Elon University

The 2008 Survey: Scenario Six – The Evolution of the Internet User Interface

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. We share some—not all—of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents who shared their identity are attributed only for the purpose of indicating a level of expertise; statements reflect personal views. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.

Survey Internet ArtPrediction: 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 preferred to remain anonymous, please click here.

Freeing people from the tyranny of the keyboard will enhance computer use massively. –Jeremy Swinfen Green, Telecom Express, an interactive marketing company

These virtual typing spaces will be able to take sign language and will also allow for grander hand (or device) gestures to represent scrolling, panning image vistas, moving forward as well as executing common tasks. Movies like “Minority Report” and gaming consoles like the Sony Wii‚ have foreshadowed and beta-tested the future of interactivity. The applications of this in medicine, communications, and even social media are endless. Imagine wearing an e-suit that is responsive to touch from another user who is air-touching you from some distant location via an Internet service. The old AT&T slogan, “Reach out and touch someone,” will take on a whole new meaning. Drew Diskin, director of e-strategy, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Voice will continue to be an important way of communicating simple commands, particularly for mobile, in-house, and in-car contexts. Air-typing is just silly, though. A return of chording keyboards seems far more likely. Alexander Halavais, professor and social informatics researcher, Quinnipiac University; explores the ways in which social computing influences society

These interface developments are prerequisites to the next significant leap forward in all realms. –J.W. Huston, president of Huston Consultancy and futurist

The use of the keyboard may disappear. –Julian Hopkins, social scientist and Ph.D. candidate at Monash University, Malaysia

You have to do something with those extra computer cycles. Anthony M. Rutkowski, co-founder of the Internet Society and a founding trustee; longtime leader in International Telecommunication Union; vice president for regulatory affairs, VeriSign

Touch interfaces, including multi-touch and gestural interfaces, will become an integral part of the computing environment of the future, though air-typing will probably not be a large part of it without force-feedback gloves that simulate some kind of tactile feedback. Speech will also become good enough to use for most everyday tasks. –Jason Stoddard, managing partner/strategy at Centric/Agency of Change, an interactive strategies company; he is also a popular speaker on social media and virtual worlds

We will be further advanced but cannot envision it yet. These stated devices will seem hilarious to us like 1950’s era futuristic scenes do today. –Robert Grant, chief executive officer, VoyaCare Inc.

Technology is almost there and cultural acceptance will follow. People wearing first Bluetooth hand free phones where looked at as strange space invaders; today, millions of people do it. Louis Naugès, president, Revevol, an enterprise 2.0 company with offices in France, Spain, the UK and US; a founder of Microcost, an IT services and hardware company based in France

Haptic technologies will only be taken up if integrated in mobile phones. What this engineering culture will have to understand is that will have to move away from the stand-alone personal computer, which, even up to now, is still situated within the boring and static office environment. Geert Lovink, professor and expert on culture, sociology and the Internet; based in Amsterdam; author of “Dark Fiber” and “Uncanny Networks”; responsible for the Institute of Network Cultures

2020 might be a bit soon for “air-typing” to become ubiquitous (and fully secure), but these trends will move forward. Michael Zimmer, Ph.D. and resident fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School; research includes social and cultural dimensions of new information technologies

Today, the thing—the object, the software, etc.—is in a window of some kind, i.e., a computer screen. Soon the window will go into the thing. We will wear our interfaces. To some extent, we will become our interfaces. Barry K. Chudakov, principal, the Chudakov Company, a marketing and advertising strategies creative consultant who has worked with many major corporations, including Microsoft and Disney

Talk interface will always have limited appeal and application.  Touch will take off. –John C. Abell, new media project director, Committee of Concerned Journalists

I agree with this—I’m not sure of the time frame, though.  I’ve seen displays of this technology online, I believe the work is being done at M.I.T. Janet D. Cohen, blogger, futurist and trend analyst

