James D. Hollan
Popular discussion about the national information infrastructure envisions the development of an information marketplace that can enrich people's economic, social, cultural, and political lives. While there are crucial research issues that must be addressed before such an information marketplace can be successful, computation, clearly, will be increasingly involved in our professional and personal lives.
One trend in the development of computationally-based systems is a shifting focus from hardware to software, and particularly to human-computer interaction. As society approaches the time of commodity hardware and operating systems, the field of human-computer interaction is of growing significance. Companies, for example, now realize that one of the major ways they can distinguish themselves in the marketplace is via more effective interfaces. Consider also that from a user's perspective, the interface is the system. From an implementation perspective, the interface now comprises more than half of the code of most applications, which shows how central the interface is becoming. The interface is clearly the gating function for delivering new functionality to users.
At the same time that the interface is becoming of vital importance, a variety of factors are conspiring to make the development of interfaces more difficult than in the past. One dimension of this increased difficulty is the disappearance of boundaries. This includes the boundaries between applications for supporting people's real tasks; between machines in the move to distributed computing; between media as interfaces expand to include video, sound, graphics, and communications facilities; and between people as interface designers realize the importance of supporting organizational and group activities. All of this results in the increasing complexity of interface design.
Today's interface design needs to be informed by multiple disciplines. No longer can design teams be made up only of computer scientists. To be effective, they require members with knowledge about cognition, organizational structure, dynamic media, group dynamics, graphic design, and a host of other domains. In addition, the users of systems have to be more actively involved in the design of the systems that will influence the way their activities are structured.
Deep understanding of human-computer interaction and the many disciplines upon which it is based will be needed to effectively exploit computation. Much research needs to be done, but the importance of that work and of taking a user-centered design approach is now widely recognized. Still, much human-computer interaction research is small in scale, fragmented, and very poorly coordinated. Human-computer interaction, which is crucial to the effective development of a national information infrastructure and central to the spread of computation into virtually every sphere of life, is a big science problem that our society has been approaching in small science ways. The United States needs to develop a national strategy to direct research activities. Such a strategy needs to be informed by understanding research developments in other countries.
The JTEC panel visited 22 research sites in the short period of a week. The willingness of the panel's hosts to share information and their warmth and generosity combined to make the brief visits pleasant and productive. This rapid visit did not allow the panel members to explore specific research projects in depth, but it provided general impressions of Japanese research activities that are summarized in this report.
This author's charge was to focus on fundamental research; relevant questions to be explored (these were shared with the panel's Japanese hosts before the visit) covered the following: