Over the past three decades, we’ve ruinously forgotten the singular importance of interface: we invented one in 1984 (it was called the Macintosh at first), and then we stopped. Since then there has been almost unimaginable progress in everything else — graphics, networking, processor speeds, memory capacities — but fundamentally none in the interface. In relative terms, then, the interface has gone backwards. This wouldn’t seem to be the case, from a casual glance, because everything looks great: the visual sophistication of what sits on the screen these days is astounding. But the utter paucity of our facilities for interacting with that stuff is an embarrassment: we squat in the middle of the world’s most richly stocked art gallery and grunt incoherently at the walls. In response the art does very little.
That’s not interaction.
The way forward — and we have to get there, because we’re today ramping up to a catastrophic digital implosion in which we, the human half of the human-machine relation, slip soundlessly into a kind of mute illiteracy, robbed of all agency — is to teach the machine about space. A computing environment built on an understanding of real-world geometry, in which pixels are understood to be present not on isolated Platonic graph paper but rather in the room, among other architecture, objects, and people, is an environment that can offer interactions of a new richness and depth: implicitly like our interactions with non-digital parts of the real world. We call such a system a Spatial Operating Environment. Crucially, an SOE deploys input modalities (what we humans do) that are as nuanced, expressive, and sophisticated as its output modalities (what the machine shows us). That means hands. Human hands — not clutching a crude mouse but free to point, shape, gather, sweep, and otherwise express — are the true agents of our spatial intent. In response, the SOE must abandon traditional on-screen elements (the windows and pull-down menus and buttons designed and optimized, remember, to be driven by a mouse) and instead provide something irresistibly new.
We’ll look at all this in actual practice: Oblong’s g-speak SOE, long in quiet development, is now in use by early adopter clients and in universities; but its arc will bring it to ubiquity within a few years.
Audience: Those uninterested in small increments