James D. Foley


Human-Computer Interaction, often called HCI, is a sociotechnological discipline whose goal is to bring the power of computers and communications systems to people in ways and forms that are both accessible and useful in our working, learning, communicating, and recreational lives.

Toward this end, technologies such as the graphical user interface, virtual environments, speech recognition, gesture and handwriting recognition, multimedia presentation, and cognitive models of human learning and understanding are developed and applied as part of HCI research agendas.

HCI is sociotechnological because it concerns how people, both as individuals and as groups, use and are affected by computer and communication systems. As such, HCI draws on computer science, computer and communications engineering, graphic design, management, psychology, and sociology as it endeavors to make computer and communications systems ever more usable in carrying out tasks as diverse as learning a foreign language, analyzing the aerodynamics of a new airplane, planning surgery, playing a computer game, accessing information on the World Wide Web, or programming a VCR.

Excellence in HCI is important for several reasons:

The world is in revolution. The only point of disagreement is the name used to describe the revolution: the computer/communications revolution, the information technology revolution, or convergence. Whatever the name, the revolution is fueled by the low cost of mass-produced computer processor and memory chips and by the inexpensive, high-bandwidth digital communications capabilities of the emerging national information infrastructure (NII).

The computer/communications revolution in which we are all participating both enables and requires advances in human-computer interaction.

The revolution enables HCI because the low cost of processors and memory means that the graphical user interface is now affordable by millions of people. Without a mass market to sell to, software developers could not afford the substantial investment in the plethora of applications and CD-ROMs now available on the market. Intel expects to sell 100 million Pentium and Pentium Pro chips in 1996. Many or most will run Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 and will further broaden the market for usable software. The coming of age in the next few years of smart set top boxes, mobile digital communications devices, personal digital assistants, information appliances, and so forth, provides new and exciting opportunities, but with the necessary condition that their user interfaces suit their users.

On the other hand, the revolution requires advances in HCI in order that the sophistication and power of computers be made widely available for use by the millions of people who simply want to do their jobs or play computer games or explore the World Wide Web without having to be computer experts. The continuing growth of the computer and communications industries will be moderated without further developments in HCI to create more useful and usable applications.

Published: March 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian