I had the opportunity to find out a bit more about the Kinect SDK for Windows in a session held at the Microsoft Campus on Tuesday morning. If you aren’t aware of it, the development kit provides a series of software tools to allow developers to use the Kinect controller in the Windows environment. There has been quite a lot of activity developing Kinect in Windows, but until now it’s been done using an SDK that was reverse-engineered by the Open Source community. The offical kit gives access to more functionality.
It’s impressive stuff, and the maths in particular behind how it works are very clever indeed. It’s one of those bits of technology that, when you see it, you kind of have to turn off your mind as to how it works and just accept that it does. And it’s causing quite a stir, where I have already have had requests from companies thinking how it might be used in fields as diverse as banking and online retailing.
We are starting to scratch the surface of how humans might interact with computers without a physical device acting as interface. The ways in which we commonly interact with computers (the WIMP – Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing devices model) have been around in concept for around 40 years, and in commercial form since the mid-80s. The ways in which we interact with other computing devices (modern cars, for example) even longer. Completely reconceptualising our computer interaction is possibly going to take a long time.
Why? Well, because personally I’m going to feel like a bit of a prat waving my arms around in the air to control a computer. Much in the same way that I feel a bit of a prat talking to a computer (on IVR systems for example. And I also feel a bit of a prat when on video (although my vain egotism gets me through that a lot of the time). And I’m sure that I’m not alone in those insecurities along with many others. (As an aside, I also know people who feel that using something like a QWERTY keyboard is something somewhat beneath them because they come from a certain generation where typing was done by secretaries, but that’s another story).
One of my holiday reads was Future Babble, by Dan Gardner (who wrote the wonderful Risk that I’ve mentioned more than a few times on these pages). In it, Gardner explores why we so like listening to people predicting the future, and how most pundits are wrong most of time. Research that he quotes concludes that if you want to predict the future, your best probability of being right is to predict that it’ll be the same as it is today.
I’m learning – I reckon that human-computer interaction in the next few years is going to be much less different from today than some may think. Consider that the biggest innovation in the past 20 years has been the recent adoption of touch screens, and all they do is replace a mouse with your finger. Consider also that the QWERTY keyboard has been prevalent since the late 1800s. The technology might be possible, but actually we have human habit that gets in the way of dramatic change over a short period. I think it’s going to take a longer while that we may think today to fundamentally change how we interact with computers…