Chapter 10

Human-Computer Interaction

Buzz Aldrin & Virtual Reality Buzz Aldrin & Virtual Reality

Subsections of Human-Computer Interaction

Introduction

YouTube Video

Resources

Video Script

In this module, we’ll discuss the field of human computer interaction or HCI, sometimes referred to as computer human interaction, or CHI. It is the study of how computers and humans interact and how we design computers to better support humans in that efforts. HCI is one of the fields that we’re going to look at it throughout the semester, we’ll do this several times.

The field of HCI has a few goals that are very important for us to keep in mind. First and foremost, HCI aims to try and make the world a better place through the use of easily accessible technology. It allows us to work to understand data that is being presented to us, and it helps people interact and communicate with one another using modern technology. But Finally, and most importantly, the major goal of HCI is to give people better control over the tools, computers or machines that we’re using in our daily lives.

So how do we do this? Important part of the field of HCI is studying and designing and applying all the things we learn about interactions between people in computers. Sometimes we study how people interact with computers. And sometimes we have to study how people interact with other people, and how we can bring those ideas to the computer. And so to do this, we end up using results from a lot of different fields, not just computer science, but the fields of cognitive and behavioral psychology, design, Media Studies, graphics, art, music, all of these things can go into the field of human computer interaction.

One of the pioneers of the field of HCI is Douglas Engelbart. In 1950, Douglas Engelbart had graduated college, but really had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set out to try and determine how he could have a greater impact in the world and came up with this really interesting idea that we’ll look at in just a second. But his ideas really lead to the field of human computer interaction as we know it today. And he’s responsible for it. Large part of how we use computers, I think you’ll find it really interesting to see the things that he came up with during his time. So as we talked about Douglas Engelbart was a student in the 1950s, and was really struggling to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. And so eventually he came up with this idea for a motivation to help him work in computer interaction. So first and foremost, Douglas Engelbart decided that he wanted to make the world a better place. That’s all well and good, but you really have to understand how to make that happen. And he realized that to make the world a better place, it required a large amount of organized effort. It wasn’t anything that one person could do on their own. So how do we get that organized effort, but we have to bring together the collective intellect of all the people in the world working to solve these really big problems. That is really the key. And so Douglas Engelbart realized if that process was somehow made easier, he could effectively boost the work of every person working on all of these large Scale world problems. And that is what led Douglas Engelbart to the field of computer science and HCI. He realized that if he could make modern computers more effective, more efficient and easier to use, that that would, in effect, boost the effort or everyone working on these problems, because it would allow them to come together and harness their collective intellect to put forth organized effort to make the world a better place. So as we said, computers are really the key here and that’s what Douglas Engelbart realized.

One of the greatest creations of Douglas Engelbart work is the computer mouse shown here. It’s the first example of a interaction device built specifically for a computer that really revolutionized how we interact with computers. He developed the computer mouse in 1967, while he was working on the design of a computer system called the online system or in Is that we’ll look at in just a second. And he originally patented it as an X Y position indicator for a display system in a video that will take Look at he actually jokes a bit about why it’s actually called a mouse today.

But as we said the mouse is just a small part of what Douglas Engelbart was working on. His true work revolved around the online system or in NLS computer system that he developed. The NLS was really the world’s first modern operating system to include features such as a mouse hypertext links that you could click on a raster scan video monitor that actually gave live feedback to the user, the ability to do screen windowing, where you could have multiple things on the screen at the same time, he was able to use that system to build presentation programs that are very similar to what we do with PowerPoint today. It allowed him to organize information in radically new ways that had never been seen before on a computer system. And it even allowed for collaborative editing and messaging, very similar to the tools that we use today on the internet.

And the amazing thing about this system was it was demonstrated in 1968 in what has been called the mother of all demos. Douglas Engelbart demonstrated all of the features of the online system during a single live demonstration in December of 1968. He assembled over 1000 computer professionals in an auditorium. And with double Douglas Engelbart sitting at the front at a computer console. He seamlessly demonstrated the power of his NLS system, showing new idea after new idea to these people. And he left his audience completely spellbound. And to this day, it still stands as one of the most important and most unique computer demos of all time. Oh, and by the way, he was actually using it to control a computer that was over 30 miles away. So it was done remotely. And to put this in context, remember that December 1968, is several months before we landed on the moon in July of 1969. So even though we were sending people to the moon, we’re in spacecraft that had less power than a graphing calculator. Douglas Engelbart was setting the stage for a computer lead to revolution in how people use computers today.

