The Future of User Interface – Lunch w/ TED

Technology — By on June 17, 2010 at 12:00 am

John Underkoffler believes that the future of User Interface is imbuing computation with space.

In other words, the mouse and icon model will soon give way to computers that understand where in the physical world a thing is located and the computer will be able to interact with objects appropriately in their physical place.  Sound like the stuff of science fiction movies?  It should.

Underkoffler’s talk is very interesting for persons interested in UI or technology in general, but once his talk was over the question naturally arose: “what will be the killer app for this?”  In other words, what will be the thing that makes everyone want to use it?  How can this technology be useful at all?

Well, perhaps the first Iron Man movie will give us a glimpse as to the potential of such technology:

Besides having a coolness factor of +1 trillion, this technology is remarkable for the seismic shift in philosophical concern that seems to under-gird it.   All of the sudden, it matters that things are embodied.

Throughout the centuries, Christianity has been the formative worldview arguing for the importance of the body.  Though our opinion was not necessarily consistent throughout time – some did doubt that God would become embodied lest he take on a form that was beneath Himself – we’ve always been substance dualists, recognizing the importance of the body.  Technologists, on the other hand, were busy pioneering a world which eschewed the physical body in favor of a digital existence, everyone had a chance at a Second Life.  It didn’t matter whether people met physically or digitally, it is still people meeting.

Then Christians adopted new technology into the church and, along with the technology, the assumptions which formed and normalized that technology.  Embodied pastors were passe – video venues were all the rage.  Online Church was just as good as the real thing and LifeChurch, as well as other organizations, painstakingly created venues (the hipe name for Churches) that “mirrored” their real life counterparts.  With the advent of 3D holographic preachers – a new trend sweeping mainstream evangelical America – embodiment, even real existence, is no longer a requirement.

Meanwhile, technologists are remembering that we are embodied creatures and building the kind of technology that interacts with real world place and space.  It’s a complete role reversal.

Personally, I’m greatly encouraged by this new technology.  It is significant that the Lord created us with bodies and souls, that Christ took on the form of a man and that His doing so was integral to the salvation of all those who believe on Him.  Though I hear Evangelicals who defend online church pay lip service to embodiment, at the end of the day I have a hard time seeing where those words manifest themselves meaningfully in the priorities and interests of the pro-online church crowd.  Lord willing, this move by the technologists will cause people to, once again, recall the importance of embodiment and remind us that we all live embodied lives – even if those bodies sit in front of a screen to worship. ‘