A Brief History of the Minority Report User Interface

Computer scientist John Underkoffler designed the computer user interface that caused such a stir when it appeared in the film Minority Report. In this video from TED 2010, Underkoffler explains past, present and future of human-computer relations in a fascinating 15 minutes.

The introduction of the iPad earlier this year got people talking about user interface, thanks to its slick touch-based UI which takes mouse-free input to a new level. But anybody who watches science fiction movies knows there must be more. In Iron Man and Iron Man 2 we saw a CAD geek’s fantasy, the holographic design system. In Minority Report we saw the user engage the computer as a symphony conductor engages the orchestra.

In a 15-minute talk at this year’s TED conference, (available for viewing as “John Underkoffler Points to the Future of UI”) computer scientist John Underkoffler gives a brief history of more natural forms of user interface. Underkoffler is the perfect choice for the talk, as he is not only rather charming for a computer scientist, he is also the inventor of the gestural language (called “G-Speak”) on display in Minority Report.

Computers don’t understand space or time, Underkoffler says. So computer science has to use the tools available—sensors—and then “explain” to the computer what all the input means. It takes massive amounts of computational horsepower, which is finally becoming affordable.

In the TED video Underkoffler tracks the history of user interface from the first Apple Macintosh to about five years out, which is the time frame Underkoffler predicts for the marketplace arrival of a Minority Report UI.

VIDEO: http://www.ted.com/talks/john_underkoffler_drive_3d_data_with_a_gesture.html

John Underkoffler explains the human-computer interface he first designed as part of the advisory work for the film Minority Report. The system, called "g-speak", is now real and working. Note the gloves Underkoffler is wearing. (Courtesy Steve Jurvetson via a Creative Commons license.)

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