Humanizing Technology: A History of Human-Computer Interaction

Steve Lohr in the New York Times: “The march of progress in computing is a climb. Each big step forward is also a step up, so that communication is further away from the machine, more on human terms.

And each time, the number of people who can use computing increases dramatically. At first, programming languages were the medium of communication between man and machine. Fortran, the breakthrough computer language, was designed to resemble the algebraic formulas familiar to scientists and engineers — reasonably enough, since they were the only people anyone could imagine using the relative handful of giant calculating machines back then.

Today, billions of people roam the Internet from computer phones they hold in their hands. Dramatic advances in hardware, of course, are a big part of the explanation, notably the flywheel of technological dynamism known as Moore’s Law, celebrating the chip industry’s ability to double computing power every couple of years (there’s a debate about whether the pace is tailing off, but that’s another story).

Yet there is another force in the striking democratization of computing beyond hardware, one that is more subtle but still crucial. That is the steady stream of improvements in the design of computer products, mainly software, which have opened the door to new users by making computers easier to use. The term most used now is “user-interface design.” But that suggests a narrower, product focus than the field that stretches back several decades, called human-computer interaction, which embraces psychology, anthropology and other disciplines.

“I think human-computer interaction designs have had as much impact as Moore’s Law in bringing the web and mobile devices to the world,” said Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.

To try to raise the profile of prominent people in the field, Mr. Shneiderman last week published a web site for what he calls “The Human-Computer Interaction Pioneers Project.” It is a personal project for Mr. Shneiderman, who founded Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory in 1983, and is an avid photographer. The web page for each of his pioneers includes a brief text description and photographs, often several, that Mr. Shneiderman has taken of the person, at professional conferences and elsewhere over the years….(More)”