Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why do people get into fights with computers?

The internet is full of stories about the volatile relationship between people and computers. It's because by nature, both sides are completely foreign to each other, only separated by a thin layer called a user interface. It communicates the state the software is in, and provides methods for the user to control both software and hardware features of the computer.

To put the role and importance of user interface into a perspective, I'll compare it to an intergalactic interpreter. It's job is to prevent miscommunication and when possible, recover from situations caused by it. It works between two species that have nothing in common with each other. A misunderstanding between such parties can escalate quickly and have irreversible consequences. And naturally there are good and bad interfaces when it comes to doing interpreting. The former takes pride in focusing on efficiently getting the message across as authentic as possible, while the latter focuses on performing party tricks.

I personally value getting the message across. For example, we use a smartphone so many times throughout the day, that it's frustrating if an interpreter doesn't understand you, or treats your hand as something it's notA good interpreter is in tune with you. It knows what you're about to do, understands differences in your tone of voice and body language. A bad one requires constant focus from you, because it doesn't fully understand you or isn't compatible with the way you function. That means neither side can really function efficiently, and mistakes are bound to happen.

And at the end of the day, when machines finally turn against us, I'm confident in pinning the blame for that on the interface between the two. The user didn't understand why the machine wasn't doing anything, and the machine didn't understand why user was anyway doing something. The interpreter was most likely putting on some lipstick when all of that happened, and the resulting nuclear winter allows our kids to make glow-in-the-dark snowmen all year around.

To delay the inevitable, let's focus on both prioritizing and improving the interpreter qualities of user interfaces we build to communicate with machines. These two species so alien to each other absolutely require it. Because with the current rate of technological advancements, the smartphone of tomorrow will be capable of horrors far beyond running a Facebook client.

Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.


  1. Hopefully it's not Jolla's lipstick that the interpreter was putting on :P. Nice post, love your blog :)

    1. Haha, I knew someone would catch that one. Glowing snowmen do sound tempting though. Thanks a lot for your support. Take care! :)