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The Best Computer Interfaces: Past, Present, and Future

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demonstration of the g-speak gesture-sensing interface

Oblong Industries

The 2009 Computer-Human Interaction conference will feature a display that recalls interfaces from the past, shows the most modern interfaces available today, and predicts what interfaces could become available in the future.

The command line was the original computer interface, emerging in the 1950s as an effective way to control computers; previously, commands had to be submitted to computers in batches, usually through punch card or paper tape.

Teletype machines were adapted to allow users to change commands partway through the process and receive occasional feedback from a computer. Graphical user interfaces emerged commercially in the 1980s and made computers far more accessible to the public, though the command line still offered better power and flexibility for experienced users.

Now the mouse and keyboard are the primary computer interfaces and the mouse has become inextricably linked to the development of the computer, playing a critical role in the success of the graphic user interface. Some new, emerging interfaces abandon the mouse and keyboard in favor of touch. The g-speak platform developed by Oblong Industries (pictured) responds to human gestures.

Despite being a quarter of a century old, multitouch screens are only now being used in commercial products. Before use in products such as Apple's iPhone and Microsoft's Surface, basic touch screens were used in ATMs to allow computer illiterate users to use computers without significant training. Now touch screens based on capacitive sensing, infrared, surface acoustic waves, and pressure sensing are being used in a new generation of products and leading to new, innovative command prompts.

Augmented reality (AR), which combines a view of the real world with virtual images and information, is already being tested on some cell phones. By monitoring sensors and GPS receivers, AR devices can provide users with up-to-date information on their surroundings and allow people to experience video, images, and sounds related to specific places. Perhaps the ultimate computer interface is the brain-computer interface that someday may allow users to control machines using only their thoughts.

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