotbeds will be, a look at the rise of African mega cities, Oracle & Salesforce suddenly getting all friendly, what we dreamed of in the kitchen before the microwave, quantified self whoring, technology’s threat to retail, how to get a Klout score of 60 in under 4 weeks and the problem with pilot announcements.
All of a sudden – wham! – I got an image of myself sitting at a big CRT screen with all kinds of symbols on it, new and different ones, manipulated by a computer that could be operated through various input devices. All the material on the screen could be controlled with great flexibility. Other people had their display units tied to the same computer complex, and you could connect them. Everybody could share knowledge. The vision unfolded rapidly, in about a half hour, and suddenly the potential of interactive, collaborative computing became totally clear.
The problem with saying that Engelbart “invented hypertext”, or “invented video conferencing”, is that you are attempting to make sense of the past using references to the present. “Hypertext” is a word that has a particular meaning for us today. By saying that Engelbart invented hypertext, you ascribe that meaning to Engelbart’s work. Almost any time you interpret the past as “the present, but cruder”, you end up missing the point. But in the case of Engelbart, you miss the point in spectacular fashion.
Unhappily for regions that have spent billions attempting to become the next Silicon Valley, the answers to these questions are still in debate. “Clusters exist—it’s empirically proven,” Yasuyuki Motoyama, a senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, told me. “But that doesn’t mean governments can create one.” What’s certain is that they are trying. The largest such effort we know of is the Skolkovo complex outside Moscow, where $2.5 billion is being invested in a university, a technology park, and a foundation. Another, in Waterloo, Ontario, aims at gaining a lead in a particular advanced technology, quantum computing. The price tag there: $650 million so far.
For decades, Lagos suffered one of the worst images of any city in the world, known widely as a place of thieving politicians, streets that crackled with danger, rotting infrastructure and “go-slows,” the monstrous, daily traffic jams in which people melt in their seats in the stifling, humid heat while praying they won’t be held up at gunpoint by robbers. The city’s most famous native son, the late musician, Fela, even coined a shorthand term for the Lagos’s litany of hardships: “impossibility-ism.”
Thankfully both Benioff and Ellison promised it wasn’t the end of the potshots and drama: “I’m sure we’ll try to continue to be entertaining,” Ellison said, “while making sure the entertaining never distracts from working together.” Benioff admitted things had gotten a bit rough between Oracle and Salesforce lately. Maybe they’ll start a reality television show called “Oracle OpenWound.”
In the mid-1950s, the promise of our food future was the push button. The microwave oven was still decades away from becoming a mainstream reality in the American kitchen. But soon — very soon — all your food would be cooked automatically in just a matter of seconds!
Pick your favorite foods! Then this imaginary SUPER CHEF assembles your choice from a vast freezer storage, cooks it to perfection by infra-red ray and serves it by conveyor in a matter of seconds!
Wired: So what do you think of Vinod Khosla’s prediction that 80 percent of doctors will be replaced by machines?
De Brouwer: Everything is going to be replaced one day. This debate between carbon and silicon has long been lost. Khosla is right. In telecom, a lot of people were fired in the ’90s. We replaced them with switches. Because, you see, a switch does not make mistakes. The introduction of a human being is an opportunity to make a mistake, so the more little machines you put in your network of course the less you’re going to make mistakes. A machine doesn’t have a hangover.
Should we mourn the end of retail? The exodus from American farms marked the end of self-sufficiency and an uprooting of families from their heritage. As manufacturing sputtered, so too did a jobs engine that could carry people with few initial skills into the middle class. It’s harder to get nostalgic about mall jobs and supermarket cashiering.
These atomic design moments, Saffer argues, are what whole products, and even whole systems and “wicked problems,” ultimately boil down to. If microinteractions are delightful, humane, and effective, then their success accretes and trickles up into the broader user experience in general. “Most good designers have been doing this for decades, especially some of the great industrial designers like the Eameses and Dieter Rams,” Saffer says. “The on/off switch is often the first microinteraction people encounter with a product.”
Back in April I had a Twitter conversation with @wildebees about fake social media followers. I mused whether I could artificially acquire a Klout score of 60 in a month, for less than $50.
When the hotel asks if you’ve had anything from the mini-bar. Grrrrr – there must be a better way of getting that information that doesn’t delay me when I’m trying to leave your hotel. Or better still get rid of the stupid mini-bar…