I’m split down the middle on this one (but being an optimist, selected Agree rather than Disagree). Yes, voice-recognition will be ubiquitous, but people will still type communications that they want to keep private, or to be polite (because they are in a movie, say, or on the train). I’m not really buying the whole “air typing” thing or any other kind of virtual keyboard, including the soft screen on the iPhone. That’s a horrible way to type. If there is a keyboard replacement, I think it’ll be physical, not virtual. –Josh Quittner, executive editor, Fortune Magazine; formerly editor of Business 2.0, Time.com, and technology editor of Time magazine; also formerly at Newsday; freelancer for Wired magazine

Talk is quickly abandoned as researchers realize it is a far better human-to-human communication tool than it is for human-machine interfaces. Touch, then thought become the dominant interface technologies. –DJ Strouse, international relations and computer science student, University of Southern California

Our computing tools will evolve to a point where they are a larger extension of our senses using hearing and touch. This new user-interface direction is already being prototyped and working its way in production. Tablet PCs have digital keyboards today, so air keyboards will be in the next wave. –Joanna Sharpe, senior marketing manager, Microsoft

This air-typing thing explains one way that the cell phone can overcome interface difficulties. Also note that these types of devices will create a new type of digital divide. While most may be online, the more-wealthy will have the most seamless devices. –Richard Hall, professor of information science and technology and co-director of the Laboratory for Information Technology Evaluation, Missouri University of Science and Technology

I agree with touch, but am skeptical of highly functional speech-related inputs, likely because of personal frustrations at current voice recognition programs on corporate customer service lines. Jade Miller, Ph.D. student Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, with a research focus on global flows of information and culture

Yes to the haptic/air displays. No to voice taking over from regular typing. I just can’t see voice-recognition progressing enough. –Emma Duke-Williams, lecturer in the School of Computing and researcher, University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom; education blogger

Unfortunately I think in 2020 there will be still people who have never seen a computing device or a phone, could not use one as they are illiterate, and have more urgent worries anyway. –Giulio Prisco, chief executive officer of Metafuturing Second Life; formerly department head at the European Satellite Centre, analyst at European Space Agency, and an IT specialist for CERN

Some people will be air-typing but I quarrel with the word “common.” We might have sub-vocal speech recognition and other technologies that will supplement character-by-character via keyboard input. –Rollie Cole, director of technology policy, Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Indianapolis, IN

We will see haptic devices, though perhaps we can move beyond QWERTY at the same time. Hal Varian, chief economist, Google, and on the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley; a world-renowned expert on the economics of information technology

I doubt that talk technology interfaces will be mature and will stay in progress if there isn’t a big technology shift. –Rafik Dammak, software engineer, STMicroelectronics, Tunisia; DiploFoundation participant in the study of Internet

Typing technologies will improve dramatically. In this sense, Apple’s iPhone may be a hint of what will be available in the coming years. Sebastian Ricciardi, associate with Jauregui & Associates, a law firm in Buenos Aires; leader in the Argentina chapter of the Internet Society, formerly of ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee

This is possible but I don’t think it will happen by 2020. Research and experiments would have happened by then. Sudip Aryal, president, Nepal Rural Information Technology Development Society

I hope so—In high school, I took theater classes instead of typing. –Tiffany Shackelford, consultant who works with clients such as Phase 2 Technology, Stateline.org, Foneshow, WebbMedia, and Daily Me

That’s only 12 years from now. I would love to air-type (and sign me up for the air-typing competition! I rock!) but not sure it’s that imminent (even though I saw it on CSI, so that makes it real, right?). Of course, at some point we have to ask why we’re still using the QWERTY keyboard, or even why we’re typing, period. Voice I think is a little closer, only saying this from knowing people who use these technologies now. They are far from perfect, but that they can even be used tells us something. –Karen G. Schneider, research and development College Center for Library Automation, Tallahassee, Florida; expert and thought-leader in the library and technology community

Not much to elaborate. This seems to be a user need, and the technology will follow to fulfill the expectations. Roberto Gaetano, ICANN board member; also responsible for SW development for International Atomic Energy Agency; an active participant in the ICANN policy making process

