The Future of Man-Machine Interaction

Most times we talk about how we use technology – but maybe we should rather consider how we interact with it?

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By Mathias Rigbolt, R&D Associate

CES is mostly about new technology, some of which is revolutionizing with the potential to dramatically alter how we conduct our lives, while a lot is just generic gadgets and everything in between. But CES is also a forum for asking questions about technology – where is it going, how will it shape the future and what will the consequences be for human existence?

We are surrounded by technology day and night, give lots of data to our apparatuses and get lots of information in return, so it’s not inconsequential how this exchange takes place.

We often think of technology as instruments that we control by the use of buttons. But in recent years, we’ve seen groundbreaking new applications that allow us to control and even interact as well as communicate with technology in new ways; just think of Apple’s Siri. Many have experienced walking past a person, who is presumably talking to herself, thinking that this person must be nuts. That is only until you realize that she is actually communicating with her smartphone.

Situations like this makes it relevant to ask questions about how we interact with technology – are we doing it in the smartest way, which kinds of interaction are most suited to which kinds of tasks, and what consequences can interaction with technology have for whole societies?

Those were just some of the questions that were raised at CNET’s Next Big Thing session at CES16 with the title “Is typing dead?”, where representatives from industry and researchers discussed the relation between man and machine.

Old technology in new wrapping

It is an interesting fact that the QWERTY layout for keybSkrivemaskineoards has existed for almost 150 years and is still found on our computer keyboards. It’s even found on the virtual keyboards in our smartphones even though more efficient layouts and keyboards have been developed. First of all, this says something about the term “path dependency” from the study of diffusion of innovations. The basic idea is that when we venture down a technological path, it becomes still more expensive to deviate from it and the incentives to do so diminish.

Despite this, it’s thought provoking that we still in year 2016 design our keyboards the same way as we did on typewriters. It is not because there has been a lack of innovation, it just hasn’t diffused and been adopted. The same goes for a lot of other technologies. The most important point is that our primary interface with technology is often a keyboard, no matter whether it’s physical or virtual.

But that’s changing with new forms of man-machine interaction.

Voice and gesture

One of the relatively new modes of interacting with technology is through voice and speech. We can now pose questions to our smartphones and in many cases we receive a sensible answer. Many car manufacturers have also built voice control into their cars and they’re working on linguistic richness, which for example will allow the car to adjust its language to a German driver driving through France. It is now also possible to give commands to our homes (a booming trend at CES by the way).

The technology is getting to a stage where it will be possible to communicate with our apparatuses using natural language. What this means is that we can communicate with technologies as we would with real people instead of adjusting our torrent of speech to the logic of the machine. This is just one step on the path towards meaningful communication with the technology that surrounds us.

A crucial feature of human communication is that we can decipher the intention behind the words being spoken by the ones we’re talking to – at least most of the time – “understand what I’m meaning, not what I’m saying”. Imagine the day when your car tells you: “That’s not what you really meant”. That is an area where both researchers and industry are working hard to propel us forward.

Another area that has developed rapidly within the last 10 years is gesture control. Among early examples, gaming consoles could be mentioned while newer applications can be found in cars, which for example allow you to take the phone with the flick of a hand and make it possible to turn down the volume of the music by circular movements with a finger. The full potential of this mode of interaction has most certainly not yet been released. Nonetheless the question arises whether this way of controlling technology is actually more efficient than a good old button?

Becoming the best version of ourselves?

The panelists at the CES session didn’t think that any of these technologies would necessarily replace the well-tested QWERTY keyboard in the near future. On the other hand, they agreed that interaction with technology in the future will be characterized by multi-modal systems where the different control- and interaction models play together in a well-orchestrated symphony. These interaction systems will be able to adjust to each individual with machine learning and allow a seamless experience as when some of the newest technologies like augmented reality are coupled with gaze and voice control.

To addCyborg to this seamlessness comes affective computing, which allows technology to adjust to our state of emotion or at least react to it. In this way we approach the ideal of a perfect digital personal assistant that knows us in and out and understands our intentions; maybe even before we say something, because the assistant has collected and analyzed all our vital and psychological stats.

A lot of important questions arise from the transition from instruction of machines to interaction with technology. One of them is whether the enhanced interaction possibilities of new technologies allow us to become better versions of ourselves? When your digital assistant can advise you how to conduct yourself in social situations to give the best possible impression, what are the consequences?

It seems obvious that when we change our modes of interaction with technology, it will change ourselves and the way in which we interact with each other. In this connection there is no doubt that our attention will become one of our most valuable assets in the future as one of the panelists proposed.

The question of technologies’ consequences for human interaction and sociability has been posed for centuries. Probably we shouldn’t think of technology in opposition to humanity but rather ponder whether we’re humanizing technology, technologizing humanity – or both?

