St Andrews HCI Research Group


Dec 2011

Interfaces Winter 2011 article

Aaron Quigley wrote an article on the future of HCI in the Interfaces magazine of Interaction, a specialist HCI group of the British Computer Society (BCS). Founded in 1984, Interaction formerly known as The British HCI Group, is the longest-established and largest national group in Europe devoted to HCI. It provides an organisation for all those working on human-computer interaction – the analysis, design, implementation and evaluation of technologies for human use.
Aaron Quigley is the Scottish Chair of Interaction and his article is a “view from the Scottish Chair”.
“For the past seven decades, computers have radically changed the world we live in, as have our interactions with them. Today, people require more sophisticated interfaces as computers are platforms supporting the entire spectrum of human activity. There is not an area of human society that has not been affected by computers and the power they afford us. Computing and hence human computer interaction touches on every facet of science, art, engineering and the economy as a whole. Desktop and mobile computing have evolved as advanced interactive technologies change our view of applications, services, gaming and computing. Today we have many researchers in HCI looking at gestures, haptics, large surface interaction, touch and sensing beyond the classical desktop system.

Looking to the future there are three essential issues to consider. Firstly, the future for human computer interaction research is, by its very nature, an increasingly interdisciplinary activity. Second, we need sustained investment in human computer interaction research at every level to ensure we unlock the potential of evermore powerful, embedded and interconnected computation. And finally, we require larger programs of research, with more ambitious goals with national and international teams. In Scotland we now have the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) which is a collaboration of Scottish Universities whose goal is to develop and extend Scotland’s position as a world leader in Informatics and Computer Science research. The majority of HCI research resides within the Multimodal Interaction theme which myself and Professor Stephen Brewster from the University of Glasgow, a world leader in this field, lead. We aim to extend our collective reach by working cooperatively rather than competitively. We do this by providing mutual support, sharing facilities and by working closely with industry and government. We are also appointing and retaining world-class staff and research students in Scottish Universities. To date SICSA has appointed 30 staff and have offered more than 70 prize studentships to PhD students from around the world.
Different views of computing may drive each of us in our HCI research. For some, the computer is a building block of science or the “new microscope” enabling new forms of scientific discovery. If this is your view, then a closer examination of the work practice, information flow and points for interaction are essential. Systems and interfaces which are interwoven with user tasks rather than multi-purpose devices are the key here.  For others, the computer is simply and essential means to organise and process large amounts of information quickly. If this is also your view then new forms of interaction space are needed. And finally for many, Ubiquitous Computing, with computation “woven itself into the fabric of our lives, until it is indistinguishable from it” is the future. This is where I see the greatest challenges for HCI. Moving from the GUI to the Ubiquitous User Interface (UUI). With ubiquitous computational power we need ubiquitous user interfaces, to extend and enhance all human capabilities. To reach this future we need to make larger and more ambitious leaps beyond what the current market place is willing to support. The UUI will not be realised by cobbling together off the shelf systems sufficient for results for just the next conference paper. Without more ambitious research we are bound to a future of small incremental changes without real impact in our world.”