The best part about the mother of all demos is that a recording of it exists so that we can watch the whole thing even today. As we mentioned, he combined some real cool state of the art technology in this single demo. He used live video projection, he used teleconferencing and video conferencing. And for a lot of people in the audience, it was the first time they had even seen a live computer display something that we take for granted today. So on the next page, we’re going to take a look at a few short clips out of this mother of all demos, and we’ll have some short discussions about what exactly he’s showing on these clips.

The Mother of All Demos

The full video of the Mother of All Demos is linked below, but it is nearly 2 hours long. While we’d love to have you watch the whole thing (and you are more than welcome to do so), we wanted to highlight a few of the more important parts. Listed below are the timestamps for a few important sections and a bit of discussion about each one. Feel free to skip around to watch a few of these sections to better understand what Douglas Engelbart was presenting.

  • 1:40 - 3:11 - Introduction. This gives a great overview of the project, and ends with the great line that he will attempt to show, rather than tell, what the NLS system is capable of.
  • 12:53 - 14:40 - Wikis. Here he shows that you can give items a code and then click on the item to get to more information. This is the basic concept behind hyperlinks that make up the World Wide Web, but also the wiki-style of information storage popularized by Wikipedia.
  • 15:35 - 16:30 - Graphics. Here, he expands upon the links shown earlier by adding a graphical map of the locations he needs to visit. So many of our organizational and productivity apps can directly trace some of their functionality back to NLS as shown here.
  • 21:42 - 25:45 - Presentations. Through his use of a “chain of views” Engelbart is able to create a presentation using NLS. This is a precursor to modern applications such as PowerPoint.
  • 30:31 - 32:48 - Mouse. Here Engelbart shows a bit more information about the devices he is using to interface with NLS, including his mouse. Oh yeah, and remote video as well!
  • 42:42 - 43:40 - CRT. Here he shows some remote video of the CRTs that are being used to create the views the audience sees.
  • 1:02:32 - 1:03:45 - Word Processing. While creating documents and papers may seem like a very common use of computers today, it’s very telling to see that it was nearly one hour into the presentation before Engelbart talks about the ability to use NLS to edit papers. This really shows how much focus he placed on building truly usable computer systems that didn’t rely on paper at all.
  • 1:04:01 - 1:06:50 - Email. This is a bit of a surprise! Engelbart and his team needed to communicate and collaborate asynchronously, and came up with a technique for sending and receiving messages. While these weren’t delivered via the internet, many of the concepts and conventions directly correlate to our modern email systems. The “content analyzer” is also an early form of regular expressions.
  • 1:13:03 - 1:16:38 - Live Collaboration. This is honestly the coolest part! Since NLS was a shared computer system, it was easy to build systems where users could collaboratively edit and work with data. It wasn’t until over 40 years later with the development of Google Docs that such capability was widely available in mainstream software. They even predict the idea of webcams!
YouTube Video

The Desktop Metaphor

YouTube Video

Resources

Video Script

On the previous page in NLS was a very revolutionary system. Unfortunately, it was very hard for the average user to use. And so it really never could gain that mainstream reputation that it wanted. So we had to come up with an easier way to use modern computer systems.

And as the story goes, and engineer one day was staring at the top of his desk thinking about how to solve this problem, and that solution came to be known as the desktop metaphor. What if we build a computer system that looks and acts and feels like the things that we’re used to in the real world, we can have a desktop with different things open on it as we’re working. We can have files and folders full of files that allow us to organize information, and we can move things around quickly and easily to get us different views of the same thing.

This is what most modern computer systems were built around, and it was first introduced all the way back in 1970. This picture shown here is from the Xerox star workstation in 1981, which was one of the first real mainstream computers to use the desktop metaphor. Of course, in those days, one of the things that computer companies were really well known for is borrowing or stealing other ideas from other companies. And so Apple stole basically the same desktop metaphor idea for its Macintosh desktop from 1984.

And there’s always been a little bit of discussion about who actually came up with it first, this was actually dramatized in a TV series called The Pirates of Silicon Valley. So let’s take a look at a short clip from that TV show to give you an idea of what things were kind of like at that time.

Clip from Pirates of Silicon Valley (Dramatization)

YouTube Video

What is Good HCI?

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Resources

Video Script

So now that we’ve seen some examples of historical computer interactions, let’s talk about what it might take to make a good computer interface today. Think about the computer systems that you interact with on a daily basis. What about them makes them easy to use or difficult to use? Would your answer change if you gave that computer system to a toddler, or maybe your grandmother or an elderly person? So really good human computer interaction or good computer interfaces can depend widely based on the needs of the audience. Of course, there are some things that we can think about that make good human computer interactions. For example, we want it to be functional, it needs to do what it says it does. It needs to be reliable, it should always work the way we expect it to. It needs to have a high level of usability. So it’s something we can easily and effectively work with. It should be efficient. We don’t want to have to click 18 times to open up a single web page do we? It also should be maintainable both from the ideas of the user, it should be easy for them to keep their computer up and running. But it should also be maintainable on the software side for the developers that are building these apps. And one of the things that I think is often overlooked in the field of HCI, is it should be portable. We really want the same ideas to work across multiple different devices and even multiple different paradigms. And that’s something we’ll talk about a little bit later.