Maybe by 2020 you just will have described the old technology here. Stan Felder, president and chief executive officer, Felder Communications, a marketing and advertising firm in Grand Rapids, MI

Interfaces will have matured to the level where talk and touch will be very common. However, voice-based interfaces are not going to become all that popular while in public, simply because background noise will interfere. Also, talking loudly into your device will be frowned upon; social norms will have evolved by then to control your devices mutely while in public spaces. Peter Bihr, freelance consultant on Web strategies, communities, blogging and social media based in Berlin, Germany

You have to live in a big city to know noise makes the use of voice recognition a difficult application. Haptic technology may be a good solution. Both technologies should remain as a complement to the existing ones. João Miguel Rocha Filho, director, DataOne, a provider of software for connecting to Linux; based in Brazil

The keyboard is on its way out. It’s crude and causes physical problems. Cameron Norman, assistant professor in the department of public health sciences, the University of Toronto; actively engaged in use of the Internet to help tackle tough health issues, including work with the Centre for Global eHealth evaluation

Yes, these aspects of virtual reality may indeed see their day by 2020. But it will be limited to those who can afford the technology. It won’t quite be accessible to the common man or woman. –Alexis Chontos, Webmaster, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh

This isn’t a huge stretch from the status quo of 2008. People already walk the streets chatting into wireless headsets, typing on their mobile phones, and tuning out the world with their iPods. –Jamie Richard Wilson, journalist and freelance Web developer

There is no question that keyboarding will remain a strong input option, but that voice and touch will increasingly become the more common modes.–Susan Thomas, S2 Enterprises LLC

It seems to me that we may want to replace the keyboard in this image with the stylus, a much simpler interface device. If voice-recognition software will be that sophisticated by 2020 that it can work with more than 99.5% accuracy, which is really what we need for people to tolerate it, then handwriting recognition should further signal the end of the keyboard age. But don’t hold your breath. Right now handwriting recognition still requires us to go back to the days of the Palmer method, and voice recognition software’s success may ultimately depend on humans learning how to talk like computer voice synthesizers, not the other way around. Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics, University of Illinois, runs the Web of Language site and researches the technologies of communication

These technologies have been around for a long time. Unless Apple can find a way to incorporate them into one of its products, interest will not pick up. –Theresa Maddix, satisfaction research analyst, ForeSee Results

You start out strong—these devices have already been created and are gaining steam with some recent splashy rollouts.  But then you just have to take it that extra step into rank speculation with stuff like air-typing. What’s up with that? –Alexis Turner, Webmaster, Greenwood Publishing Group, New York

This may not be widespread by then, but it sure is coming. Instead of sitting at your desk for “desk jobs,” you might be able to “conduct” your keyboard! Wrist repetitive- stress injuries will be avoided but new ones will crop up (tennis elbow from editing your reports?). –Mariana Almeida, product manager of Web products for healthcare, Kaiser Permanente

Computer-to-mind interfaces will also be available. –Chris Myers, Webmaster at the University of Michigan

Tools evolve to the simplest and easiest way to utilize them so everyone can use them. Talk and touch enable this to occur. –Tim Grafton, market research director for UMR Research Ltd., a market research company based in New Zealand

Nice image. Needs better and easier technologies for the average person to use than may be likely. –Jennifer Jarratt, principal, Leading Futurists LLC; works with formalized methodologies to assess and interpret potential futures

Future interfaces will respond to eye movement, allowing much faster interaction with much less effort. –Lucas Anderson, librarian, Awty International School (K-12 private school)

Talk will be a private thing, given acoustics.  Touch should be big.  Contact lenses might be the major avenue. –Bryan Alexander, director of research National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education, blogger, expert on computer-mediated pedagogy, Ripton, Vermont

