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Will User Interface Design Come Full Circle?

Phones Come Full CircleThe most covered aspect of Bill Gates' keynote at CES last weekend may have been the joke video of his life after retirement (rapping with Jay-Z, working out with Matthew McConaughey) but the Microsoft Chairman also made some predictions about the future of technology. The Guardian summarizes:

The second digital decade will be more focused on connecting people," he said, predicting it would also feature progress in training machines to react as people do, with "natural user interfaces" responsive to speech and touch.
So in the future your phone will have one button and you'll just be able to talk to it and tell it what you want? Kevin Kelly points out on his blog that this future phone looks a lot like the phone of the past:
this 1907 Western Electric Model 317 Phone (in production for 30 years) has an ideal user interface. There is one "button," the hand-cranked ON switch. There's no other buttons, no menu, no screen. You just talk to it (the local human operator was the OS), tell it who you want to talk to, what you want to do.
As everyone who's ever screamed in frustration at an automated customer service system or overcomplicated menu could tell you, the future of user interface design really may be in making machines respond more like actual people.

(Image of phone circa 1910 by jaqian, CC 2.0)

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