What Is The Next Data Input Device?
Harken back to the days of yore when the only input device connected to a computer was a keyboard. Everything was text based and very very boring. So, when the mouse came along it seemed (and rightly so) like a truly remarkable, ground breaking achievement. No longer were you bound to the command line! Instead you had *gasp* a pointer that floated about your screen, selecting and clicking things. The computing world went nuts over this little device hooking them up to every computer in sight and never looking back.
Of course, several decades later it is apparent that the industry stopped looking forward as well. Every aspect of the modern day computer has been drastically changed over the last decade or so except for the way in which we input data. Think for a moment of some of the advances that have happened. Dual core processors, huge RAM chips, faster more powerful buses, flat panel displays, flash drives, bluetooth, wireless networking, need I go on?
And yet, we are still using a keyboard and a mouse to input data. While it is true that they have gained more buttons, they really haven’t advanced very much. The trackball has been replaced with a glowing red light, a scroll wheel was added and they have both gone wireless, yet at their core they really aren’t all that different from the devices used 20 years ago. Which brings me up to my point, why? Why hasn’t that aspect of a computer caught up to the rest? And when will things change? What will they change into? I have a few ideas.
How many of us watch Star Trek? Remember how Captain Picard would walk onto the bridge and ask the computer a question and the computer would always give him the right answer? On the first try no less. Well, that will never happen in the real world I am afraid. Save for very basic commands, using your voice as a method for controlling a computer is very inefficient. Why you ask? Well, because sometimes you know what you want to do but haven’t taken the time to articulate it. With a non-verbal method of input that really doesn’t matter. But if you are relying solely on your voice then you must very clearly state what you want the computer to do (because they can’t read your minds) or else you risk getting incorrect results. So, I don’t see voice activated commands replacing the keyboard and mouse anytime soon.
So now that I have established that there are some Star Trek fans in the room now lets see a show of hands for all of the Matrix fans. Ah yes, there are quite a few. On the extreme end of the spectrum we have the most efficient and most far-fetched (for now at least) method of controlling a computer. Directly linking your mind to a machine so that there is no delay between thought and execution. This would of course be the most efficient method of using a computer the only downside is that currently, it is impossible. Very very impossible. But even if it were doable then you would still need a giant hole in your head so that someone could shove a spike in it and, lets face it, no matter how cool we might think that might be giant spikes in the brain might not be for everyone.
Last question, how many of us have read Tad Williams’ Other Land saga? Hum, this might be a tough question to get some affirmative responses from, seeing as how each of the four books is at least 800 pages long and that might be daunting to some. No matter, I will summarize it in part for those not willing to spend the next two months reading. At some point the author speculates that using a combination of gloves, headsets and suspension chairs one could simulate virtual reality enough to interact effectively with a computer and other online users.
This last case seems to be the most likely to happen in our lifetimes. There is nothing to prevent it from being implemented right now, other than the fact that there is currently no operating system designed to accommodate such hardware. Yes, I am afraid that before we put away the trusty keyboard and mouse our operating systems will have to change to reflect a 3D virtual world instead of our current 2D flat screen. Hopefully the end of the mouse and keyboard is not far off and soon we can cast our Logitech mouses into the trash and don gloves and headsets which will be better suited to exploring a new, 3D version of the net.
As a brief yet amusing aside it should be noted that the author also predicts a Ever Quest like 3D game to which a whole new generation of kids are addicted. It is both funny and sad though incorrect. Because everyone knows that kids will be too busy killing cops and beating hookers in Grand Theft Auto 42 Death City to bother with trolls, and elves and monsters and such.