We need to make computers disappear


I have in my mind an image from Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis. In the film, the villain is a ‘city’ that appears to have intelligence, and has enslaved humans to do its bidding.

In one scene, a man is shackled to a very large reostat. Around the periphery are lights. When two of the lights illuminate, the job of the human is to rotate two arms such that an electrical connection is made between the two points indicated by the lights.

Think about it — the machine does the ‘thinking’ part and the human’s only job is to provide the locomotive power to move the arms.

Let’s skip ahead to the 21st century, and ask ourselves how we currently do computing. We seem to be chained to the keyboard/mouse paradigm, where the software directs us where to move next. Is this our future?

Let me direct you to TED — an annual conference in Monterey California. The top minds in the world are invited to meet and share ideas. Finally the content is made available online for a wider audience. I recommend you view as many of these as you can — truly amazing stuff.

Jeff Han introduces you to the work he is engaged in with the multitouch sensor. As you will see — he had created an interface to the computer that truly conforms to what Buckminster Fuller called ‘Design Science’…you shouldn’t need a user manual to use the device — it’s purpose should be obvious.

The photographers light table is especially dramatic.

I am also reminded about earlier work at MIT — trying to make the computer disappear completely and be absorbed into the background.

Example 1: Two people meet and exchange business cards. In this example, the computers are buried in the insteps of the shoes, the network is the body, and the act of shaking hands connects the two networks and causes the two computers to exchange business card info.

Example 2: Person tries to enter a locked room. The act of turning the doorknob causes the computer in the instep to initiate a door opening sequence.

The building security computer checks to see what level of access this person has, and with sufficient authority, the door opens.

Example 3: Computers disappear into common everyday objects. Whiteboards, tables, chairs, pads of paper, etc. You don’t carry a computer — they are everywhere. Need to make some notes during a meeting? Pick up that pad of paper (really e-paper), make notes, file the notes and toss the pad back on the table top for someone else to use.

In all these examples, the human just gets on with their work. No instruction manual, everything works intuitively (from a human perspective, not a programmers perspective), and the users’ data gets collected into a secure accessible pile for later retrieval.

I look forward to the day when there are no computers in sight. I merely get on with my work.


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