Summoning the Next Interface: Agentive Tools & SAUNa Technology

Cooper’s new Design the Future series of posts opens the door to how we think about and create the future of design, and how design can influence changing technologies. Join us in this new series as we explore the ideas behind agentive technology, and summon a metaphor to help guide us to the next interface.

Part 1: Toward a New UX

If we consider the evolution of technology—from thigh-bones-as-clubs to the coming singularity (when artificial intelligence leaves us biological things behind)—there are four supercategories of tools that influence the nature of what’s to come:

  1. Manual tools are things like rocks, plows, and hammers; well-formed masses of atoms that shape the forces we apply to them. Manual tools were the earliest tools.
  2. Powered tools are systems—like windmills and electrical machines—that set things in motion and let us manipulate the forces present in the system. Powered tools came after manual tools, and took a quantum leap with the age of electricity. They kept becoming more and more complex until World War II, when the most advanced technology of the time, military aircraft, were so complex that even well trained people couldn’t manage them, and the entire field of interaction design was invented in response, as “human factors engineering.”
  3. Assistive tools do some of the low-level information work for us—like spell check in word processing software and proximity alerts in cars—harnessing algorithms, ubiquitous sensor networks, smart defaults, and machine learning. These tools came about decades after the silicon revolution.
  4. The fourth category is the emerging category, the new thing that bears some consideration and preparation. I have been thinking and presenting about this last category across the world:
    Agentive tools, which do more and more stuff on their own accord, like learning about their users, and are approaching the artificial intelligence that will ultimately, if you believe Vernor Vinge, eventually begin evolving beyond our ken.

"WIthin 30 years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."

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Make It Wearable

Recently I interviewed with the Vice/Intel collaboration The Creators Project, about sci-fi wearables and how Cooper approaches future design with its clients. And while my interview isn’t live yet, the Intel Make It Wearable Challenge it will be a part of was announced at CES yesterday. If you have an inventor’s mind, a love of wearable technology, and could use some of the US$1.3 million dollars to bring your idea to life, you’re going to want to see this.

Designing the Future: Cooper in Berlin

Most software projects are built around the question “What are we going to do next?” But occasionally we’re asked to think farther out. Projects focused on the 5-10 year range are more about “Where are we headed?” and “What’s going to inspire people?” These are different questions to ask, and answering them changes the usual process of interaction design.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a while, and while at the MobX conference in Berlin I conducted a workshop where a group of 16 designers and strategists took a look at how you answer these questions.

So…how do you do it? The core of the matter is to understand what’s going to be different in the future you’re designing for.

These kinds of projects are less about “What’s next?” and more about “Where are we headed?” and “What’s going to inspire people?”

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Augmented Experience


Photo via Reuters / Carlo Allegri

Let’s be honest: Google Glass looks pretty silly. Its appearance is out of time, futuristic, and obnoxiously so. And it’s out of place in daily life—a strange accessory with mysterious purpose, as if someone were to walk around all day with a skateboard on a leash.

But Glass also points to an intriguing future, one in which the line between using a digital device and simply going about daily life is removed. Whereas traditional spectacles have a corrective purpose to see reality more clearly, Glass offers a new category of lenses that promise to augment the reality we see. It opens a vast new frontier for the practice of interaction design that, like the Wild West, is full of lawlessness and danger and promise. And it is the UX community that will shape this landscape; we will determine it’s character, and the impact it will have on people’s lives.

A key question all this raises is: what “reality” is Glass augmenting? At the moment, being a Google product, the augmentation is designed to primarily target the urban economic and social spheres. Looking down the street through Glass, you may see restaurant store-fronts adorned with floating metadata describing the cuisine type and star-ratings by previous diners. Turning your head, an indicator points in the direction of the location of your next calendar appointment. Peering at a product on the shelf, prices for similar products are displayed for easy comparison. You’ll always know where you are, where you need to be, and what you’re looking at. The reality that Glass augments is a realm of people, objects, places of business, and locations. In other words, what can be expressed in a database and efficiently searched.

Toward a better future

At this point in the conversation, the story usually veers into the realm of exasperation and despair. Google Glass represents the death of spontaneity! It will systematize and computerize our lives! Organic experience will be lost! (And, most insidious of all) Google will monitor and monetize every saccade of our eyeball, every step we take!


“Big brother” from the film adaptation of Orwell’s 1984

Given the penchant for technologists to base business models on advertising and “big data” about their customers, it is not surprising that Google Glass can be seen as a kind of portable panopticon. But I think the truth that this device foreshadows is something potentially more benign, and almost certainly beneficial.

The dystopian narrative that depicts a society dominated by machines and ubiquitous surveillance is common, expressed through fiction, film, and even journalism, which tends to draw on the same sinister rhetoric. George Orwell’s 1984 describes the homogenization and suppression of culture through rules, systems, and constant surveillance. In a more recent popular expression, Pixar’s Wall-E imagines a future humanity composed of zombie-like innocents, shuttled along by automated chairs, staring feebly into digital screens, mobilized—and controlled—by machines. The plausibility of these futures is made even more vivid by the unfolding story of the depth of NSA surveillance.

