segunda-feira, março 10, 2014

The anti-shamanic interface: bringing culture to human-computer gestural interaction

Some years ago, I was delighted reading the twin novels by Danuel Suarez. These technothrillers presented so many novel yet seemingly feasible ideas that I've often referred to him as XXI Century Jules Verne.

One such idea was the shamanic interface. In the utopian view of Suarez, this would be an augmented reality interface based on gestural commands from magic and ritual, enabling all people on Earth to use it, even from non-technological cultures.

This made me consider: most gestural interactions nowadays are mandated by the systems: we need to learn whatever gestures a systems decides are the adequate ones.

So, perhaps Suarez is utopian in thinking of a single gestural interface. But each person should be able to leverage the richness of meaning in his/her own culture in that interaction! Just like nowadays we respect language and symbols!

And yet... and yet... we've been trying for decades to develop systems where people can tell a computer what to do in complex ways: sliders and buttons on interfaces, programming languages, visual languages, icons, animations. With little success beyond immeadiate exploration (albeit "little" can be large, when one considers the successes of Logo and Scratch programming).
Perhaps, just perhaps, we can leverage the richness that exists in every culture, in its gestures associated with rituals and ceremony, perhaps even in everyday emphasis gestures associated with speech, to empower people to use computers with more depth and broader scope than mere immeadiacy of commands?

I first made a keynote about this in the CISTI conference in Chaves, in 2011; and then a TEDx Viseu talk later that same year. Below is the playlist of the 3-part keynote, which has English subtitles.

Two more formal pieces of this puzzle are now available: my paper at DSAI 2013, where I lay down the argument and background; and the MEng thesis of my student Filipe Carvalho, at INESC TEC / UP, where he takes the first step to analyse what this entails. Here I embed them both.