The mouse's days are numbered. Computer interfaces that remove user-system barriers are in the works and are intuitive enough for first-time users to throw away the manual. The iPhone's multitouch interface may have ushered in a wave of easier interfaces for the mass market, but it's just the beginning. Many new and exciting replacements for the familiar point-and-click scheme are on the way.
Skinput technology (http://www.chrisharrison.net/projects/skinput/) showcased at CHI 2010 (http://cacm.acm.org/news/83935) "appropriates" the human body as an input surface, says Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. student Chris Harrison, who developed SkinPut with Desney Tan and Dan Morris of Microsoft Research.
Gaze-based interfaces are being considered for data input, search, and selection (http://portal.acm.org/toc.cfm?id=1743666&type=proceeding&coll=GUIDE&dl=GUIDE&CFID=86057285&CFTOKEN=34856226), and driving vehicles (http://cacm.acm.org/news/88018-car-steered-with-drivers-eyes/fulltext). Voice controls have boarded Ford cars (http://www.fordvehicles.com/technology/sync/) and Apple smartphones.
Gesture interfaces is another hot area in the interface arena. MIT Media Lab Ph.D. candidate Pravan Mistry's Sixth Sense (http://www.pranavmistry.com/projects/sixthsense/) gesture interface (http://cacm.acm.org/news/23600) received a standing ovation when it premiered at the TED conference in February 2009 (http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html). Using multitouch gestures like the iPhone, Sixth Sense does not require a dedicated screen, but like many advanced interfaces it does depend on specialized hardware. Microsoft's Project Natal gesture interface (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Natal) will give gamers hands-free control of the Xbox 360 in time for the holidays season. There are dozens of related YouTube videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/xboxprojectnatal. Its application outside gaming is not clear.
Another promising but challenging area is the brain-machine interface (http://cacm.acm.org/news/73070-building-a-brain-machine-interface/fulltext), which sounds less fact than fiction, but was in fact the focus of DARPA's Augmented Cognition program (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/03/augcog-continue/).
All these interfaces aim to give users a simple, natural way to interact with a system. Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie says natural user interfaces will appear first with gaming and entertainment systems but "will certainly find application...in the communications domain."
To read more about the interfaces of the future, check out the newly revamped ACM student magazine XRDS (formerly Crossroads). The print edition is available now; look for magazine's new Web site coming soon.
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