Interface design has gone through a series of paradigm shifts as technology and its user’s needs evolve. The three main user interfaces we’ve experienced and continue to interact with are the Graphical, Natural, and Organic user interfaces. They all rely on either physical, gestural, or form-factor metaphor, whether it is a volume dial, swipe gesture, or a flexible monitor that simulates a page in a book.
I don’t know what the next shift in user interface will be, but I think at some point if not now we’ll be metaphorically pushing buttons with our mind. Take it even further and we remove all metaphor of the interactions we’ve become accustomed to—simply think and it is done. When I contemplate the potential of a telekinetic interface, I think of manipulating on-screen elements with emotion and thought. The current state of this technology offers the user this very opportunity in a simplified form with the potential for advanced applications.
Eventually this technology will progress so far that it will offer amazing results and pose philosophical sci-fi’esque questions. So what might this Mental User Interface (Mental UI) feel like? I imagine it will go something like this:
A computer screen prompts me with a choice to make and because this choice is one of many in a series, it prompts me for a certain task (possibly installing software...okay, okay, a PC game). Because I have anxiously awaited for this game’s arrival, my leg is fidgeting against the bottom support of my desk knowing I would have sold my soul to play it sooner. I don’t have time to finish reading the “Terms and Conditions” heading because I’ll accept anything to hurry up this installation and get to the dragon slaying. So my emotional excitement caused the “Accept” button to be “pushed” and off I go into a vast and distant realm. I admit this is a very basic and myopic scenario for such a potentially revolutionary subject so maybe we should explore a different perspective on the potential of a Mental UI.
Imagine our technology operating as fast as our brains can process the information we see and create. If we are mentally taking action and making decisions with computers and these computers can present choices and carry out decisions as soon as we can think of them, then is there a possibility that we’ll make decisions before we can consciously understand our choices? It sounds like the singularity with a foreshadowing of the machine war, but this scenario may not be so far fetched with the capabilities of computing in the near future.
The touch screen is slowly becoming the “old” standard of interaction. We’ve removed the mouse and replaced it with the finger and the keyboard is all but phased out with text-to-speech technology and the help of our virtual assistants like Siri. As wearable technology advances, we’re required to handle our handset devices less and less to the point of eliminating them altogether. With this chain of events in mind, after the reign of wearable tech, the next step could very well be mind control—no peripherals and no handsets -- just a tiny operating system that appears in the form of thoughts. It'll be interesting to see what the future will bring.