Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interactive vs. Intelligent

At the very beginning I mentioned I will be working with interactive spaces, and briefly noted that they are basically in the same ballpark as intelligent spaces, but have a different emphasis. Now I'll proceed to open up that topic a bit more.

Judging by what I've seen, the general goal of intelligent spaces is that the *system* understands the user. Emotions and such can be detected from voice attributes, facial expressions and posture (among other things) using cameras and microphones (and possibly other kinds of sensors). The idea is that the computer will adapt its behavior to suit the current situation, automatically. It clearly acknowledges the user's presence, which is a good thing. This is, at least to my knowledge, a relatively technological approach, although there are of course challenges in understanding human behavior as well. This area has a lot of research going on, and I'd take a guess and say we can start seeing some impressive results in the near future.

If we skip all the technological problems related to intelligent spaces, I still think there's an additional problem: they might be seen as intrusive, because whatever the technology, the system needs various surveillance techniques to detect the user. Another thing is that people are different. Really, really different. For the system to understand any given user properly, personalization seems almost necessary.

The goal of interactive spaces on the other hand is that the *designer* understands the user. This is of course a very typical approach in usability design. We don't call it user-centered design for nothing after all (although the trend seems to be toward action-centered design, which is slightly different). An interactive space is a space containing many simple interfaces. The design consists of two primary layers: placement of interfaces in the environment, and design of individual interfaces. Each interface is placed in a relevant context. The key word here is interactive. Everything that happens, is directly dependent on how the user interacts with an interface. Basically, we like to keep the user in control of all the strings.

So instead of focusing on machine vision, voice analysis, artificial intelligence and so on, in interactive spaces design the focus is on designing interfaces that are highly context-aware by design, and are fun and interesting to use. The interfaces are not intrusive but rather blend into the environment, making themselves readily available when the user needs them.

In the end, like I said, we play in the same park. Be it intelligent or interactive spaces, both design and technology are necessary, as is putting the user first. But as you can see (at least I hope so) the emphasis is different. Maybe in the future we have just intelliactive spaces, combining the best of both worlds. That should be the goal, and to get there, the problem needs to be approached from both perspectives.

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