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20 December 2007

Interfacing with the future

We have long had a fascination with the emerging edge of new interface technologies, if only because we frequently encounter the need to work with these Babbage engine contraptions under a variety of circumstances far outside those envisioned by the original designers. While we are quite aware that the space is quite littered with the remnants of failed attempts at new concepts and the broken dreams of the paleo-future, we nonetheless hold out hope for certain new technologies from time to time – a triumph of optimism over experience.

One technology – the interactive multi-touch style of whiteboard / display – has in particular caught our attention. It is a curious artifact, insofar as it was most famously profiled (in stunningly attractive set dressing) in the science fiction film Minority Report. In an unusual reversal, however, it was the jesters that invited the futurists to the table. Peter Schwartz, of the Global Business Network (and the Art of the Long View), was among those commissioned to enhance a number of the forecasted technological and social changes that provided a good number of “eyeball kicks” in the movie.

We are pleased to note that the ever innovative folks at Carnegie Mellon University are struggling to make this sort of technology a reality. Even more interestingly, they are doing so using low cost commoditized components repurposed from popular entertainment systems. The street does indeed find its own uses for things, in the famous formulation of another jester.

Whether such a technology will actually prove to be of value for the intelligence professional remains to be seen once working implementations are available for testing. We can however already think of certain scenarios – including in VTCs, watch operations centers, and situational awareness applications – where such an interface would be of great value for collaborative discussion and production. Coupled with the right big board type display, and driven by one of the better fusion portals, we could certainly see this garnering the same kind of rave reviews that first greeted the trials of the Knowledge Wall.

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