Glimpses of the future

Every so often I get a buzz when I spot something that looks like a glimpse into the future. I had that feeling when I saw Jeff Han’s demo of a multi-touch system at TED. I got a similar buzz watching Steve Job’s demo of the iPhone with its multi-touch interface, that I believe was based on the work of Wayne Westerman and John Elias. But the biggest buzz I have had for a very long time was seeing James Patten‘s PICO. (Thanks to Andy Polaine‘s Playpen for the tip.)
So why am I so excited by PICO. Four years ago I wrote:
“I think it was Niels Bohr who said, “It’s hard to predict, especially the future”. But, driven by the number of my friends working in the interactive media industry, who complain that things have got very boring, I thought I’d venture a few predictions.
The first is that we should still expect a lot of disruptive, technological surprises to come.
The second is that network thinking, or what George Nelson called the “connections game”, is going to become a key ability in life and in business.
And the third is that analogue interfaces to digital media are going to be a hot area of development over the next few years.”

My glimpse of PICO seems to have all three ingredients. It looks disruptive because I can see a potential for its analogue interface to be a powerful tool for us to do some real network thinking. Again to quote from my 2003 piece:
“In the mean time the strongest advice I could give to any individual or business is to become sensitive to where you fit in your networks, learn to think in terms of nodes and connections and the complex interactions and feedback between them, and be conscious of the dynamics of your patterns of connection. Whether you are aware of it or not, your success or failure is going to be bound up in how well or not you identify, create and navigate your networks.”
At the moment we are really bad at this. Most of us have been programmed to think in a very simple, linear cause and effect mode. The internet and the Web have helped, but for most of us our feel for the interactions within networks is still pretty primitive. The kind of physical engagement that PICO promises could help us transcend the limitations of our education and training with disruptive effects on our current models of our world and how our actions impact on it.
PICO promises the kind of conversations between human beings and computers that Gordon Pask and Nicholas Negroponte dreamt of in the 1960s. Conversations where computers do what they are good at and humans do what we are good at. A synthesis that goes way beyond AI and, just maybe, could help us navigate our way through the coming hazards that our simple cause and effect models of the world have created.