The 10 SciFi Human-Computer Interfaces becoming Reality — UxFuture #1

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As Ux engineer, I love watching science-fiction movies to imagine what could be the user experience in the future. In these kinds of movies, technologies seem to be very easy to use. Tasks that should take an eternity in real life are so quickly achieved in science-fiction thanks to efficient human-machine interfaces. You need specific information? No problem, just ask to your personal AI. You need to find a needle in a haystack? Easy, use your enhanced vision.

You might say it is just a scenario simplification in order to focus on what is significant for the story. And that’s right! However, I also think that by improving the communication between human beings and the computer, we will be very more efficient.

A lot of technologies are already powerful but due to a lack of ergonomy, they lose most of their efficiency. By improving the user experience, we will boost their impact on users.

Flat screens are no more relevant

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However, whatever you use a computer, tablet, or smartphone, it is no more relevant when you do something else at the same time as:

  • driving a car
  • talk to your friend
  • discover a beautiful landscape
  • eat a delicious meal

In all these situations, you have to choose between your current action and your computer or your smartphone. Most of the time, you alternate between the two of them. And it is too bad because you lose the efficiency and the authenticity of the situation — even with a smartphone. Flat screens might be enough in the past but we need to find something better to really start valuing every moment of life.

From Science-Fiction to Reality

First of all, I have chosen 10 technologies that I have already seen once in a science fiction movie or series. Besides, I have selected only technologies that may be totally popularized for the general public in the next years thanks to recent scientific breakthroughs or fashion trends.

Notice that I study these interfaces from a Ux engineer point of view. It means that I grouped together technologies that bring same user experience event if the manufacturer or the technologies behind is different.

These technologies will be ordered according to their distance to the market of the technology. The first ones are already available for everyone whereas the last ones are at the research stage.

3d Gestures

The first science-fiction movie introducing gestures is surely Minority Report.

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In 2002, it was considered futuristic. Now a lot of devices capture motion in 3D like Leap Motion or Kinect. However, the captured area is currently not very large and doesn’t allow us to detect gestures in an entire building with enough accuracy. But it will definitively come in the future to control at least some tasks in buildings.

Voice commands

First of all, voice commands are very useful when you don’t know how to use an object. You don’t know which button to use? No problem, use your voice and the program will do the rest. A second use case is when you cannot physically use a remote controller. It is for example the case in 2001: A space odyssey when users are wearing suits in the space and can only use their voice to interact.

10 years ago, voice commands were totally inexistant and we couldn’t imagine it would expand at this speed. After a furious war between Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon, we have now several voice assistants with Cortana, Google Now, Siri, and Alexa.

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This is available right now in all modern smartphones or connected speakers. It is very useful for multitasking, when you are driving for example. Even if they are called smart assistants, real complex conversations are quite hard with these things whereas simple independent questions or orders are very accurate. It is why I classify them as voice commands systems. But they do the job and I think we will soon be able to use these voice systems for all actions even in professional situations.

Virtual/Artificial Assistant

A good example of a virtual assistant in movies is Jarvis in Iron Man. Jarvis can handle a conversation as any human would. He can also understand the context and assist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) in all his actions.

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Artificial assistants appear regularly in science-fiction because it is the Holy Grail of efficiency. Thanks to an assistant, we will multiply our abilities by ten without any problem. Each human being is to be the supervisor while the virtual assistant will operate low-level tasks. Virtual assistants could also be very efficient for very specific tasks just as administrative paperwork. Virtual assistants like Google Now have some way to go before they can be as efficient as Jarvis but they are progressing step by step.

Facial recognition

Technically the face recognition is far easier than iris recognition at medium range but I put them together because the goal is exactly the same: identify someone thanks to a signature of body parts.

One of the best examples of body recognition in movies is definitively Minority report.

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John Anderton identified thanks to his iris

In the movies, all places scan the iris of their visitors in order to identify them. Door locks are no more necessary. People may simply walk, doors will open or stay closed according to the person's authorization. The movement is so much more fluid and easier.

Minority report describes also potential abuses like intrusive targeted advertising. It is a problem we should really consider. Limits about this technology in public places might be useful.

Facial/Iris recognition is already operational for several years now.

However, it only became popularized in daily life with the release of the iPhone X and the FaceID in 2018. This new smartphone doesn’t have any physical home button, so Apple has replaced the TouchID using fingerprints by the FaceID using … the face. However, the detection is only available at short distance — which may be understandable for iPhone, and seems to be not mature with some false-positive and false-negative unlockings.

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Craig Federighi trying to unlock the iPhone x during the 2018 Keynote

With this technology, no more keys are needed. You just walk and the doors open according to your authorizations. It may no be mature yet but no doubt it will be expanding in the next years.

Virtual reality

It was quite unknown several years ago, it is now popular in the world of video gaming. These technologies currently work with an adapted headset like Oculus, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, etc. It is also available with motion detectors to detect body movements.

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For now, virtual reality is cool for gaming but keeps real inconvenient like the screen quality and the latency. Things are improving it is still tiring for long use. Moreover, controllers still lack of accuracy for professional uses.

Whatever be the case, the current craze about virtual reality will certainly accelerate the development and open new opportunities. In the future, we could discuss business with people in virtual rooms instead of using air planes and lose hours of work.

My favorite movie showing the virtual reality in action is Matrix. It shows the maximum achievement of this technology — may be too much in fact.

The user would interact easily with the virtuality and could as efficient as in reality but with several extra powers — otherwise, reality would be enough. Why not training for astronauts or piloting drones? Virtual reality will definitively continue to expand in the next years to create magic immersive experiences.

Augmented Reality and Mixed reality

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A lot of information is displayed in Iron Man helmet

The goal is to enhance the capabilities of the user by giving him more information about his environment.

Mixed reality is a mix between augmented reality and virtual reality. It projects virtual images on reality like advertising. A recent movie showing mixed reality in action is Blade Runner 2049.

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Blade Runner 2049 is a great example since it explores the case of a mixed reality almost impossible to differentiate from the reality with the AI companion called JOI.

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JOI, more human than most of the characters

Augmented reality and mixed reality are also becoming reality with Google glasses, Hololens or Intel’s Vaunt.

These technologies are really buzzing right now. Apple and Google are fighting to create the best AR kit for smartphone.

Nervous control

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The first movie I saw where we could see this technology is obviously Star Wars The empire strikes back where Luke gets a synthetic arm after his fight with Dark Vader.

It happens a lot of time ago, in a galaxy far far away but it also happens now. We are now able to build this kind of robotic arm.

These innovations will change the day life of thousands of people all around the world. It is currently at the research stage but slower or later it will be available on the market.

Neuronal control

A good example of control using the brain is Avatar where Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) controls an alien body using his brain.

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Robots

In this way, it might be more efficient to use a robot than a simple virtual assistant.

The very recent series Altered Carbon on Netflix is a good example. In this series, artificial intelligence has a building as its body. The AI owns and manages a hotel. However, in order to better interact with the clients, it constructs a humanoid body on the fly.

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Edgar Allan Poe is AI Hotel

Imagine a robot moving and speaking like a human being. It would be the perfect human-machine interface. Users wouldn’t be lost because they could interact with it exactly as for another human.

This kind of robot is available only in science-fiction. However, companies like Boston Dynamics are hard-working to create robots.

Conclusion

That is why, as a Ux developer, I have decided to focus my attention on these new interfaces for all my new side-projects. Because I want to be part of the future. And you do you want to be part of the future?

Written by

Tech addict, ux lover, ready for impossible missions, eagger to learn new user interface technologies like VR, AR, virtual assistants, etc

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