I just talk about human-machine-interface now
I had a nice lunch with Booz Allen Hamilton’s Nirav Desai this week. We were catching up on all things technology. Then I asked him a question about whether a project was using AR or VR and he stopped me.
“I just talk about human-machine-interface now.”
And that struck me as a good answer. Most “new” technology comes fully equipped with special language that supports its knowledge domain. Even technologies with long histories tend to keep to themselves, to grow up in a bubble of self-reinforcing reflection that creates a virtual world all its own. Only when explicit intersections occur, must the new technology domain and the rest of the world reconcile.
VR brings with it caves, collision detection, hand tracking, haptics, presence and positional tracking to name just a few. While many of these ideas have origins outside of VR, they have unique meaning in VR. Visual interfaces brought icons, pointers and windows. Again, all ideas that have meaning beyond user interface design, but that take on new meaning when attached to graphical user interfaces.
As Desai suggests, it’s time to properly place AR or VR in the pantheon of technologies used to create human interaction models: human-machine-interfaces with a particular focus on the immersive visual representation.
This same line of thinking leads to conversational interfaces popularized by Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’ Cortana. Conversational interfaces bring another user interface choice.
No human-machine interface exists in a world without the other. Much of Amazon’s capabilities remain controlled by an app that relies on a graphical user interface, as do the preference for Siri. I attended a hackathon sponsored by Amazon. The goal of that event was to integrate Alexa’s conversational interface into VR experiences. VR enhanced by conversation.
Time for AR and VR to join the Human-Machine Toolbox
If we relegate AR and VR to a drawer of tools used to create experiences this in no way degrades the uniqueness of a tool any more than a mechanical toolbox might include screwdrivers, hammers and crescent wrenches. Each has its ability to solve a particular kind of problem, and in most cases, other tools either cannot provide the same capability, or deliver a far inferior solution. AR and VR are the right tools for immersive experiences, but immersive experiences should be thought of as only a part of the overall human-machine experience, used were appropriate and not forced.
Desai stressed that “We have many senses and ways of interacting with the world. There are four other senses, along with context, that requires intelligence.” Over time tools will evolve to address new user interface and experience options not available today, and like AR and VR, for a time, they may become a focus on attention for standalone solutions. Ultimately, though, they will become part of the toolbox.
AR and VR struggle to produce meaningful applications because people remain fixated with finding the killer app for the technology, when they should be looking for the killer application of the technology in domains that require enhanced visual experience but may already have existing apps. Rather than creating the all-encompassing real estate visualization app, developers should concentrate on a smaller footprint ideas, as Houzz, Ikea and DecorMatters and others have done in home furnishings. MRI visualization is another good example of an existing domain, with existing data and applications that benefits from the enhanced visualization of VR without the need for VR to push any limits beyond its current capabilities before delivering value.
These companies didn’t need to build full models or worry about multiple source data integration. They didn’t’ t solve for latency or full cognitive immersion. They solved for a problem for home owners and designers who want to visualize a new couch in their living room, or for doctors who want be engage with MRI scans.
Focus on the outcome, not the tech
As with all systems development, the goal should be the thing with the measurable outcome, be it a business or humanitarian one. While increasing frame-rate or offering a more expansive FOV (field of view) may be measurable, it may not be crucial to applications that could benefit from a little AR or VR.
My thank you to Nirav for reminding me that technology lives on a spectrum and that our best application of technology comes when we choose the best technology for the problem we are solving, even if that technology itself hasn’t overcome all of its challenges yet.