Do You Want to Touch Your Computer Inappropriately? Throwing The Gauntlet: Bring Visual Thinking to Computing

The Gauntlet: Bring Visual Thinking to Computing


GigaOM posted commentary on the limitations of touch screen interfaces, but it really begs a bigger question. Why is computer interface the way it is today, and is it the best interface for humans?


We actually do almost all computer interface with touch, but not with touch screens. Mostly we touch a keyboard and a mouse, watching the screen to verify our input. Short of voice commands or brainwave interface, touch is all we've got and it is the state of the art. Navigation and commands are usually with a mouse movement ("graphical interface") and input is with words, numbers and other symbols entered via a keyboard. You and I assume this is the only way, natural even.  

Humans are Not Made of Words
That's how we've been conditioned by computer use, but it is a skewed perspective. Here's an exercise for you. Take a deep breath. Relax

Take a moment and remember your last dream
Now remember a piece of art that connected with you
Think about a warm feeling you had about another person
Finally imagine how clouds work

What letters, number and symbols were in your mind as you visualized those things? Were there any, or did you see images?

There is a place for language, but it must not be allowed to limit how we think, and if you're on a computer, it does. You see with all this great technology we're still back in the 70's, we're using a language interface, stuck in a strictly verbal paradigm. Language is like a good lawyer – steel trap logic in the right hands, but it takes you down a certain path and does not encourage looking around, the way a picture will, to consider life and truth, or just other possibilities. Humans are capable of more than language.

Computers are based on Words and Symbols
Computer interface currently drives us to define everything in verbal terms, even though our brains are capable of much more. Go ahead sketch a picture on your laptop and tell me how it responds. Where is the technology to process pictures as logic, as commands, as knowledge; where is the technology to understand the dream or idea or art we might draw?

GUI itself is a misnomer. Your computer does not understand your graphics, only its own.

A (good) picture is worth a thousand words it's said, but we type merrily along, accepting the tyranny of language, ignoring universes of possibility all around us. Language itself started with humans drawing pictures on walls. Now we risk losing the power of visual thinking all together simply because we've built computers around words, and computers are dominating our lives.

The Challenge
Where to start? We need a capable interface for graphical input as standard equipment, first. You can try to draw me a picture with today's mouse (or keyboard!) but it pales in comparison to pencil and paper, so generally we don't bother. Drawing directly on a surface seems to be the requirement, and the whiteboard is the paradigm. If the screen were your paper and an electronic pen your pencil, you could show me a more interesting and open world, you could communicate more freely.

Once we've facilitated people drawing freely on their computers, free form human graphical input will become a data source the great minds of this Internet generation will strive to have our systems understand; your sketches will be the raw material, visual data, with which to design computers which understand the visual. Its likely software thing.

Computing has not come as far as it might have, and I challenge today's great minds to take the leap forward to the next level. Language is for lawyers; but it is insufficient for mathematicians, scientists, lovers and others. We need computers that can keep up with our visual thinking.

Posted via email from Really Bad Ideas

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