The Ambient Interface
Background: Tony spent the last 12 years re-inventing traditional markets. In 1992 Tony introduced North America to quick-charging, high capacity battery technology that re-invented the market domestically. Since then Tony has acted as an investor and consultant in disruptive companies within transformative industries across the globe. His latest company Myant is poised to change forever the thing we purchase most, textiles: our clothing, sheets, seats, mats, curtains…
How we interface with technology is changing
A recent topic receiving a lot of coverage in tech media is that of the input/output limitation. Elon Musk has emphasized “We are already a cyborg, you already have a digital version of yourself (or partial) version of yourself online in the form of your emails, your social media, and all the things that you do. You have basic super powers with your computer and your phone and the applications that are there. You have more power than the president of the United States did twenty years ago. You can answer any question, you can video conference with anyone anywhere, you can send a message to millions of people instantly. But the constraint (in this power) is input/output, and we’re mainly output — bound, in particular on a phone where you only have your two thumbs tapping away, this is ridiculously slow. Our input is much better since we have a high bandwidth visual interface to the brain.”
“We are already a cyborg, you already have a digital version of yourself (or partial) version of yourself online in the form of your emails, your social media, and all the things that you do. You have basic super powers with your computer and your phone and the applications that are there.” – Elon Musk
This idea of the input/output problem and its potential solutions is a fun exploration and opens a door through which we can peer into the future. There have been many proposed solutions to the problem, some close term like voice recognition with experiences like Apple’s Siri and Google Home, and some longer-term solutions such as Elon Musk’s proposed “neural lace”. The thesis of this article points to a different way of understanding the problem to open the door for new kinds of solutions. These new solutions diverge from the idea of a human to technology interface as linear (think > act > do), towards the idea of the interface as ambient (be > do). As Albert Einstein once famously stated, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
Understanding the problem
Since our earliest use of tools, we have interfaced with technology in a linear way; we think about what we want to accomplish, we transfer our will onto the tool, the tool performs the action we want it to. Through a process of trial and error using the dexterity of our hands in collaboration with our minds, we eventually succeed in accomplishing our goal.
As technology has become increasingly complex, we design simplified interfaces to make use of these complexities. We interface with a radio by turning a dial to change the frequency. We interface with a computer by typing on a keyboard and registering changes in the visual interface powered by the operating system. We interface with Amazon Echo by shouting commands at it.
We prescribe to the notion that we command our tools and they must perform our desired tasks and actions.
This is what I see as the reduced core of this problem.
Currently, we think about how we interface with tools and technology the wrong way. We are stuck in age-old routine thinking and need to usher in a new era. An era of thinking about our interface with technology differently. An era filled with a proliferation of new technological possibility.
This new era starts as most do with a simple enough concept — we must not hold ourselves back from the bandwidth-limiting idea of commanding our tools and technology. We must untether our conscious thinking minds from the process towards a more fluid and constant interface.
This is what I call “Ambient Interface” – an apparatus by which our tools and technology solutions that are ambiently aware of and interface with us.
“Ambient Interface is an apparatus by which our tools and technology solutions that are ambiently aware of and interface with us.” – Tony Chahine
An ambient interface is one powered by the cumulative signals we emit from the body and mind, signals like the beats of your heart, clusters of changed breathing patterns, variance in galvanic skin response, heightened activity in the reward systems of the brain, etc.
The ambient interface opens the door to a proliferation of new use cases structured around four core characteristics:
Anticipatory: Solutions to problems that you don’t know about yet.
Immediate: Solutions that require immediate action, else they become obsolete.
Adaptive: Solutions that need to change over time.
Personalized: Solutions personalized to the individual.
Imagine an autonomous world where your vehicle will drive you from San Francisco to LA without touching the wheel. What happens if you experience a stroke? If the vehicle isn’t ambiently aware of you, how will it know to adjust its route and take you to the Hospital?
It’s scenarios like this that paint a clear picture of the need for a shift in how we think about “interface.” Much more to come in posts like this about how we are working towards this new interface.
If you find yourself identifying with this train of thought either entirely or partially, or if reading this message has sparked interest or questions, I would love to hear from you, please feel free to engage and comment.