Earlier this week IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, destroyed its human opponents in a three day “Jeopardy!” challenge.  Watson earned a staggering $77,147, with former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, following behind with earnings of $24,000 and $21,600, respectively.

In preparation for the game show, Watson was fed 200 million pages of text, equivalent to about 1 million books, from all disciplines.  The computer was able to leverage this data and formulate contextual relationships in order to answer a given question.  Watson’s QA technology has been developed so it can be applied to a wide array of industries such as healthcare, law, finance, and education.

This milestone can only leave people wondering what the future holds for human-computer interaction (HCI), and gives an opportunity to reflect on how far HCI, and more specifically, user-interface has come.

In 1950, Alan Turing developed the Turing Machine, a test that would theoretically find the differences between a machine and the human brain; from that point forward, the quest to develop a machine that could equate to the human brain began.

The first modern-day computer utilizing the desktop and mouse interface was the Xerox Alto, developed in 1973 in Palo Alto, CA.  Palo Alto became the locus of computer development, with intense competition between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the late 1970s.

Initial human-computer interaction was very limited, with the majority of development focused on the technology and hardware of a given device.   This is very obvious in the one of the earliest microcomputers developed, the MITS Altair, which does not utilize many of the core components of user-interface standards today.  The Altair lacked a keyboard, mouse, and display.  As technology began to progress, people needed a way to better interact with these machines.

Today, as the hardware technology around us becomes increasingly advanced, the focus has shifted towards user experience; the way humans can interact with their machines.  This trend can be seen in any piece of technology with touchscreens, zoomability, Direct Manipulation (DM), or augmented reality.  Our electronics are now developed in a way that utilizes this advanced technology to create a unique user experience.  No longer are humans subject to the constraints of the computer; instead, computers now adjust to the user’s needs.

Watson stunned its “Jeopardy!” audience as it was almost flawless in all of it answers.  To many, Watson epitomizes the technological progress of man versus machine, while others believe it was a long time coming.  Regardless, the user interface of electronics must keep up with advances in technology in order to maximize the interaction between humans and computers.