To paraphrase a recent piece by Don Norman, it all depends on how we design and develop augmented reality applications. If we manage to create useful and utility-producing applications with wearable technologies like Google Glass, people will benefit. This seems at first more like a truism than truth. But the obviousness of the statement belies the underlying premise, which is that Google Glass and its future iterations are simply a canvas on which we can write the future of our “augmented” everyday experience. So let’s not leave it all up to Google, shall we?

Big ideas

Ideas for the positive future of augmented reality abound. Augmedix, for example, is a small company with a vision of Google Glass re-shaping the doctor-patient relationship. Increasingly, the burden of the new and fraught world of digital medical records is damaging this interaction. Doctors stare at screens instead of faces, they spend as much time clicking checkboxes and radio buttons as they do examining the bodies and listening to the voices of the people under their care. Augmented reality could turn this scenario on its head by allowing doctors to look at and converse with their patient while simultaneously accessing and transmitting important information through Glass. This will almost certainly lead to fewer errors, an increase in trust, and ultimately better health outcomes.


A doctor wears Glass with the Augmedix app.

Or consider William Gibson’s Spook Country, a novel in which a central character creates “locative art,” what you might call augmented reality sculpture. Imagine looking at a city fountain with your augmentation goggles and seeing a bloom of light and color where others see only water. That we could transform our physical landscape in a way that enhances its beauty—rather than simply enhancing its economic potential—is a stunning notion. Unlike 3D movie glasses or straight-up “virtual reality,” the idea of a physical/virtual mashup offers us a chance to experiment and play in realms previously only available to the world of screens and displays, without losing the notion of being present in a place, something virtual reality cannot avoid. We remain in the real world.

The design of augmented reality

The first attempts to harness the power of Glass-like technology will be “ports,” shoe-horning old functionality into a new form factor. Text and email messages will appear, caller ID will notify you of a phone call, the front-facing camera will take a picture or video on command. But none of these use cases address new goals. They simply make achieving old goals incrementally faster or more convenient. I don’t have to lift my phone and look at the screen to see a text message or know who’s calling. I don’t have to lift my camera and press a button to take a picture. The difference in my experience enabled by porting functionality from my phone to Glass is a difference of degree, not a difference in kind.

More interesting will be the forays into using augmented reality tech to solve previously unmet goals. Augmedix is a good example, because it bucks a trend toward less personal medicine and solves both a doctor and a patient goal. Locative art is similarly interesting, because it provides an entirely new artistic medium and way of experiencing that art. Mapping and orientation in a visually augmented world represents another fundamental change, because it bridges the gap between the abstract 2D map and the immediately actionable—a translation that currently happens in the human brain.

Go get ‘em

Augmented reality is in its infancy. Google Glass still faces some serious challenges, especially on the hardware front—miniaturizing the device and making it less obtrusive is necessary to make it less like pulling a skateboard on a leash everywhere you go. But the frontier for experience design this device opens up is huge, and doesn’t have to remain within the boundaries Google sets. Part of our challenge and calling as a UX community is to think deeply about what an augmented experience feels like, and how it shapes people’s lives. As you would with any user experience, let unmet user goals guide your design.

Your role in this revolution is just beginning.

Cooper Parlor: The Future of Television Meets the Future of Design

During our October Parlor, a packed room enjoyed presentations by Richard Bullwinkle, Head of US Television Innovation at Samsung, and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of the startup Dijit Media. In this edited, hour-long video, you will be guided through trends in media consumption, technological advances, and the evolution of show content and format, towards predictions of what is coming next in the realm of television and design.

“TV in the future will be any screen any location, holographic, 3D.” — Jeremy Toeman

From Richard Bullwinkle, you’ll find out what the highest rated TV episode in history is, and hear about “a seminal moment in television for nerds.” Jeremy Toeman shares what the viewing habits of children can tell us about our future, and ponders the pros and cons of “binge viewing,” now that downloaded series are available.

During the highlights from the brainstorming workshop that follows the two presentations, you’ll see brief excerpts from the teams’ presentations as they approach design problems in the TV domain such as accommodating family viewing with different needs and customizing cable services to individual desires and habits.

For more on this Parlor event visit our Storify page here

Find Out:

  • The #1 device for watching Netflix (not what you’d expect)
  • Why over 90 percent of all TV viewers use a second screen while watching TV
  • The lifecycle of a TV
  • What we’ll be viewing shows on in 3 years

What is the Cooper Parlor?
The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design.

Join us for the next Cooper Parlor – Thursday, November 14 for a workshop on how to design your professional relationships. More details and registration here.

Television is dead. Or is it?

