Recently, I was invited to an Interaction Meet for 'Technology Vision 2035', an initiative by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, to present my vision/dream with respect to disruptive technologies which can have game changing potential in the future.
Eminent nuclear scientist, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, presided the meeting. A lot of students from other IITs were also present there and many innovative ideas were discussed. The topics of discussion included Healthcare, Educational Technologies, Energy Sources, Materials and Manufacturing etc. I talked about Human Computer interaction. Here's what I said -You can also contribute to Technology Vision 2035 exercise by submitting your ideas to http://www.indiatechvision2035.in/vision/
Eminent nuclear scientist, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, presided the meeting. A lot of students from other IITs were also present there and many innovative ideas were discussed. The topics of discussion included Healthcare, Educational Technologies, Energy Sources, Materials and Manufacturing etc. I talked about Human Computer interaction. Here's what I said -
"The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it." So began Mark Weiser's seminal 1991 paper on ubiquitous computing. The essence of that vision was the creation of environments saturated with computing and communication capability, yet gracefully integrated with human users. When articulated, this was a vision too far ahead of its time — the hardware technology needed to achieve it simply did not exist.
After a couple of decades of hardware progress, many critical elements of pervasive computing that were exotic in 1991 are now viable commercial products - handheld and wearable computers, wireless connectivity and devices to sense and control appliances.
In another couple of decades, computers and connected devices will be truly ubiquitous. But will that make this technology invisible? I think not. To truly deliver on the vision of invisible pervasive computing, we need to change the way we interact with computers.
One of my tricks for generating disruptive ideas is to imagine the ways in which we'll seem backward to future generations. And I'm pretty sure that to people 20-25 years in the future, the way we interact with computers today will seem absurd. We have done a lot of progress in the field of human computer interaction. We have moved from command line interfaces to graphical user interfaces. But we are not there yet. What we need are natural user interfaces - interfaces which become effectively invisible with successive interactions. One of the very important natural user interface is the conversational voice based interface. You give voice commands to any device and the device understands it and responds accordingly. It's like conversing with another human being. There are already implementations of these voice based interfaces - Siri and Google Now comes to mind. But how relevant are these implementations for Indians? Not very much. First they are not available in Indian languages. Second even in English they sometimes don't seem to understand Indian accent.
Developing these conversational user interfaces in Indian languages can have far reaching consequences. Imagine a device with such an interface installed in an Indian village. You need to find information about some crops, just ask; Need to find medicine for an ailment, just ask. It would be so simple, and so powerful. This would require the government to generously fund researchers working in the field of Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. We specially need to be mindful of the fact that we need to develop these interfaces for Indian languages too.
But are conversational user interfaces the limit? Or can we do better?
A popular maxim says - People tend to overestimate what can be achieved by technology in the short run, and to underestimate its achievement in the long run. And I think to consider conversational user interfaces the limit would be an underestimation. But what can be better than such an interface? Isn't this the way we interact with other people? Yes, but have you ever felt something lacking in this interaction? Sometimes, I know what I have in my mind but I don't know how to put it in words. In the future, I imagine having devices which tap into our brain and understand your thoughts. Imagine such a device, it has the answers to your questions before you even ask it. It would be so thrilling interacting with such a device. Investing in these 'faster than realtime' technologies would ensure that India is at the forefront of human-computer interaction innovation. And that is my vision for India in 2035.