In the not-too-distant future

keyboards will soon be obsolete

I will describe keyboards to my son one day in a not-too-distant future when he asks about them. That is when he and I will ask the computer to show us some examples. We will spend a rainy afternoon making make-believe keyboards (QWERTY and Dvorak) out of cardboard and crayons and pretend to type in our queries. The computer will humor us and play along.

It is interesting to think about the ways human interface devices (keyboards, mice, etc) have influenced the way we interact with machines and thereby shaped our culture-at-large. As I write this, haptics are clearly leading the way into the future. It is even more exciting to see how much more intuitive and user-friendly using complex systems will be with access to these interfaces. It is only getting better, in that context.

On the other hand, managing our time, how much we use them and in what capacities, will continue to be a challenge, along with balancing analog activities against them like playing outside, for example.

For now, typing and staring blankly, alone, into a glowing box in the dark is just one way to spend moments of our lives we’ll never get back. Perhaps, that is what I see as the greatest potential for haptic interface devices, such as tablets. Children are more open to sharing in the physical world with them, whereas while using laptops we all tend to completely zone out even while others are in close proximity. Haptic, or touch, interfaces allow us to be much more social while interacting with technology and with each other. That is a very good thing.

How will these interfaces, coupled with voice recognition and other, emerging technologies continue to shape how we ask for, receive and interpret information from machines?

Virtual Reality (VR) effectively immerses users into virtual environments. Imagine suddenly finding yourself in a post-apocalyptic realization exercise, with a set amount of space within which you can physically move around in to navigate a virtual “map” or scenario. In order to interact with anyone else, they must be outfitted with compatible gear and loaded into the same software session as you. VR technology is designed to be immersive in that way, isolating users from “reality” rather than integrating it the way Augmented Reality (AR) does.

Augmented Reality (AR) integrates VR elements into real environments and thereby may be arguably superior for collaborative uses of technology in groups. It is definitely more portable. Imagine sitting at a cafe and, via an AR tool, rendering a floating solar system just above the table that you and your lunch date can manipulate without heavy head gear and/or wires and cables running all over the place. You can still interact with the waiter, drink your tea, while manipulating this construct in real-time and without being isolated from the room or atmosphere.

Our choices in which of these we use and for what purpose will also have to do with how immersive an experience we are seeking. VR may have more value in entertainment, whereas AR may see greater success in collaborative science and design. Who knows? The future is exciting, in any case.

It will still come down to very personal choices and a debate as old as the hills: how will we choose to use our time in a world connected to machines, balanced and more deeply integrated with a world connected to others?