Investigations into Computation Artistry

A newbie’s perspective of the field of Human Computer Interaction

This small article is my musings on the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and exploration of its scope. This is in no measure a definitive portrayal of my conclusions in relation to this area of research, rather it is a beginner’s view of the possibilities entailed and the philosophy behind the existence of this interesting “sub-field” of engineering based on browsing through the research literature (TEI, UIST, CHI, etc) in this area.

What is computational artistry?

As far as I know, “computational artistry” is not a technical term used anywhere in relation to HCI, but it is the best term I can think of that completely describes the field. The following paragraph details my train of thought.

Computing has enabled innovation to thrive. The maker revolution we live in is the direct result of the accessibility, to the general population, afforded by quite recent advancements in technology from iPhones to 3D printers. Though a direct parallelism to the Renaissance could not be drawn, we could agree that aspirants (a well-thought-out word) need not spend years as an apprentice to gain the manipulative dexterity to build machines or create visual spectacles like the Sistine Chapel.

Computing has allowed innovations in our thought space by allowing collaboration across people with varied backgrounds to exercise their creativity or physically realize their ideas. Computer engineering has been the bed-rock of the technological progress since the last few decades. Engineering is basically a rigorous construct for solving real-world problems. HCI goes beyond and adds sensory perception to the mix thereby finding a balance between engineering and art. Visualization is a major aspect of art and geometry links visualization to engineering, hence we can see how computational geometry is one of the linking threads.

Art is driven by questioning of human sensory perception and engineering is driven by irrefutable mathematical logic. Though we may call this field human computer interaction, in its utmost abstraction the core driving factor of this field is ‘ideas’ and how we can use ‘computers’ to explore them using our senses (visual, auditory, motion and tangible) and cognition. Hence, I used computational artistry to define this area of research.

What does this research involve?

This area of research deals with innovation and application. I feel this entails the following process: Exploration of human sensory feedback and cognition; which requires imagination; thereby requiring critical thinking skills to decrypt the intricacies involved from the previous steps and finally creation i.e. ‘building cool stuff’. The following formula succinctly expresses the research area:

HCI involves development of clever interfaces to improve and establish human connection to computers to enable better information transfer and help us achieve better control of external environment. This information transfer could be just the flow of information from computer or even human-human interaction. HCI is deeply interwoven with conceptual design thinking as applied to broad areas like robotics, communication, human dynamics, biology or even entertainment and education.

In addition, we also analyze the process of design thinking. For the uninitiated, the path to innovation is trial-and-error combined with customer feedback, we can clearly notice the separation between the inventor and the end-user. But by critically inspecting the underlying patterns in generative design and visual analytics it is possible to create frameworks that streamline the design process to enable:

· Greater possibility of product innovation: Not just in the in physical design but also ergonomics, to provide a higher level of interactive experience to the end-user.

· Identifying productive research topics: Basically, to enable researchers to think out-of-the-box.

So we are truly creating ‘bicycles for design thinking’.

Why am I into HCI?

As an engineer, I am here to learn how to think. So far we have been trained to build stuff and understand the underlying physical principles. But innovation is driven by thinking which requires exploration and making mistakes. I believe at its highest expression an engineer becomes an artist.

This makes it an interdisciplinary field where everyone can learn and share from other’s experience. This is why collaboration is very important for advancement in this research area. The collaboration is not only limited to peers but also to people outside the purview of research (like children, by educating children we can also observe how they interact with technology which might lead to useful insights). Pooling together our expertise we can explore new experience and build new things to solve problems that have not been questioned yet. In short, here the bottom-line is not to investigate how the sensor works, but how to use those sensors to come up with innovative interaction approaches to connect humans and technology intuitively and seamlessly.