Life in a user-centred future

What might the future look like? There are so many possible futures, usually based on the type of technology being advanced at the moment. What might a different future look like that isn't based on any specific equipment, but on rather how technology can fade into the background of our lives, leaving room for being outdoors, social activities and quiet moments?

At Cognitive Ink, we use a number of brainstorming techniques to explore possible futures and to gain actionable insights. Here we share some imaginings of a possible future and some insights about things we think are important to consider as part of creating a better user experience.

Just imagine...

The new day starts when you wake up.

Your house detects when the sun is rising, what you have planned for the day, how well you slept and your current state of sleep. The glass in your bedroom becomes transparent, letting the natural light wake you. The natural sounds of your environment and context are replicated and magnified, bringing you to wake slowly. Reflectors, skylights and other natural light sources fill your house. There is little artificial light.

Insight: We often use technology to wake us up or to notify us. However, the most natural triggers, installed by evolutionary forces, are light, the rising volume of natural sounds, temperature change and touch.

In contrast, alarm noises or artificial cues are more likely to trigger a rise in stress hormones and anxiety.

 

 

You get up and move through your living room. What remains of the wall surfaces are non-emissive display surfaces. They can display views, colours, patterns, images or views of your choice, all without the harmful affects of artificial emissive light.

Insight: There is significant eye strain associated with emissive light sources. Despite this, we are surrounded by emissive light screens from our phones, tablets and laptops, to name a few. Non-emissive screens give the flexibility to customise our environment with the benefit of reducing glare.

 

As you enter the living room, music starts. Each morning you enjoy listening to music as you get ready. New songs appear occasionally, based on a deep review of your tastes. Your Trunk, which is your universal wrist based central computer, detects interest based on your heart rate, perspiration, breathing and auditory cues, and the music is rated and played accordingly.

Insight: Our bodies are broadcasting information all the time. As a species we are very good at reading the emotional state of other humans, yet we create technology that must be constantly massaged, manipulated and adjusted to our personal tastes. Instead, we should be pushing the envelope to find ways that technology can learn from more subtle clues.

 

You need to make a quick stop to the bathroom before breakfast. The toilet samples your waste and updates your personal health index. The data collected flows into your Trunk of personal information.

Insight: In our rush to access and commoditise personal health data, we are focusing on the most socially palatable methods of collection like measuring heart rate or movement. However, our waste actually provides a rich source of information about the state of our health. We can use technology to remove the obviously unpleasant interaction with our waste, but still provide the richest data possible.

 

Back in your bedroom, you pull some clothes from the closet. Everything is on hangers; why fold something when you can hang them and let them transit throughout the cleaning cycle? Dirty clothes go into one side of the closet, and clean on the other. Worn clothes go back into the cycle of recyclable fibres to be made into new clothes.

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Insight: Technology solutions (even using today's technology, such as washing machines and driers) should not require more work than to implement, customise or maintain existing solutions.

 

 

You step into your kitchen.

Many people eat out all the time now, realising that a new generation of food production could produce healthy, clean and safe meals. Granted, you still like to cook, especially when you have friends over.

You open your Cooler, where a clever system of subtle light cues encircle specific foods as the Cooler proposes a healthy selection of foods based on your health parameters. You smile and choose the eggs anyway. Your Trunk is always a little conservative and you know the warnings will become more stringent when you've truly pushed your limits of cholesterol for the week. You can easily choose to ignore the suggestions, but the more serious the data becomes, the more serious the warnings will become.

Insight: When pieces of data are interconnected, information collected can become more powerful.  Guiding food options based on personal health data (gathered from personal waste) is only one example of this.

The key is to guide, not control the user. Users should be able to choose to ignore suggestions, with warnings subtly continuing to escalate.

 

While eating on your balcony you poke a finger at your ficus plant. There is a range of pots that auto-cares for  plants, but you are doing it the old way, based on your senses alone. It is one of the many trees and plants that you have grown. You grew this plant from a cutting two years ago and it is pleasing to see how much things have grown and developed and how it has thrived under your care. The old skills are coming back again. We still need the surprise and random encounters that unpredictability brings.