How the Internet, devices, and a new generation of viewers are redefining the “boob tube” of the future

Announcing the next Cooper Parlor: The Future of TV

When: Thursday, October 24th (Networking at 6, event starts at 6:30)
Moderated by: Richard Bullwinkle, Head of US Television Innovation at Samsung and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of the startup Dijit Media
Where: Cooper’s Studio, 85 2nd Street, 8th Floor, San Francisco
Cost: $10
Tickets

Once, television was simple. Families gathered religiously around a glowing box to watch the latest episode of “I love Lucy”. Fast-forward to today: the Internet enables a multitude of new viewing devices, and wildly different viewing habits have turned “television” on its head. In this Cooper Parlor, Richard Bullwinkle, Head of US Television Innovation at Samsung and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of the startup Dijit Media will share some curious trends in media consumption, technological advances, and the evolution of show content and format. Then, they’ll lead a brainstorming session to rethink the “television of the future” together.

Here are just a few curious factoids we’ll explore:

  • What is the #1 device for watching Netflix? The iPad? A laptop? It turns out it’s the Sony Playstation 3. Why do viewers flock to this device rather than the connected TV or an iPad?
  • Over 90% of all TV viewers use a second screen while watching TV. How might this impact the way we design the television experience and programming?
  • Can you guess why 70% of connected TVs in the US actually get connected to the internet, but only 30% do in Europe?

Join us as we discuss where TV is headed, and generate new ideas for what television can be!

What is the Cooper Parlor?

The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design

Can illegal networks of zombie computers be a force for… good?

Whenever a major website has significant downtime, people start to wonder: is it intentional? Is Anonymous behind it? Or a secretive group of enemy government hackers?

It’s a reasonable assumption, as it turns out that DDoS—distributed denial of service—attacks are relatively easy to pull off these days. To accomplish it, a ne’er-do-well need only harness thousands of “zombie” computers, point them toward their intended target, and harass the web servers with so much traffic that they are overwhelmed. It’s a temporary effect, but can cause severe economic damage.

It used to be that coordinating such an attack required a great deal of skill. A criminal needed to first infiltrate those thousands of machines using some kind of trojan horse or other malware. To harness their collective power, they would stitch together a “botnet” by designing a way to control them all remotely by issuing them commands, then bend them all to whatever nefarious purpose they have in mind. (Besides DDoS attacks, botnets also send a lot of spam.) Today, however, pre-configured botnets can be rented for a pittance. One source claims to rent a 10,000-strong network of zombie machines for $200.

This got me wondering: why not rent a botnet, and use it for good?

By Tom-b (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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CascadeSF UX Night: Planning for Responsive Layouts

Recently at Cooper, we updated our website with a focus on responsive web design. Working with Cooper’s other great developer, Elisha Cook, I learned a lot in the project, though at times it seemed my head would explode trying to figure out solutions to various problems presented by responsive web design, so when I heard that CascadeSF was hosting a presentation on this very topic, I was eager to attend and see what I could learn.

CascadeSF is a collective of San Francisco-based web designers and developers who meet periodically to keep up-to-date on design trends, standards, and techniques. On July 24th, the presenter was Pauly Ting, a Lead UX Designer at Tigerspike SF, founder of Feedia, and co-founder of TwoCents. The MeetUp was hosted in the offices of the residential real estate site, Trulia, just a block away from the Cooper studio.

Digital Evolution: From Fixed to Responsive Layouts

The focus of Pauly’s presentation was on planning content for responsive layouts. Responsive layouts present new challenges for organization and delivery of content. We are accustomed to the page-based approach to organizing content, largely because that is how content has always been organized and delivered. For example, the printing press has a fixed width and height based on the page size. The Gutenberg Press revolutionized content delivery in the 15th century by organizing content as hand-set letters and graphics arranged in rigidly determined rows that could then be mass produced. It was a new paradigm, taking book production from the hands of scribes locked up in monasteries, and distributing books more widely, making education of the masses possible for the first time, which of course changed the world.

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UX Boot Camp with Marketplace Money

Old School Radio Meets the Digital Age

Take a look inside Cooper’s June, 2013 UX Boot Camp with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money radio show, where students explored the next horizon of audio programming—a paradigm shift from broadcast to conversation-based platforms.

The Challenge
Students rolled up their sleeves to help the show respond to the trend away from traditional radio by finding the right mix of alternative distribution platforms. Marketplace Money came equally ready to take a radical departure from their current format in order to create a new model that redefines the roles of host, show, and audience in the digital age. To reach this goal, students focused on designing solutions that addressed three big challenges:

  1. Engage a new, younger audience that is tech savvy, and provide easy access to content via new platforms, such as podcasts, satellite radio shows, and the Internet.
  2. Inspire audience participation and contribution. Facilitate conversations and inspire people to share their personal stories so that listeners can learn from each other.
  3. Design ways for the host to carry an influential brand or style that extends beyond the limits of the show and engage with the audience around personal finance, connecting with listeners in ways that are likeable, useful, and trustworthy, making the topic of personal finance cool, fun and approachable.

At the end of the four-day Boot Camp, student teams presented final pitches to Marketplace Money, and a panel of experienced Cooper designers offered feedback on their ideas and presentations.In the following excerpts from each day, you can test your own sensory preferences for receiving content as you see, hear and read how design ideas evolved at the Boot Camp, inspiring new relationships between people and radio.

Marketplace Money Class

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