It seems those who've insisted that the machines will someday rise are only half right. According to Gartner's new Hype Cycle for Human-Computer Interaction, the recent wave of publicity surrounding Google Glass is only an early flickering of the window blinds -- both a signal and glimpse of a growing legion of emerging technologies that will forever redefine our relationship with technology.
For those who need a refresher, the Hype Cycle plots various technologies along a continuum of feasibility and adoption. Think of it as a more granular look at crossing the chasm from idea to broad market acceptance.
Although the Hype Cycle graphic communicates a sense of scientific precision, Gartner’s allegorical terminology brings to mind a version of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders for highly-gifted children, as individual technologies make the steep climb from the Technology Trigger to the Peak of Inflated Expectations, through the dreaded Trough of Disillusionment, up the gradual Slope of Enlightenment to the ultimate destination, the Plateau of Productivity.
The Google Glass Effect
Almost the entire fleet of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) technologies is advancing in the wake of recent interest in Google Glass, a level of hype which Gartner says reached “almost dizzying heights, fueled by the various announcements, commentary and discussions about Google Glass in just about all forms of media and forums.”
Other than wearable user interfaces, Gartner says several related technologies in particular have been boosted in their progress toward broader market acceptance. These include Speech Recognition, Smart Fabrics, Touch Control, In-air Gesture Control and Gaze Control. Look for continued momentum in the wearable tech ecosystem, which includes biometric technologies associated with the Quantified Self movement.
Thinking Beyond the Glass
If the wearable user interface is in its infancy, some of the most intriguing capabilities in HCI are still mere gleams in the eyes of researchers at MIT and elsewhere. Among these are brain, muscle and olfactory interfaces, technologies which Gartner says are more than 10 years away from the productivity plateau. Brain and muscle interfaces, in particular, promise to create an instant and seamless interaction with technology, removing the "middle man" control mechanisms found in the keyboard, mouse and touch screen.
But the area that truly ignites one's dreams of becoming the next Avenger is the field of Human Augmentation, also sometimes referred to as Human 2.0. Originally focused on helping those with impaired function, Gartner says the proponents of Human Augmentation have set their sights on superhuman performance, creating technologies "that take people beyond levels of human performance currently perceived as normal."
Today’s headlines may focus narrowly on the development of power-assisted suits or exoskeletons, but Gartner says Human Augmentation is a multibillion-dollar market in the making, and research is accelerating in areas such as enhanced or additional senses -- discerning magnetic fields, for example -- direct brain stimulation for improved concentration (which today we still call coffee), and thought-activated mechanical limbs.
Ethical Land Mines Ahead
In a nod to current events, Gartner acknowledges that privacy concerns, or "the recent stigma of surveillance and identity theft," raise significant red-flag issues that will need to be addressed for HCI to achieve its potential without the associated peril. The main question simply extends the ones we're asking now in a society that values connectivity above all -- when technology evolves from always available to always with you to always on, around and perhaps even in you, what expectations of privacy should we have?
Beyond issues of privacy, there are the many other ethical questions surrounding the who, how and why of self enhancement. But as Gartner's look into the future of HCI makes clear, these capabilities are on the not-so-distant horizon and we need to be ready for them when they come for us.
Title image courtesy of Bruce Rolff (Shutterstock)