Human-Computer Interaction, often called HCI, is a
sociotechnological discipline whose goal is to bring the power of
computer and communication systems to people in ways and forms that are
both accessible and useful in our working, learning, communicating, and
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 have been 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:
- Quality of life. Important applications of computers in
medicine are possible only if they are both useful to and easy to use
by doctors, nurses, and aides; similarly, use of computers in education
requires usability and usefulness for students and teachers. Computers
can assist disabled individuals; at the same time, special techniques
are needed to allow computers to be used by some who are disabled.
- National competitiveness. Information technology is one of
the drivers for increased productivity. As more and more workers use
computers in their jobs, training time and ease and speed of use become
economically more and more important.
- Growth of the computer and communications industries.
Powerful, interesting, and usable applications are the fuel for
continuing growth of these industries. The current cycle of growth is
the direct consequence of the graphical user interface developed by
Xerox and commercialized by Apple and Microsoft, and of the lower
computer costs made possible by the microprocessor. The resulting mass
market supports commodity pricing for both hardware and software.
Future growth cycles will in part be driven by current HCI research,
which will lead to new and ever easier-to-use applications.
- National security. Computer-based command, control,
communications, and intelligence systems are at the heart of our
military infrastructure. Interfaces between operators and computers are
found in cockpits, on the bridge, and in the field. To be effective,
these systems must have high-quality human-computer interfaces.
STUDY OBJECTIVES AND PROCESS
The basic purposes of this JTEC study were to investigate Japanese
HCI research and development and to compare current status and trends
to similar work in the United States. In particular, the sponsors of
the study (the National Science Foundation, the Advanced Research
Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of
Commerce) were interested in the following specific areas:
- basic human-computer interaction research
- research, development, and applications in
- computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW), information network
services, and information infrastructure
- consumer devices, games, and entertainment
- technologies and tools for people with disabilities
- nuclear power, robotic manufacturing and service, and
- research infrastructure
- HCI education and human resources
The JTEC study panel visited 22 sites during its one-week visit to
Japan May 22-26, 1995: 1 government center, 2 universities, 13
corporations, and 6 consortia (mostly sponsored by Japan's Ministry of
International Trade and Industry, MITI).
The following sections present highlights of the JTEC panel's
conclusions drawn from its site visits. Table ES.1
compares HCI activities in Japan and the United States.
Research Infrastructure (Chapter 1)
HCI Education and Human Resources (Chapter
- HCI as a discipline is not as well established at Japanese
universities as at U.S. universities.
- Japanese companies generally appreciate the importance of HCI but
are hampered by a lack of trained professionals.
Basic HCI Research (Chapter 2)
- Japan conducts considerably less basic research than do the United
States and Europe.
- Corporate investment in R&D in Japan is strong:
- 7 - 8% of sales is invested
- the best corporate labs are very similar to U.S. labs.
- Japanese and U.S. labs have a similar "feel"- ATR is like MCC, NTT
is like Bell Labs or Bellcore, and Sony CS Lab is like Xerox PARC.
- Japan conducts little research on the cognitive science
underpinnings of HCI.
- Japan's focus is on development activities rather than basic
- A large percentage of basic research that the JTEC panel saw
involves fuzzy logic.
- The panel saw a considerable amount of work on speech recognition,
although most seems to be the application of existing techniques to the
- In Japan there is more work on noncognitive aspects of interaction,
such as emotive expression, than in the United States or Europe.
- The JTEC panel saw very limited empirical investigations of HCI
- The majority of Japanese systems development efforts focus on
video, graphics, and speech technologies.
- Some research is beginning to be influenced by work on situated
cognition and participatory design.
CSCW, Information Network Services, and Information Infrastructure
- Japan is behind the United States in depth and breath of CSCW
research. Current research focuses heavily on video telepathy
applications, which many consider to be a low-payoff topic, at least in
the realm of business communication.
- In the area of video telephony, there is innovative research in
Japan on ways to represent shared work spaces.
- The most obvious gap in CSCW research involves empirical research
on the ways that groups operate and on the impact of CSCW technology on
group performance and process. No theory is being developed in Japan to
help guide CSCW development. Data on experience with CSCW technology is
not fed back to refine the technology itself.
- The United States is ahead of Japan in national information
infrastructure research and commercial practice. The Internet and home
computers are driving HCI development in both countries, but because of
the differences in infrastructure, they are driving development more in
the United States than in Japan.
Consumer Devices, Games, and Entertainment (Chapter 4)
- In general, Japanese and U.S. manufacturers have very similar
attitudes towards the design and development of HCI for consumer
- The Japanese, being culturally very homogenous, have widely shared
customs and norms that strongly influence their product designs. They
believe that such is also the case for the U.S. market, but the more
heterogeneous U.S. culture does not necessarily support shared design
- In terms of the video game industry, as well as other fields, Japan
is a culture based on manufacturing. It is no coincidence that the most
successful game platforms in the United States are Japanese in origin,
while the software that runs on them is primarily from the United
States; however, if the personal computer becomes the platform of
choice for game players, this may change.
Technologies and Tools for People with Disabilities (Chapter 5)
- More R&D projects are underway in Japan than in the United
States to help people with disabilities use computers.
- Much of the work the JTEC panel saw was explicitly product-oriented
and was quite good. Exciting innovations in relevant technologies lie
"just around the corner" in Japan, whereas few product breakthroughs
are imminent in the United States.
- HCI advances in Japan will eventually have a marked and positive
impact on disabled users. Voice recognition and synthesis work will
help those who are blind and will affect the quality of hearing aids as
Nuclear Power, Robotic Manufacturing and Service, and
Transportation (Chapter 6)
- The Japanese nuclear power industry has embraced computers to a
greater extent than has the United States, while maintaining a better
safety and availability record, even though its original designs and
procedures were licensed from the United States.
- The human factors research program in nuclear power is very similar
to that in the United States.
- The Japanese have a love affair with robots, and their engineers
delight in making steady improvements in mechanism design. Of late they
are emphasizing robots that are gentle, interact easily with ordinary
people (especially the elderly or handicapped), and can be commanded by
speech or gesture.
- The rail industry in Japan is very healthy, and while not leading
the way in computer usage, it is gradually adapting computers for train
operations and driver training.
- The Japanese are actively exploiting fuzzy logic for many
applications in both consumer and domestic products. The fact that
fuzzy logic is more compatible with Japanese culture than with Western
culture has led to more rapid appreciation and adoption of this
technology in Japan.
Published: March 1996; WTEC