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Computing squared

Computing pundits claim that we are moving into a world of ubiquitous computing. In this brave new world, your refrigerator and store cupboard will be connected to your internet shopping accounts so that you need never run out of milk or sugar again.

Sensors around your home and workplace will respond to workloads, weather and even your mood by adjusting heating, lighting, and sound levels. Diagnostic devices built into door handles or the bathroom might alert your doctor or the emergency services to changes in your health.

How this emerging technology will be woven into the fabric of society and our everyday living spaces is an open question but ultimately people, rather than computer screens and keyboards will projected into the foreground.

Writing in the International Journal of Autonomous and Adaptive Communications Systems, Maja Pantic of Imperial College London, Anton Nijholt of the University of Twente, The Netherlands, Alex Pentland, of the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Thomas Huanag of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explain that for computing to become all-pervasive and useful, it, rather than we, must adapt to our natural way of living, communicating, and working.

"Next-generation computing should develop anticipatory user interfaces that are human-centred, built for humans and based on naturally occurring ways people communicate," the researchers say. The new computer interfaces will go way beyond the traditional keyboard and mouse and be able to understand and emulate people as well as recognising behavioural cues, such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and other social signals.

The researchers describe just how close we are to the goal of human-centred computing and Human-Centred Intelligent Human-Computer Interaction (HCI-squared).

So far, computers and the internet have become so embedded in the daily fabric of people's lives, in the developed world and in some parts of the developing world, that they simply cannot live without them. New technology is an essential part of our work, our communications, shopping, finding information, and entertainment. "These processes shift human activity away from real physical objects, emphasising virtual over physical environments," the researchers explain.

In order to create technology based on the HCI-squared concept, there has to be a paradigm shift in our approach to computing. Most of the present approaches to machine analysis of human behaviour are neither, such as facial expressions and the spoken word, are neither context-sensitive, nor able to handle long timescales.

"The focus of future research efforts in the field should be primarily on tackling the problem," the researchers conclude, "This problem should be treated as one complex problem rather than a number of detached problems in human sensing, context sensing and human behaviour understanding." Only then will we see truly ubiquitous computing that fulfils its promise of improving our lives, social conditions, and healthcare.

Albert Ang | alfa
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