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Human-computer interaction


Take control over intelligent objects

Nabaztag bunny for Home automation - © Inria / Photo Kaksonen

Kris Luyten is the keynote speaker opening the IHM14 Conference. Associate Professor at Hasselt University (Belgium), Kris Luyten is also a member of the research institute's HCI Lab. Here, he tells us what he thinks about the relation between users and connected objects.

What is the subject of your research?

The team I belong to works on interactive system methods, tools and technologies that are revolutionizing traditional models. In particular, we are interested in objects that adapt to the use context, to the situation and to the way in which the user wishes to interact with them

You are convinced that we need to regain the upper hand over such objects. What is really at stake?

Our environment is now pervaded by intelligent and connected objects. Users interact with these objects via sensors that observe and analyze the user. This is how a home automation system detects the presence of a user approaching the home, or the user's habitual movements, and then puts the lights on or adjusts the temperature of the heating before the user arrives home.

However, the actions of an intelligent object are based on the context, rather than by directly involving the user in their decisions. They are still unable to interpret unexpected behavior. We are now looking into ways to change this relation between humans and machines.

You talk of intelligible systems. What do you mean by this?

What I mean is a system that is able to communicate about how it works, acts and makes decisions. Apart from a technical choice, this also implies that we, as users and consumers, have made a militant choice. It is time that we demand that our connected objects account for what they do and let us have our say in how they behave. This is a battle that must be fought with all designers of smart objects.

Apple, for example, has understood that this is what people want. The first-generation iPhones kept a record of every wifi network to which the owner had connected in the past, in order to prioritize reconnecting with them in the future. This list was not secure enough, raising the problem of confidentiality. The process has now become more transparent and users are already more aware of these problems. Unfortunately, software implementations and user interfaces have still not taken this level of transparency on board.

You also speak of technologies that enable users to create their own interfaces. How would they do this?

With 3D printers and laser cutting systems we can already create objects that have volume ourselves. For the time being, these are only inert objects, but within the next few decades, we should be able to create our own intelligent objects at home. Users will then have the means to create their own interfaces.

For example, imagine being able to change the layout of your electric switches in your home. Thanks to a 3D printer, it will soon be possible to print interactive surfaces that you can stick to the walls anywhere you want. These sensitive surfaces will control electric light bulbs connected via wifi, like those recently presented by Philips. This is one of many examples of how users can take back control over connected objects.

IHM14: Decrypting Human-computer interaction

The 26th conference on Man-Machine Interaction will be held in Lille from 28 to 31 October 2014. The French-speaking event will take place at Lille IUT A, on the University Lille 1 campus, in Villeneuve d'Ascq.

Sponsored by INRIA, the IHM14 Conference will provide an opportunity to discuss the latest breakthroughs in French research on Man-Machine Interaction. The programme includes a series of workshops and working groups chaired by experts in various categories of interaction, together with demos of innovative technology and tools, and industry stands.

For more information and to register:

Keywords: Human-computer interaction Connected objects Interactive systems