Imagining the Internet Project

 Responses to this 2020 scenario were assembled from Internet stakeholders in the2008 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. Participants were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers; they did not always do so, but those who did provided richly detailed, fascinating predictive material. Some respondents chose to identify themselves; many did not. We share some—not all—of the responses here. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.  

Scenario Six:
The Evolution of the
Internet User Interface

Prediction:In 2020, the most commonly used communications appliances prominently feature built-in voice-recognition. People have adjusted to hearing individuals dictating information in public to their computing devices. In addition “haptic” technologies based on touch feedback have been fully developed, so, for instance, a small handheld Internet appliance allows you to display and use a full-size virtual keyboard on any flat surface for those moments when you would prefer not to talk aloud to your networked computer. It is common to see people “air-typing” as they interface with the projection of a networked keyboard visible only to them.

Compiled reactions from the 1,196 respondents:
67% Mostly agreed
19% Mostly disagreed
14% Did not respond

Expert respondents' reactions (N=578):
64% Mostly agreed
21% Mostly disagreed
15% Did not respond

Overview of Respondents' Reactions
A large majority favored the idea that 2020 user interfaces will offer advanced talk, touch, and typing options, and some added a fourth "T" —think. Those who chose to elaborate in extended responses disagreed on which of the four will make the most progress by 2020, with a fairly even yes-no split on the success of voice-recognition or significant wireless keyboard advances and mostly positive support of the advance of interfaces involving touch and gestures. A number of respondents projected the possibility of a thought-based interface—neural networks, mind-controlled human-computer interaction. Many expressed concerns over overt public displays of ICT use and emphasized the desire for people to keep private communications private.

Below are select responses from survey participants who preferred to remain anonymous. This is not the full extent of responses. To see more, read the report PDF, and to read reactions from participants who took credit for their answers, please click here.

As if cell phone conversations in public aren't annoying enough... but yes, voice-recognition and touch feedback should be this far along by then.

If you look in any special-needs center you are already seeing a lot of this.

Hmmm—this is too much projecting what we do today into the future—like the "future" we envisioned in the ’50s.

Touch will be, but speech-recognition beyond a few small commands is computationally intractable.

I think the technology is a far way off.

Even more will happen in the space driven by adaptive-technologies research for the blind and other challenged users.

Technologies which allow people to limit the amount of baggage they carry will be favored, assuming the medical community is able to refute concerns about wireless technology and the impact on health.

Probably technologically possible; however, the privacy issues with “air-typing” are unimaginable.

People will use more and more voice-recognition in all electronics and that will increase productivity and be an improvement safety-wise. I think (and hope) the air-typing will not be embraced.

The accuracy of these systems will have to increase markedly, and I'm not sure they will by 2020. Voice-recognition isn't really necessary (or even desirable) in many applications.

The technology makes some sense and would seem to have little impact on social relationships. If they take hold, the Negroponte universal computers seem more likely to have an impact.

Speech-recognition continues to improve. So do touch interfaces. These seem destined for increased use.

I didn't think people would talk into cellphones in public, lest they appear demented. How wrong I was. Air-typing, yes.

Whatever the haptic technologies are, they won't involve air-typing.

Haptic systems will be developed in the next decade, but they will not be that pervasive. I actually expect Apple to lead the charge in an effort to make the iPhone more palatable to broader populations. But that's a different kind of haptics than what is discussed in the above scenario. The above scenario requires gloves or other structures around the fingers (because most flat surfaces can't push back). I don't think that's happening anytime soon for the majority of the population. While [wearable-computing researcher] Steve Mann is a geek's geek, he's not an icon for the majority of the world.

Humans are at their core simple beings, the easier things are to use, the more integrated they will be into our daily lives.

Try any of those so-called voice-recognition devices in any other language than English and you'll have a clear (!) answer.

Although rather than air-typing on a projected surface, flexible keyboards will still be used (touch typists don't look at the keyboard while typing so projected keyboards won't give the right tactile feedback). Voice-recognition and synthesis will become mainstream and perhaps even brainwave-driven user interfaces may be in use.

People love things made easier for them and both of these would do that beautifully.

Agree, especially if nano and biotech work the same wonders of scientific and research applications in consumer products.

Old prediction, never happened in the ’90s won’t happen in 20 years. These are intrusive to the social spaces of others and so until they are seamless they interfere with communicative acts. While texting, etc., is acceptable for young and certain social groups, it is still seen as unacceptable in formal and even in many informal social settings because of the disruption it causes.

For this to have a serious impact we need to get today’s school children working with these interfaces. Older generations will be less prone to use these user interfaces, so they may have some presence but will not be for the majority of users.

Voice-recognition would not be surprising at all. I'm not so sure on the keyboard projections.