To really develop good HCI we have to follow this iterative design process where we start with an existing device, we analyze that device, we check our requirements, and then we can slowly make things better. It’s really interesting to think how computer systems have developed over time. And there’s some great YouTube videos looking at this, for example, considered the original iPhone design versus what we have in our modern iOS, or consider some of the earlier versions of Windows compared to the modern versions we use today. While those systems are very similar, we can see that there’s been a slow iterative design process that has slowly improved the design over time, based on the changing hardware and our changing understanding of good HCI.

Of course, good HCI also relates to a lot of different fields. We have to think about things like psychology, such as the fields of memory and perception. How do we remember things? How do we perceive things on our computer? We have to talk about sociology and how interacting with computer changes how we interact with other humans. We look at things like cognitive science, we look at ergonomics, how easy it is for us to use a computer system, we can think of things such as graphic design and interaction design, what colors and shapes and buttons would tell us. We can even think of things like speech language pathology, should our computer refer to itself in the first person or the third person? How should it interact with us? And we can even think of really interesting fields such as phenomenology, the study of consciousness, how do we make things on our computer such as that we are consciously aware of What our computer is trying to tell us. And we’re not just ignoring it and clicking next all the time.

So one interesting case study from the field of human computer interaction is the case study of automated adaptive instruction. Automated adaptive instruction is the idea of providing the user with instructions based on what the user has done previously, and what we think are some possible next actions of the user. We’re all familiar with our phones autocorrect system, how it can predict the next words we’re trying to enter. Gmail recently has done this as well. That’s kind of the same idea. But instead of just filling in words, it’s actually telling us how to use the computer system and how to do what we want to do next. This really came about in the 1990s as users were getting used to the personal computer, but they were becoming overwhelmed by the complexity of the technology. And companies such as Microsoft turn this into a very lucrative area of research.

And so probably the most interesting case study from adaptive instruction is the computer program known as Microsoft Bob, hopefully you’ve heard of Bob, but if not, this will be a really interesting thing to talk about. And I get really excited talking about this because when I was young, the first computer my parents bought came with Bob pre installed. And so my first computer interaction was actually with Microsoft Bob. This is what Microsoft Bob looks like. The whole idea behind Microsoft Bob was to take the desktop metaphor to the next level. And instead of having a desktop for our computer, we could mirror an entire house. And so our house would have a whole lot of different rooms, we could have the living room, where in this room we have things such as a Rolodex that represent our address book, we have a money bag that represents our finances. There’s a checkbook sitting on the table that represents our Quicken or our check our money software. And that was really the idea you would have things in your house in Microsoft Bob, that mirrors the things that you would use in the real world. And by clicking on those objects, you would opened the programs that related to that. And then of course, you could have different rooms, you could have a living room with all of this, you could have an office with different things, you could have a kid’s room with all the games in it. And so it was a really neat idea.

But of course, the automated adaptive instruction part is the little dog that we see here. This dog is called rover, and rover was there to try and help you navigate Microsoft Bob, it would offer to do things like help you find a program, go to another room, add something changed something, anything you wanted to do, you could interact with rover and rover would help you figure out how to do it. And it was this really neat idea. Unfortunately, I think Microsoft Bob really wasn’t quite ready for primetime. And graphically, it doesn’t look very good. And in fact, most computer users had gotten used to the desktop metaphor. And so the power users weren’t exactly excited about it either. And of course the biggest nail in the coffin was Bob itself wasn’t that great of a piece of software in some ways. It was kind of buggy and did crash a lot. How There are some people that really are big fans of Microsoft Bob even today. And so if you look online, there’s some great videos of people who have installed Bob even on a modern computer just to see how it works.

Of course, this did lead to some ideas that stuck around. For example, rover became the search assistant from Windows XP. And of course, this is the source of the infamous Clippy office assistant from Microsoft Office 97. Again, it was the same idea. Microsoft Office has a lot of features that most users don’t know how to do, such as mail merge. And Clippy, even though Clippy might have been a little bit annoying, was perfectly capable of helping you figure out how to do that. And so it kind of got a bad name, but it did have some neat ideas.