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Insight: Mastery is a crucial characteristic of strong self esteem. Too much technology can strip away our mastery by totally automating everything in our world. Ideally, there should still be strong social drivers to continue to learn difficult skills, as success then enhances a feeling of mastery. In essence, we should make decisions to choose what to automate and what to derive manually.

 

After eating, your Trunk squeezes your arm ever so gently and warms just slightly. It's as if a warm finger has touched your wrist briefly. You glance at the single sentence that appears and vanishes. More than enough to remind you that you have a team meeting shortly. You might as well take it in the park using augmented technology.

Insight: Technology should bring us full circle, allowing us to move back into the environments from which we evolved. A method of linking the virtual world back into the real world is a fundamental underpinning of bringing technology back into the world. Some form of augmented reality holds the greatest promise to this endeavor. It may also hold the greatest threat, if done in a way that overwhelms our engagement with the world. It should also let us conduct our virtual business in physical environments.

 

You walk to the park and don your Lenses. They are  your augmented reality glasses. They let you see the virtual as a layer on top of reality.  Your team joins you in augmented reality, as each of them resides in different geographical locations. The focus of your work is typically on content, not process. You review data, concepts, simulations, drawings, virtual prototypes, mathematical models and background research. The information flickers up into the virtual space, hovering just above the grass where you are standing and then vanishes again. The team members are the only people who can see the data.

Insight: Technology should not reduce or inhibit the amazing and unpredictable gains from collaboration.

Simulation is an incredibly powerful tool for doing work in nearly any domain. Rather than writing documents, emails, reports, presentations and other technological and physical artefacts that are separate from the outcome, we should instead invest the time in creating ever-improving simulations of an eventual solution, system or outcome.

 

Thinking and working is the focus of your work activity. Teams have disposed of most of the busy work that used to haunt the average office worker, up to and including the office itself. Little exists on paper and there is no need for email, as you talk most days. Instead, tasks are assigned and reviewed in discussion and task status changes automatically as you do work.

Insight: The worst thing technology can do is replace our purpose and our drive. We all must have goals and endeavours. Reaching for goals is a fundamental part of our psychology and without it we are adrift.

 

Having spent several hours working together and as individuals, you bid the team farewell. Some will keep going longer, others quit with you. The focus is on the work and productivity, not the number of hours spent. It is easy to see who is or isn't working.

Insight: It is less likely to be a technological solution alone that changes the nature of modern work. Instead it will require a fundamental shift in social value. We are tremendously influenced and shaped by social forces. A focus on tasks and productivity rather than time spent and presence in a physical location would be a good start.

 

You walk home and get your bike. You feel like stretching your legs. You cross the city on the cycle routes. When needed, the quasi trains automatically slow and gaps open until the groups of cycles pass through the intersections. Pedestrians first, cyclists second and quasi trains last.

Insight: Human scale cities put pedestrians at the centre of design. The emergent interactions that occur when people are on foot radically alter both socialisation and commerialisation. Foot traffic brings life and money back into areas that are usually overrun by fast-moving vehicular traffic. Large volume goods should be shifted by specialised goods tunnels running underneath the city to reduce congestion and noise.

 

You ride for several hours with no real destination in mind. With the introduction of emergent planning, the city changes much more quickly than it used to. You never know what to expect when you turn the corner. You enjoy the breath straining in your lungs and the pumping of your legs. Your body will love you for it and your data trunk will likely reward you by ordering something special in your food cooler. You feel like...

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The story goes on, and so do the opportunities. Very little of the solutions intuited here are far from achievable. They only take vision and a will to dream about what a greater human life is like, and then find the technology to deliver it.


Interested?

Would you like to explore the future experience of your products, service or business? Or, perhaps you'd like to see how to design or test an existing idea? Well, you've come to the right place.

Drop us a line. We don't bite and we'd love to chat.

info@cognitiveink.com