Visions of the Future for Computer Graphics and Communication
KP: In all technologies, the success of that technology is measured by the extent to which we forget it exists. You do not “access” your automobile. Instead, you go across town. The fact that you can just say, “I went to the store and bought something” means that the automobile is a successful technology because “automobile” never appeared in that sentence. And actually, before the smartphone, the telephone was a very successful technology because no one ever “accessed” a phone; they just talked to their friend in California. A very simple, very mature interface. You don’t notice refrigerators or air conditioners. Technologies that really work fade into the woodwork. I think computer graphics is still largely at the stage where it’s about “computer graphics.” I went to this movie and I saw these special effects. All this cool stuff on the screen, or on my iPad. Ultimately, we would like, in the long run, for computer graphics to merely be an inseparable part of how we communicate with each other, and that communication will be better.
DS: Do you see technology pushing the dynamic of human interactions, or do you see technology filling voids and just further enabling what people are already doing by themselves naturally?
KP: All technologies that are communication technologies, whether they are the pen, or the piano, or the white board, or paper, they all do this dance. It’s not that the arrow goes one way, it’s that the arrow continually goes back and forth, back and forth. There are always many, many technological innovations that are happening at any given moment. Those that turn out to be useful to people are ones that get pushed on more. So it’s a continual process of mapping possible technological advancements to the way it turns out people really work when that technology is presented to them. For example, in the late 90s, there wasn’t any a priori way of knowing whether the expert driven search offered by Yahoo was going to be the right way to do things. It turned out that the crowd sourced search offered by Google was a better match for what happens when people need to do search on a massive scale. When I say crowd sourced I mean that the search results start fitting themselves to people’s actual patterns of use, as opposed to relying upon a team of experts to figure that out.
DS: Where do you see the balance between pure academic research and market driven research based solely on perceived commercial need or opportunity?
KP: Many people [researchers] find it exciting to work on things that people will actually use. There is an asymmetric relationship. By analogy, the successful playwright/ author and the audience that sees these plays or reads these novels, each is essential. The audience doesn’t know how to make what it wants, but it’s an incredibly good filter for whether people are making what it wants or don’t make what it wants. In any consumer - producer relationship, both are drivers. So, I do think that people who work on innovations deep down want to work on things that are going to be relevant to people who might use them. I don’t see that there is that much of a conflict in terms of what everybody wants.
DS: Where do you see the future heading for areas of user interface research, which is an area that is influenced so heavily by huge consumer opportunities and market forces?