From Createasphere: Opening The World With The Wave Of A Hand
John Underkoffler is the Founder and Chief Scientist for Oblong Industries, a company aiming to transform the way we work, create and collaborate. Their g-speak spatial operating environment (SOE) is a radically new platform that made its public debut in the tech-forward movie Minority Report. G-speak SOE implements a quantum leap in human-machine interface and introduces Oblong’s technological vision – driven by hand gestures.
John’s foundational work at the MIT Media Laboratory included innovations in real-time computer graphics systems, large-scale visualization techniques, and the I/O Bulb and Luminous Room systems. He has been science advisor to films including Minority Report, The Hulk (A.Lee), Aeon Flux, and Iron Man. John is also active on several boards and serves as adjunct professor in the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
After John’s well-received Keynote Address at Createasphere’s Digital Asset Management Conference in Universal City, we asked him more about gestural interfaces, his viewpoint of the evolution of the personal computer, and the meaning of data.
Createasphere: How can the UI (user interface) limit or expand collaboration?
John: The world is made up of screens. Without exaggeration, a “normal” household can have as many as forty screens: televisions, game consoles, computers, phones, navigation, etc. A multi-screen, multi-machine environment is implicit in the way we approach our work. And UI, as it is traditionally thought of, is not built from that perspective. So, as we built out the UI, the question is how do you build a set of UI elements and human expressions that can be embedded in the devices in the real world, and take away the abstractions. Once you do those things, you can point at screens, you can stand in the middle of a room and the universal UI addresses every possible need, every screen. When you empower that, you can inherently track multiple people, multiple places and environments, and multiple people can interact with multiple screens. When it becomes spatially driven, the whole system opens up.
This is true for both personal and business environments. These are universal applications.
Createasphere: Do you see a fundamental change in the nature of collaboration?
John: There has been a radical change in the business world regarding the value of collaboration. Have the processes changed, or is there greater awareness? I am not sure, but there is no doubt that business runs better with stronger collaboration, and the tools have not been adequate to support collaboration at the level that is demanded.
We see the personal computer as the single biggest change from the last century. And yet, the fundamental barrier, one machine/one screen/one mouse has gone unchanged. People are doing the best they can with these systems, but the systems themselves are boxed in. At Oblong, we see that the limitation can be removed in UI decisions.
Createasphere: In your Keynote Address, you discussed the differences in open and closed systems. Can we revisit those comments?
John: The availability of the Personal Computer (PC) and VisiCalc were fundamentally critical developments. When that PC first arrived, after you opened the box and got it functioning, that machine invited you in to build something. VisiCalc let you sit in a program language, and actually program and make things. If a kid wanted to make fractal self-generating art, it was there with just a bit of exploration. Games, programs, and engineering were open to you. Systems today do not do that, and powerful, creative and important though they may be, they do not invite you in to their programming language to create solutions.
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