I just don't see it happening. The written word will remain the cheapest way to exchange information, and therefore the most popular.

Touch may well be supplanted entirely by other modes of input—gestures, eye movements, or even speech-recognition capable of handling sub-vocalizations.

The technicians will develop a lot more new gizmos...

Ergonomics preclude much of this scenario.

We will see other interface mechanisms as well as those envisaged here.

Touch interfaces are making progress and will be much more common by 2020, especially in specialized interfaces.

The iPhone interface and its success is a clear indicator that we will see more development of haptic devices.

People are kinesthetic, auditory and visual in how they communicate—talk and touch satisfy all. 

These are emerging technologies here and now. By 2020 things will have moved beyond this.

These have been promised for a long time, and I still haven't seen much convincing.

The idea of one device is silly. We'll carry more than that. The idea that a keyboard is still our primary input, or even needed, is questionable. Will it be common to have some silicon in public, yes, but then it already is.

I do not expect voice to dominate as an input method by 2020. It will be used increasingly in constrained environments (control of functions in cars or in household appliances for instance) but it will not be used for general-purpose computer/machine interfacing. Other input technologies will continue to develop rapidly and be much more suited to many tasks. This is an area of “invention” however, and therefore difficult to predict.

I agree about the new interfaces. But we will communicate with written quite so much? Will access be through eye movement? But I fear that you are right: people will go around shouting into their devices (leaving other people wondering how much they are paid for spouting such drivel or sharing company or client details!). And will we need to travel so much? So we will be in our little own environment interacting via avatars with others in virtual-world meetings.

Though I think that such interfaces are desirable and are being developed, it will take much longer to achieve.

I agree with touch, but we have enough annoying people yelling into cell phones. The last thing, the public will tolerate is people talking into their PCs or tablets.

Text-to-speech is universally available. Speech-recognition exists, but is rather unreliable. By 2020 it should be quite usable. Touch screens are everyday items today. Haptic technology exists but is not at all common today, contrary to the statement given. But that and gestural computing should be well-established by 2020.

Those types of interfaces will never be as fast or easy to use or reliable as physical ones.
Agree on the talk, not the touch

Not sure how this would work—will everyone be wearing glasses with display units built in? It's quite a possibility!

People are annoyed enough by public cell phone usage, people flailing about on spectral keyboards will be too much. People are already quite agile texting on phones’ number pads and iPhone already has a reasonable improvement to that. While technology mentioned in the question will be available, it will not be ubiquitous. Maintenance alone would be an issue (look at the number of burnt-out light bulbs in the world and you expect this sort of sophisticated stuff to be everywhere in 13 years!).

Yes, this will happen, but it will not be as good as we imagine, just better than we can do it now. Voice input to computers is over 25 years old and it still is has a way to go.Thirteen years more will cover only one-third of the remainder but will increase its deployment tenfold.

The need for keyboard and typing would be vastly minimized with intelligent user-interface design.

Touch, yes. Talk, no.

This is where the gap is today and this is where we will see most of the changes.

This is long overdue.

I hope so!

You could argue that this is already the case with cell phone technology and next-gen ATM machines.

Yep. I can see this happening.

Witness the new Mac Air's adaption of touch controls from the iPhone.

The public use of these devices will be regulated to avoid encroachment on the "space" of others.

This will be common in personal spaces—auto, home computer, etc. Don't see VR software catching up that quickly to handle noisy environments, etc.

I agree concerning touch and gesture. But voice commands in a world that is sonically polluted won't work.

This will take more than 12 years to achieve.

This is especially important in mobile devices.

I'm not so sure about air keyboards, but I do think more touch technologies (MS Surface, etc.) will be common, and we will interact with digital objects similar to the way we interact with physical objects.

Cool! I can't wait.

In 2020, innovations may have moved beyond talk and touch

It will be something, but I don't know if this or some other scenario is most feasible.

Apple Computers will make this so.

Wishful thinking.

While this scenario is highly possible, the affordability of the system is unknown.
Technology has prompted creation of "quiet cars" on the train, offices are hotbeds of complaint on too much noise already.

From the iPod forward, more touch-and-talk technology abounds.

I like the idea of typing because I don't mind typing, but this just seems ... I don't know.

This has been predicted for some time. Perhaps it will finally start happening around 2020.

Maybe it's a hope, rather than anything else, but the promise of voice-recognition technology for all of us and especially the mobility-impaired and visually-impaired is phenomenal—witness the recent Kurzweil et al mobile phone for visually impaired persons. For all of us, using voice rather than touch will allow us to do more activities at once. (Maybe not such a good thing?) The trick will be to get the voice-recognition set-up to be a quick-and-easy process.

This could have happened by now if voice-recognition were the public preference—we are forcing more utility out of this technology than people want.