Fun Fact: The First Danish Astronaut in Space

When Danish Astronaut, Andreas Mogensen, takes flight on September 2 as second in charge on the European Space Agency vessel, Soyuz TMA-18M, he will be the first Dane in Space.

According to plan, Andreas’ mission on the International Space Station (ISS) will last for ten days, during which he will be busy applying new technology and conducting experiments connected to several European research projects in different fields ranging from electronics to biology. Andreas will also be the subject of research himself, as some of the research projects are looking into the effects of spending time in space by running tests with the aid of health sensors (for more on the interesting subject of health related technology, take a look at Henrik’s piece on wearable devices).

While Andreas is at ISS, two small Danish satellites (CubeSats) will be launched from the station. One of them was created at Aalborg University and will be tracking ships. The other, which was made by the Danish company GomSpace, can pick up flight signals and in that way enhance air traffic safety.

All of Denmark is following the mission closely, and students across the country are working on projects in relation to this great space adventure. Space exploration is an important driver of new technology, knowledge and innovative solutions, and it is a valuable opportunity for Denmark to be a part of it.

Have a safe flight, Andreas!

More information about Andreas Mogensen and the iriss mission can be found here.

If Apple Watch says stand, I stand

By Henrik Bo Larsen, ICDK Director of Business Development

The first step to change is awareness….

One of the most interesting aspects of the new Apple Watch is how the watch would be able to actually impact the behavior of the user. A recent study by Wristley Insight has studied in details how the Apple Watch impacts the health, exercise and lifestyle of the user. 990 users have responded to a survey about their health behaviors while using the Apple Watch.

More than 78% agreed or strongly agreed that since getting the watch, they are more aware of their overall health. In addition, many of the responders have already made changes with 78% agreeing or strongly agreeing that they stand more, 67% walk more, 57% exercise more and 59% make better overall health choices.

The second step is acceptance….

That so many respondents indicate change in behavior is very interesting. This finding addresses one of the real problems of prevention and lifestyle change. During my time dealing with this challenge in health care, I have never seen results this strong of a behavior change tool. The study shows that the watch can motivate people to make changes. The users become aware of their health situation and by accepting the situation, they become motivated to pursue changes.

… final step is action

These results should interest everyone working in health care. A simple measurement on your activity level combined with an intelligent and gentle reminder of your actual behavior will make you aware and start the process of change. If the numbers can be replicated in a larger study, this will have a clinical relevant impact on the ones that wear the watch consistently to make a permanent lifestyle change.

Danish Ideas: Making Solar Power cheaper than Fossil Fuels

Welcome to our new series aiming to present a number of Danish developed ideas and new technologies that showcase what the Danish start-up scene is all about:

Heliac in action at Roskilde Festival. Photo by Trendsonline
The sun foil from this month’s start-up Heliac in action at Roskilde Festival. Photo by Trendsonline.dk

Despite a population of only 5.6 million people, Denmark boasts a large number of talented entrepreneurs as well as skilled developers, scientists, and engineers.

In the coming newsletters, we will highlight some of these ideas and start-ups.

Are you a start-up yourself, ready to present yourself to Silicon Valley? Then let us get in touch!

Danish technology start-up focus on sun-foil as an energy source
The Danish newly launched company Heliac produces cheap thin plates of plastic, a product using a “sun-foil” technology. Among other uses, the foil can concentrate sunlight in order to cook food or clean water, without having to burn wood or garbage. The ambitious target is to revolutionize the field of concentrated solar power through low cost micro-structured foils.

The foil is named SMILE: Solar Mobile Independent Low-Cost Energy system, and earlier this summer, the foil was presented in a rather untraditional venue – at Roskilde Festival, the biggest music festival in Scandinavia – that being the closest Danish comparison to a camp in a developing country.

Latest, Heliac has launched a Kickstarter campaign that runs until late August, where contributors can either get a SMILE-foil for themselves to be used for camping, or can donate kits to families in the developing world.

Check out the campaign here.

Rethinking healthcare in the Caring Municipality….

EksoBionics

….was exactly what the department of Health and Care from the municipality of Aarhus was doing when they visited the Valley last month. Like in every other western country it is not uncommon for Danes to live well into their 80ties or 90ties, whereby the healthcare system is experiencing rising challenges in regards of providing care for the increasing aging population. With a special focus on eldercare in the US, the use of new technologies, and the ensuring of a dignified old age, the municipality of Aarhus went over here to seek inspiration and challenge how things are done in Aarhus, while at the same time share knowledge and experience with relevant parties and potential partners..

Continue reading “Rethinking healthcare in the Caring Municipality….”

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