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INPUT OUTPUT DEVICES AND INTERACTION TECHNIQUES


The computing literature often draws a sharp distinction between input and output; computer scientists are used to regarding a screen as a passive output device and a mouse as a pure input device. However, nearly all examples of human-computer interaction require both input and output to do anything useful. For example, what good would a mouse be without the corresponding feedback embodied by the cursor on the screen, as well as the sound and feel of the buttons when they are clicked? The distinction between output devices and input devices becomes even more blurred in the real world. A sheet of paper can be used to both record ideas (input) and display them (output). Clay reacts to the sculptor’s fingers yet also provides feedback through the curvature and texture of its surface. Indeed, the complete and seamless integration of input and output is becoming a common research theme in advanced computer interfaces such as ubiquitous computing (Weiser, 1991) and tangible interaction (Ishii & Ullmer, 1997).2 Input and output bridge the chasm between a computer’s inner world of bits, and the real world perceptible to the human senses. Input to computers consists of sensed information about the physical environment. Familiar examples include the mouse, which senses movement across a surface, and the keyboard, which detects a contact closure when the user presses a key. However, any sensed information about physical properties of people, places, or things can serve as input to computer systems. Output from computers can comprise any emission or modification to the physical environment, such as a display (including the cathode ray tube (CRT), flat-panel displays, or even light emitting diodes), speakers, or tactile and force feedback devices (sometimes referred to as haptic displays). An interaction technique is the fusion of input and output, consisting of all hardware and software elements, that provides a way for the user to accomplish a low-level task. For example, in the traditional graphical user interface, users can scroll through a document by clicking or dragging the mouse (input) within a scroll bar displayed on the screen (output). The fundamental task of human-computer interaction is to shuttle information between the brain of the user and the silicon world of the computer. Progress in this area attempts to increase the useful bandwidth across that interface by seeking faster, more natural, and more convenient means for users to transmit information to computers, as well as efficient, salient, and pleasant mechanisms to provide feedback to the user. On the user’s side of the communication channel, interaction is constrained by the nature of human attention, cognition, and perceptual-motor skills and abilities; on the computer side, it is constrained only by the technologies and methods3 that we can invent. Research in input and output centers around the two ends of this channel: the devices and techniques computers can use for communicating with people, and the perceptual abilities, processes, and organs people can use for communicating with computers. It then attempts to find the common ground through which the two can be related by studying new modes of communication that could be used for human-computer interaction (HCI) and developing devices and techniques to use such modes. Basic research seeks theories and principles that inform us of the parameters of human cognitive and perceptual facilities, as well as models that can predict or interpret user performance in computing tasks. Advances can be driven by the need for new modalities to support the unique requirements of specific application domains, by technological breakthroughs that HCI researchers attempt to apply to improving or extending the capabilities of interfaces, or by theoretical insights suggested by studies of human abilities and behaviors, or even problems uncovered during careful analyses of existing interfaces. These approaches complement one another, and all have their value and contributions to the field, but the best research seems to have elements of all of these.

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