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I managed to catch up with Kevin Schofield from Microsoft Research this week - he's just back from last week’s CHI conference in Vancouver. Of course he had a lot more to say about the conference than can be summed up in a half-hour conversation, let alone a brief blog post, but here are some of his highlights:

  • There’s a lot of inventive work being done on healthcare, mostly very patient-focused. For example, using Kinect and other NUI forms to help customize therapeutic games and treatments for people recovering from injuries. Check out the AnatOnMe video as an example. There's work being done on apps and devices that help people manage their exercise or diet, remind users to take their medicine or check their blood sugar at the right time, or even automatically summon help if the user falls ill. Other projects focus on accessibility, such as aids for the hearing impaired, or on cognitive impairments — diagnosis, therapy, compensation. The key focus here is helping people take control of their own health — which improves outcomes — and finding ways for technology to make that simpler and easier. Kevin forecasts a huge proliferation of new healthcare-focused devices and interface ideas in the coming years.

 

  • A real high point of the conference was the exhibition of the Buxton Collection, and the fact that Bill Buxton sat in the exhibit room talking to people about it all day. Visitors included young people who had never had firsthand experience of devices from more than about 10 years back, as well as people who had designed and developed some of those original items and were thrilled to talk about their experiences. “I had to drag him off the floor to force him to eat,” says Kevin.

The Buxton Collection

  • One of the things Kevin noticed at the exhibit was the ways that devices and designs influence one another. One notable example was a 1958 transistor radio whose form of a rectangular box and speaker grid with a circular dial below are quite recognizable in a current line of music players. This isn’t imitation or ripping-off, says Kevin, since very few things are completely original; but people respond to the designs they see, think about how they might be applied in other areas, and end up showing respect for the original design goals in the ways that they adapt a visual concept to a new object.


image credit: Alex Madrigal, The Atlantic

 

  • The event wrapped up with a closing plenary address by Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard, who talked about social computing in the context of cities. He outlined the two contradictory effects that cities or social networks can have: they cluster people together and make it possible for you to be exposed to a broad variety of ideas and people; but they can also make it easy for you to choose to interact only with a narrowly defined group of people who share your tastes and opinions, and thus isolate yourself from the broader spectrum of thought. As it happens these are issues that Microsoft people are working on as well, like danah boyd and her work on how kids use social technologies online. There are a lot of brilliant minds trying to find that balance between finding your own community and broadening your worldview.

 

Conferences like these are a fantastic opportunity for people working in different fields to get together, share their ideas and generate brilliant insights and inspirations from the crossing of those streams. We’re proud that Microsoft plays a strong role in supporting CHI and this kind of intellectual exchange in general.