Air-typing is common in Second Life already ;-> but seriously the iPhone and voice-activated phones are pointing this way and there is no resistance from people or materials. Make it so. –Paul Jones, director of ibiblio.org at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; the original manager of SunSITE, one of the first Web sites in North America

Can’t wait for it to happen. –Ruth Martin, National Chengchi University, Taiwan

In a sense, I saw something like this at the Consumer Electronics Show this year [2008], but I wonder if it’s fair to say “the most commonly used.” I believe the head of Panasonic described the cost to manufacture its “Life Wall” to be “priceless.” It’s a long way from too expensive for virtually everyone, to be a routine part of everybody’s life. (But a lot can happen in 12 years, can’t it?) –Jim Wiljanen, president, Evans/Greenwood LLC, MI

By 2020? Are you kidding? No way. Just last year I was commuting into San Francisco with a wealthy Chinese gentleman (very hot, expensive car) who was talking into his GPS system trying to get directions (GPS system also looked very hot and expensive)… and IT DIDN’T UNDERSTAND him because of his heavy accent. I was in stitches! –Virginia Bisek, Web content developer and writer

Maybe one result of this will be a niche market for those looking for “a quiet place.” –Kerry Anderson, library consultant for the government of Alberta, Canada

Although I agree with the premise, I think the timeline is too compressed.  The implementation, and permeation, of these interfaces will take much longer. Although the acceptance and adoption will be rapid, the devices will not be “fully developed” by that time. –Woody Degan, chief executive officer and operations director, Memphis Sound Entertainment; Consumer First Consulting, IT Consulting

The air typing sounds feasible and sensible. –Lynn Blumenstein, senior editor, Library Hotline, Reed Business Information

This should be the case, if technologies continue to drop in price. This is unlikely in a post-oil economy, however that point is—by most estimations—more distant than the year 2020. Francis J.L. Osborn, futurist and activist, philosophy department, University of Wales Lampeter (formerly St. David’s University College)

It used to be those who walked around talking to themselves were thought to be insane. Now it is thought they are on their BlueTooth. I can easily see this scenario coming to fruition. – Randi J. Smith, student, Art Institute of Pittsburgh

By 2020, the technology will be available for electronics to feature voice-recognition as input over traditional text-type input. However, we will see a strong resistance from this revolution. Text-input will still be preferred by many, and the implication of talk and touch technologies will be highly debated. –Clement Chau, research manager for the Developmental Technologies Research Group at Tufts University

This is already available in laboratories and test settings. The convenience of having such virtual tools will be a huge benefit to the mobile workforce, reducing the peripherals they now have to haul, and this will catapult this technology into the mainstream. –Richard Fowler, auditor specialist, Northrop Grumman

Absolutely. Some of the first advantages are beginning to show already and as we continue to exceed the computing cycles needed to run the everyday applications, those same cycles will be used to improve the interface to the applications. The PC, along with its mouse and keyboard must die to accomplish this and the sooner, the better. –Eric Kreider, director of Web services, the University of Akron (Ohio), US

We have “individuals dictating information in public” while they talk on cell phones everywhere. Unfortunately this is being done when and where not appropriate such as during religious services and in entertainment venues. We already have infrared devices similar in nature to the haptic technologies; they will improve by 2020 to where they are as ubiquitous and efficient as described above. –Thomas Lenzo, business and technology consultant, Thomas Lenzo Consulting

Yes, I see this as in mostly general use—again dependent on people actually being able to access the requisite resources such as air, food, power and water. –Alex Don, linguist and educator

The success of the iPhone is clearly a key indicator here, and improvements to voice-recognition systems will surely help.  This is an area where there’s a real consumer need, and the technology seems likely to be able to meet it. –Roderick White, editor, Admap magazine, World Advertising Research Center

I agree with all but the last sentence. Voice-recognition will be widely used. Air-typing will be possible, but it will not likely be a “common” sight. There will be more-accepted ways of using haptic technologies. –L. Suzanne Suggs, assistant professor of communication sciences, University of Lugano; research focuses on use of new media and messaging strategies to improve health status

