Emotion Will Be The End-Game User Interface

The user interface was invented because men and women everywhere needed a way to tell a machine what we wanted it to do for us. In the beginning, we had trouble feeding little paper punch cards, in proper order, into a machine the size of a room in order to tell it to multiply a few prime numbers together (yay, encryption!).

Next came a little box with a cord that we called a mouse because we’re humans and we like to imagine inanimate objects as, well, animals.

Then, about a decade ago we put pretty pictures behind bricks of intelligent glass and moved our fingers around them.

In each case, the reason for the user interface remained the same. It was a way to translate between a human and technology.

The next step for modern technologists and investors funding software seems to be the messaging thread. What started as a way to quickly chat with one friend turned into group texting turned into texting with Bots and AI in order to give us what we want.

At each phase of these user interface leaps, we have invented better and faster ways to communicate with machines without us having to change our normal behavior. The voice features of Siri, Cortana, and Google Now exist in a similar vein. Just talk as you normally would and ask for things.

But in all cases, there has been something missing. Something that human beings have long used to help communicate our intent to other humans. It’s the one thing that separates us from plants (you know, those green things that WALL-E valued so much). It’s our emotions.

For good or bad, we are controlled by our emotions. None of us are Spock and even if we were, we would still struggle with the effect emotions have upon us. We look at each other’s faces and tone of voice, and using a trillion neurological computations per minute, can actually feel the subtleties of emotion being played out by the person we’re talking to. A slight twitch of the eyebrow. A sigh and eyeroll. A mouth corner turned up.

In each case, the emotion said much more than words that were never spoken.

If we’re truly headed for artificial intelligence, then there needs to be an equal amount of work devoted to the emotional sense as there is to computer vision, speech to text, and bipedal balance.

The reason we spend thousands of dollars and countless years of our lives with pets is because of the way they make us feel, not because they give us some answer. When the robot stops becoming the tool and starts becoming the best friend, that’s when we will have reached the ultimate user interface.

Until then, Terminator 2 will still exist in our consciousness as the inevitability.

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