I suspect the voice-recognition will replace the need for such technology. The rudeness and lack of courtesy of loud-talking individuals will continue in most public spaces. Although there may be other defined spaces (both public and private) where this technology will be enforced upon people.

Possibly a different technology will mature to do a better job.

The advances in Pico projectors will allow greater use of haptic technologies in mobile phones and notebooks.

This may be the most likely of all the scenarios presented thus far.

I'm betting that those products will have already been used and regarded as passé by 2020. Twelve years is a long time in the Internet world, and there will be something vastly more efficient and interesting than this scenario.

While such technologies may be available and growing in popularity by 2020, it may take much longer for us to get comfortable with them.

I don't see people's desires for on-demand conveniences like this going away, so it wouldn't surprise me if this happened.

Voice-recognition I agree with—by 2020 the keyboard will be abandoned. Interacting with computers will be a lot more accessible to all people—via touch screens, icons, voice, and handwriting.

This is possible, but I don't see it taking off. Current voice-recognition technology is not developed enough. Touch feedback is just starting to grow.

People today already talk through their Bluetooth earphones or type away at their Blackberries without the slightest care of others around them. Talking to software or air-typing is really not far from what is occurring now.

I just recently read about a device for blind people that optically recognizes an object and tells the person what it is. For example, it may identify the object as a dollar not ten dollars. We are already on this road and advancing rapidly down it.

It is the nature of new technology unleashed on younger people not exposed to more rudimentary (technologically speaking only) forms of communication and interaction.

This is a relatively safe prediction given the number of products that are already implementing these technologies.

This one may be an understatement.

Definitions of polite behavior will change as public intrusions such as talking on a cell are vetoed; technological solutions will follow.

This technology appears to have direct, immediate consumer use, and so is likely to appear within the next 5-20 years.

Such techniques will be well developed and reliable. But I doubt they will be used for more than simple surfing of the Web. It will take more time to have a reliable interface allowing for example to speak Hamlet into the micro and really get it written.

As technology advances, I expect to see fewer people typing.

Why not?

Technology needs to evolve into something other than what it is today, and talk/touch devices will be the norm.

This viewpoint is very optimistic. People half a century ago also thought we would be on Mars by now. Change is very slow.

Agree on the touch feedback, less on the voice commands. There will be big steps in the voice recognition, but I don't think the interfaces will go towards full voice-command. It's just less usable than the touch. I am sure that there will be huge progress in the usability of computers as well.

I don't agree with the technological prognostications here (I think the input technology has yet to emerge), but the general idea will hold true.

This will happen before 2020.

This will be a reality, in part, because of federal government mandates (Section 508/ADA).
This scenario would require shifts in cognitive style for a significant number of people—something that there is not agreement on as a possibility.

Only the young will be good at this parlor trick.

Can't wait. This will be one of the best innovations ever. And "air" activity won't just be typing—it'll be touching, choosing, pointing, moving, all sorts of physical gestures.

Yes to voice, maybe to haptic. We no longer think someone is crazy to have a conversation with themselves because we assume an earpiece to their cell phone. However, "Minority Report"-style user experiences are just too tiring on the arm muscles to be usable. True haptic (tactile) feedback from such devices is also poor. In 2020 expect miniature thumb keyboards, not invisible ones. One-handed chording keyboards would be great, but we won't be able to wean people away from QWERTY by then.

I'm a big fan of William Gibson, but I think 2020 may be a little optimistic for this technology to gain widespread use.

Bring it on!

It is common to see people communicating with others via earphones and computer phone lines. Actual physical touch communication will be limited at best.

Touch, yes. Talk, no. We are 100 or more years away from computers that can actually converse. Speech systems are lame, and they tick people off.

Voice-recognition has improved tremendously within the last five years.

Wouldn't it be nice?  I think...

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Well-developed mouse devices (mobile gaming in the metaverse) are being developed (along with simple visors) and will enable one to be able to access data from anywhere at any time, not just gaming.

Touch and Talk are both already gaining in prominence and are more natural than type and mouse-based interfaces.

The current interface with computers is on its way out. We see increased voice-recognition in cars, WiFi bunnies, and phones.  Dragon 9 Naturally Speaking is a compelling technology that is attractive to anyone wanting to be liberated from keyboards. Children faced with the barrier of learning touch typing will and are learning voice-recognition software that permits more focus on the creative process and less focus on the mechanics of keyboard typing.

Speech will replace typing. Or a chip in our heads will enable IM by THOUGHT!

This would drive me absolutely insane. No one talking to each other, walking around air-typing, loudly talking on cell phones...ugh.

Sure, why not—as long as I can talk to it with my best Scottie [a character on the futuristic 1960s TV series “Star Trek”] imitation.