There is more than a bit of techno-hype in this scenario. The part I agree with is the relatively broad access to this kind of interface in the developed countries even here, many people will choose a subset of these capabilities. It is also possible that these interfaces will find take up in specialized contexts, for example, for the mobility impaired or for monitoring Alzheimer’s patients. –Amy Friedlander, director of programs for the Council on Library and Information Resources, a non-profit that services research and higher education

Ease of use improvements always prosper. Jim Lucas, Web manager, CACI, a provider of national security, defense, and intelligence-related solutions in the interests of the United States

My guess is that the next big interface will be none of the above.  Not sure what, but that’s my gut. Douglas Schulz, managing editor for online publishing, America’s Health Insurance Plans; formerly a Web team director for a biotech industry organization

The technology is evolving towards less directly connected interfaces. –Kathryn K. Goldfarb, president, KG Communications, an independent consultancy

I’m a little skeptical that the underlying technology will reach this level by 2020. –Mike Langum, Web developer, U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Haptic technologies in the Apple iPhone and Microsoft Surface have already attracted huge attention and proven successful.  Expect that trend to continue. Voice-recognition has been around for years but still has a ways to go before it reaches wholesale integration. We may not see that by 2020 but it’ll be close. Jay Buys, vice president for digital development, Fleishman Hillard, an international marketing and communications company

Less a sea-change in technological innovation, more an evolution. The growing movement against “digital refuse” will only advance the movement away from hard interfaces (e.g. keyboards, mice, etc.) towards more soft, environmentally friendly UI’s. –William Winton, product manager, digital media, 1105 Government Information Group

Agree, I have been using speech-to-text since before it was practical, and strongly agree we will us keyboarding for precise editing and typesetting. –Dick Davies, partner, Project Management and Control Inc.; past president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals

For reasons of privacy, non-intrusiveness, and bandwidth, haptic interfaces will dominate voice interfaces in many, if not most, situations. –James Jay Horning, chief scientist, information systems security, SPARTA, Inc.; a former fellow at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center; Fellow of the ACM

What do you mean 2020? How about 2010? –Michael Castengera, senior lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Grady College and president of Media Strategies and Tactics Inc., a media consulting firm

The immediate benefits to be seen in these two applications, voice-recognition and haptics, will certainly guarantee their quick adoption, once they are improved from the perspectives of quality and reliability. But who will guarantee to us that the improvements made up to 2020 will be SUFFICIENT to convince any more than a few early adopters? I’m not putting my investment money into this area. As my mother used to say, “I’m not buying unripened bananas!” Sorry! –Fredric M. Litto, consultant for Pearson Education Global e-Learning, president, Brazil Distance Learning Association

Face & mind recognition is the most frequently used input process, for privacy reasons—speaking or typing are considered noisy, indiscreet techniques. Elderly people prefer typing on ergonomic keyboards—but voice recognition (inexplicably for the younger generation) is associated with major disability and very old age by those more-than-40-years-old, and as such, hardly used. –Bertil Hatt, researcher of Internet and social services, innovation valuation; employed by France Telecom and Orange (information technology and services industry) while completing Ph.D.

I’m agreeing with this scenario because I can envision it happening but I don’t like it very much. It’s annoying now to be forced to listen to other people’s phone conversations. I can just see people walking down the street or standing in a crowded commuter train air-typing. You do see air-typing in Second Life already. –Patti Nelson, a Webmaster who works on U.S. government sites

The keyboard and typing will be obsolete. Voice-recognition directed through haptic technologies will become the hybrid interface technology. Technology able to detect thoughts will become experimental. –Dixon Hutchinson, software engineer

iPhone, Nintendo Wii, Microsft Surface. We’re on the way to this today so it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to see new interfaces, although the keyboard & mouse in some form or another could well be still kicking around. –Heath Gibson, manager of research and market analysis, Big Pond, a competitive intelligence company and provider of broadband customer Websites in Australia