- In our culture, there has recently appeared a “symbol-manipulation artifact” [the computer] of such power that we feel certain it will do much to “extend man’s intellect.” (Memo, Dec. 1960)
In the study of the evolution of the internet network, we learn how a military experiment during the Cold War (1947) produced and evolved way into the future to become the general-purpose technology (internet protocols) for which we now use in communicating globally. This alone provides a thinking scale for projecting unto some of the factors behind the conceptual design steps which continues to enable computer design to develop beyond its early form.
In time past, I would think of the computer interface (on my mobile phone for example) as the parts of the mobile which enabled me to communicate with it. Mostly as software and more specifically as ‘Apps’. To me, the keyboard would simply be the interface with which I may compute (read and write) data and without which texting on my mobile would not be possible. This week’s readings reveal the underlying ideological factors that impact the design of computer interfaces in many applications specifically; military, government, and business applications. Humans are and will always remain an integral part of the overall design of the computer even before a computer is designed or built. How humans are evolving and particularly communicating is a significant factor which is taken into consideration for the design concept and evolution of computers. I think of this relationship as one where computers are designed to be used by humans in the same sense as humans are designed to use computers.
- The idea for ‘augmentation’ means organizing access to all forms of symbolic representation and expression by creating the software and hardware interface tools to enable composing and interpreting information.
I focus on two key factors that enable design when describing some of the conceptual steps that enable computer design: Human Language & Embodiment.
Consider the avatar technology for example; a simulating figure embodying humans and applicable in video games, movies, internet forums, virtual assistants, etc as the modern-day application for ‘Augmenting Human Intellect’ and we can juxtapose its application over the brilliant happenstance which was revealed by Doug Engelbart in applying the use of a cathode ray tube for display in early Television screens. Technology can then be perceived as supportive of human-problem solving by simply communicating with humans to aid in symbolic thought and “problem-solving”.
One of the biggest (misconceived) concerns in recent times comes in the form of a big question; “Is artificial intelligence taking away jobs from humans?”. This has impacted the use of computers in automating processes and other technological applications in modern-day working contexts. To keep this misconception away, the human language stands as a unique identifier that highlights how and why computers were never designed to take away from humans but rather to take from humans information (like language) necessary to support and augment the problem-solving capabilities of humans.
- “In the context of our computational and software screen metaphors, a computer device interface is a design module for enabling semiotic inter-actions with software and transformable representations for anyone talking up the role of the cognitive interpreting agent.”
To see how computers went from being ‘number crunchers’ to becoming more ‘general purpose’ for information processing via graphical interfaces, consider how Alan Kay describes the user interface as a ‘second stage development’ of the operating system (OS) that we see in computers. The user interface makes the computer more efficient for the human user by means of what we define as Embodiment. Considerations like how we read, interact from a distance and/or calculate and translated as physically perceptible features and come together to formulate the programming language for computers. This is why computers were later perceived in the 1960s-70s to seem to have some intelligence even though we know now that they may never become intelligent beyond what we program them to intelligently do.