Online Computer Science Degree Guide: Human/Computer Interactions
Scrolling through a music library on a handheld player, finding a restaurant to try on the Internet, or programming a GPS system to help you drive to the restaurant may seem easy and almost second-nature in today’s society. The scope of the impact which computerized systems are having is evidenced by the fact that Human-Computer Interactions (HCI) ranks as the fastest-growing field within computer science. However advanced the systems currently in place are, the work which brought computers to this point continues to advance how computers will factor into peoples’ lives in the future.
History and Overview
Human-Computer Interaction is the study of how computer systems are designed to allow people to use them as a means of accomplishing a task. The field focuses on the tools and interfaces at a user’s disposal, which moderate the flow of communication between the user and the computer. User Experience and User interface design are critical areas in HCI, given its function as the moderator of the relationship between the user and the computer. The National Science Foundation’s HCI Program states that its goal is to create a system of HCI in which the computer is a seamlessly integrated tool, not a device which calls attention to itself during the interaction process, allowing for human-to-human means of communication to be unencumbered by the presence of computer technology. HCI research holds relevance in a variety of specialized fields including robotics, but also has broader social implications as computers become increasingly commonplace in peoples’ daily lives.
Much of the early research and development surrounding computers was funded by the Defense Department’s Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which was founded by President Eisenhower in 1958. The capability for a person to directly manipulate the graphical element he or she meets on a computer screen was first demonstrated in 1963 with the development of Sketchpad by Ivan Sutherland at MIT. Five years later at MIT, the AMBIT/G system, developed through ARPA, was used, featuring many of the characteristics which have become commonplace in everyday Graphical User Interfaces. Sketchpad and ABMBIT/G required the use of a light-pen to manipulate information and the introduction of the mouse in 1965 helped to simplify interactions and reduce costs while windows for displaying information were created in 1968. The original forms of many common applications, such as text editors, drawing programs, hypertext writers, computer-aided design, and video games were also developed during the 1960s, many with ARPA funding. Sir Timothy Berners-Lee’s invention of HTML and the World Wide Web in 1990 opened up new forms of computer-moderated interaction. Current advances in facial, gesture, and vocal recognition and virtual or computer-augmented realities continue to raise questions about the potentials of HCI.
Studies & Statistics
Researchers have noted increases in computer and Internet usage as a part of work, leisure, and school activities. According to a survey conducted in 2003, 77 million people used the computer in some capacity for their work. As those numbers continue to increase, the importance of viable user interfaces becomes more apparent. The demographics of computer users have also changed, incorporating a greater variety of age ranges and ethnic groups into the pool of computer users. Given its ubiquity, the Internet also provides researchers with the ability to test ideas about HCI. Designers are having to take these factors into account as they plan out user interfaces to create systems which can provide easy access and usability across a large audience.
Lessons learned from the study of audience reactions to websites have implications in the greater realm of HCI. The impact which aesthetics has on the user’s perception of a system’s usability has become increasingly clear with researchers finding that within 50 seconds of entering a site, the user had formulated his or her opinion of the site’s aesthetics, accompanied by a resultant judgement concerning the site’s utility. As people have become more accustomed to the presence of computers in their lives, the computer’s lack of affect or emotion has become a point of criticism discovered in subjects of studies pertaining to HCI.
Though computers have the ability to connect users to greater amounts of information, a recent study also showed that this did not correspond to an improvement in peoples’ ability to process the information they received in relation to methods which people used prior to the use of computers, particularly in the context of academic study.
Pros & Cons
The accessibility of computers has allowed many people to improve their lives. People who may not otherwise have access to communities of others with common interests within their geographical limitations can find groups on the Internet with whom they can discuss the topic and share information. For those who are creatively inclined, the Internet offers a realm in which an individual can express himself or herself through a variety of media. Early concerns that increased computer usage replacing study activities in school-aged children have been shown to have little basis. For people with disabilities, computers offer a tool for interacting with the world in ways which they might not be able to achieve without the assistance. However, the limited access disabled persons have to computers hinders this capability and the creation of user interfaces best suited to their needs is an issue being addressed by researchers.
The improvements in HCI have led to computers’ being easier to use. However, this can also have its drawbacks. Easy access to enjoyable or pleasurable activities can create addictive tendencies in those who frequently use the computer, isolate them from others and potentially leading to other conditions associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Other issues arise around privacy and data security. With the ever-increasing data capacities of computer networks and the ability for black hat hackers to compromise users’ information, taking steps to ensure the security of users’ computer systems is a point on which systems designers will have to continually improve.
- New Study Examines Impact of New Media on Eating Habits – Article about where and how people eat and receive information about food
- A Brief History of Virtual Reality and its Social Applications – Explores a particular subset of HCI
- Measurement of User Satisfaction with Web-Based Information Systems – Tallying how much people like particular websites
- Eye-tracking Analysis of User Behavior in WWW Search – Looks at how users visually navigate webpages
- Perceptive Media: Machine Perception and Human Computer Interaction – Study on how computers could be more effective with better perception capabilities
- A Practical EMG-based human-computer interface for users with motor disabilities – Exploring the challenge of designing interfaces for disables persons
- Usability.gov – A government-based guide for developing effective websites
Picture Credit: Computer sound card01, Wikimedia Commons, JoJan, 2005