The big lesson learned from these assistive agents is companies were trying to teach users how to use computers, instead of trying to design computer systems that work the way users expect them to. And so in a lot of modern computer design, instead Have all of this instructive bits, you see us trying to more and more build computer systems that act like we expect them to. A great example of that is on your phone. If you scroll up at the top of a web page, it tries to refresh the webpage. This is especially notable on social media sites like Twitter or Facebook, you’re scrolling up looking for new content. And so it immediately reacts to that and does what it expects you to think it wants to do.

So of course, there are a lot of virtual assistants out there today we have Clippy. In 2011, we had the release of Siri on Apple devices. We’ve had Google and Cortana. And now we have other devices such as Alexa. And so we’re really into the smart, the age of the smart assistant where almost every home has a smart assistant in it. Almost every device has the capability of using one. And so we’re really seeing this come into its prime today. So what were the big lessons learned? Well, of course, this led to a lot of different ideas, such as searches on Google, if you’ve ever searched for something on Google, and you get that Searching? Are you sure you didn’t mean X? That’s an example of adaptive instruction. It’s telling you how to do things on Google.

We also see context clues on our touch interfaces, where if we swipe left and right, when there’s nothing there, it will still let you swipe and show you that there’s nothing over there to be able to swipe to. And so like we talked about earlier, the big legacy here is, instead of trying to change human behavior, we want to try and change the program to fit the expected behavior of the human. Or to put it more concisely put things where people expect them to be.

The Microsoft Bob Experience: Was It Really THAT Bad?

YouTube Video

The Future of HCI

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Resources

Video Script

One person who’s very active in the field of HCI today is Don Norman. Don Norman was a 2006 Franklin medalist. And he’s really famous for writing a book called The Design of Everyday Things, which if you haven’t taken a look at it, I encourage you to at least look at the front cover of that book and see what he’s talking about. Don Norman is a real big proponent of designing things to be how they’re expected to be used instead of design just to be interesting. And he talks about some really great examples of designing for everyday things. And so after this video, we’ll take a look at a short clip of Don Norman talking about some of his work, and hopefully, you’ll start to see the things that he saw in the real world that helped us understand modern design.

So one of the important things to remember in HCI is that iterative design process and designs change over time. For example, on this slide, the top picture is a picture of Microsoft Word from version two 2003. And the bottom picture is from a much more modern version of word that we use today. In 2003, the version at the top was very well regarded, it had a toolbar with lots of easy to follow buttons. And a lot of people got used to it and really liked it. And so in 2007, when they switched from the toolbar design to the ribbon design that we use today, there were a lot of users that really didn’t like that design. And if you get down to it, it really turns out that those users didn’t like the design, not because it wasn’t a better design. They didn’t like it because it was different. And so one of the things we’ve struggled with in the field of computer science is design changes for change sake is not good, because a lot of users don’t like change. But if we change things for the better, eventually users will get used to it. And thankfully, we’ve seen over time that users have very much gotten used to the new ribbon style and they do understand that it is much more efficient and much easier to use than the old toolbar style, but there’s always still little bit of fear of change that always comes into this.

Another good example of this is Windows, we’ve gone from Windows XP to Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 10. And each time we’ve changed a little bits of how the Windows computer system works from different toolbar designs, two different Start Menu designs, two different designs for things such as the control panel and touch interfaces. And each one of those designs might be based on a lot of really good research, but it’s changed and a lot of users are very resistant to change at first. But of course, some changes are really good. For example, in Windows XP, if you had a blue screen, you would get something that looks like this. This error message isn’t really all that helpful is it? It’s got a lot of technical details. But for most normal users, it just scares them and they don’t really know what to understand. And so a more modern computer system has a little bit friendlier, have an error message that tells you what’s happening and it tells you what’s going on but it doesn’t just bombard you with more data than you actually need.

So what is the future of HCI look like? It’s really hard to tell, but there are tons of things going on. After this video, we’ll post several videos for different views of HCI. And some of the things that have been out there in research or in industry today, for example, different user interface concepts such as 10 GUI, different ideas around ubiquitous computing, such as the Google Glass project from a few years ago. We can look at 3d tools today, such as the Oculus Rift, and some of the new 3d virtual reality tools. And we can even talk about accessibility and how we can design computer systems that use just a single finger to allow you to type text very, very fast with a minimal amount of inputs. And so I hope by looking at some of these videos, you’ll be inspired by the different ways that computer systems can be interacted with beyond just the keyboard and mouse that we’re used to today, and it will encourage you to think about different ways that we can build computer systems in the future.

Pattern on the Stone Reading

Read Pattern on the Stone, Chapter 9.

Jacob Tries the Oculus Rift (Warning - Strong Language)

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Dasher: Information Efficient Text Entry (Demo starts at 6:18)

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