If privacy and cultural issues are solved (remember “talking” cars from the 1980s?), I think talk and touch could be common interfaces

We'll see more of talk and touch interfaces, but I don't think it will be as ubiquitous as described. Speech-recognition has been lionized for years, and is still very early. It will be better, but the different touch methods have more opportunity.

If the technology comes along, this will happen, but I hope at least the audio input doesn't happen, or at least not in public.  Life is already noisy enough as it is! And we're seeing rejection of voice in things like quiet cars on trains. Just look at the negative reaction to the idea that cell phones would be allowed on planes.

The air-typing is far-fetched for so soon in the near future.

Certainly so; these technologies already exist in reliable form.

Short of technologies that read our minds, we will rely on the senses we have to interact. I don’t know if smell will be integrated, but wouldn’t be surprised. Holiday Inn is already using a smell to brand itself. I completely agree.

See this happening already and hardly think this is the future. Although it might be more widespread and increase use amongst those who are now further removed from technology because touch and talk technologies are more intuitive in their use.

Absolutely. I think 3-D stylus devices will also be common, or sensors clipped to fingertips.

Public commons will divide sharply in reconfiguring to either adapt or mitigate private, haptic spaces.

If this wasn't the way of the future, Apple wouldn't have integrated the “touch” technology into the iPhone and iPod touch.

It's possible that text-based input will be gestural, thereby eliminating the need for a keyboard. One could also foresee a combination of input types—touch, talk, shape, sound, etc.

The virtual keyboard seems like something out of a sci-fi movie, and not quite as near to reality, although I can see built-in voice-recognition attaining prominence prior to 2020.

Talk and touch interfaces will become much more prevalent in our computing devices.

To be able to interact with online materials in a more tactile way will make the technology more part of our everyday life. I would love to navigate my file structures through touch-drag interfaces and surround myself with the files on which I am working. A 3-D touch environment would be great.

Too optimistic on the timeline.

Not sure about "air-typing" (why not just text into their ubiquitous and more-powerful phone?), but the rest seems reasonable.

Blind people and people with disabilities are already using similar technologies.

Certain things are simply a hype. Even if they become a reality their usage will be very restricted.

I am still not ready to interface haptically.

Much more agreed on touch than talk.

Most of this already occurs in at least small or prototype amounts.

This seems an easy projection. We have the beginnings of such technologies today, and there would seem to be few barriers to their further development.

My car talks to me now!

It would be wonderful—an end to carpal tunnel.

If biometrics can protect private information and accurately verify the correct user, then this is good.

Can't wait.

Easy to imagine.

Just as our ability to write script has diminished, I expect the keyboard to become less used.

These features add convenience and save time.

I think people are at the point where they almost think better when typing rather than speaking.

This is certainly likely. Just a few years ago people who used wireless headsets with their cell phones were looked at as obsessive-compulsive types by those tethered to the handset. The use of virtual keyboards, personal viewing devices (like the Myvu), and other methods of interaction with the computing platform are certainly realistic.

I agree with this idea, but it worries me that this type of technological innovation may limit the amount of face-to-face time people spend with one another.

I'm holding out for a wireless synaptic interface to allow for direct input—typing in the air sounds lame.

Fourteen months ago the BBC interviewed a scientist at Cambridge who had already used radio frequency chips to communicate movement and touch sensations between his hand and an artificial limb. His wife had also had a chip installed, and she was able to feel the touch sensations he'd induced through a movement command from his hand to the artificial limb.

Well, I love my iPod Touch and I wish I could manipulate it in my car by the sound of my voice.  It's all just technology getting easier and more convenient to use.

Not sure it's gonna happen by 2020, but it's coming.

Disagree with the "talk" portion - too public, too cacophonous. Touch tech makes more sense, depending on the context. I'd really like to see us get to thought as a primary technology interface. Find ways to channel thoughts directly into interfaces. Remove a major inefficiency, which is the physical action required by today's interfaces.

Actual speech is too slow to be used for the majority of content.

It is very sad that some people are so disconnected to their own bodies that they will do almost anything to avoid feeling them and interacting with others by means of them. Most people prefer to be close enough to someone they are interacting with to smell and touch them.

Voice recognition would make office life quite uncomfortable— we will still have to rely on some silent mode of conversing with the computing devices, whether this is a keyboard—or, a chip implanted in the brain :-?

People will develop social cues and symbols to let others know when they are receiving an incoming call on their hands-free phones or taking a moment to air-type or interact with the network. There will continue to be places and times where it is socially unacceptable to take a call or interact with the network.

The military does a lot of this already.

The details may be slightly different (e.g., less kludgey interfaces will be developed), but the general idea is correct.

This will be driven by economics.

People will carry around RFID tags with their own device settings that will tell the technologies we interact with how we want our interface configured.