Perceptual Computing: From science fiction to science fact

Like typing and touching before it, Perceptual Computing promises to deliver the next stage in the evolution of the human-machine interface.

Controlling our computing devices with the wave of a hand or the wink of an eye is rapidly moving from science fiction to science fact, says Intel's human-machine interface guru Mooly Eden.

Eden is senior vice president, general manager of Intel's Perceptual Computing Group, the term the silicon giant uses to describe its pursuit of what is sometimes called the Natural User Interface. The goal is to break down the barriers between users and their devices, advancing the human-machine interface beyond keyboards and touchscreens to fully embrace natural voice and gesture controls. Eden's job is to envision new ways for us to interact with the technology around us, and then bring those visions to life.

At the heart of Eden's Perceptual Computing work at Intel is a new generation of 3D cameras with two lenses side-by-side to offer accurate depth perception. These allow the computer to scan the three-dimensional space in front of it, letting users reach into that space and interact with virtual objects rather than simply wave their hands at the camera. The camera also uses lasers to track and model real-world objects.

The other key component of Intel's Perceptual Computing platform is improved speech recognition, supplied by the next-generation Nuance Dragon Assistant. The aim is to improve accuracy and natural language comprehension, which Eden says is particularly challenging with his own thick Israeli accent.

While Moore's Law has seen computing power continue to grow, advancements in human-machine interfaces haven't kept pace, says Eden – speaking at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"When you come over to speak to me, you don't need an instruction book. You naturally know what to do. But if you want to interact with any computing device, it's not that simple," Eden says.

"For the human-machine interface to really work it needs to be natural. I want it to be multimodal so I can use my different senses. When I speak to you, you listen to me but you don't close your eyes. You're using more than one sense to interact with me and this should be the same with the computer. The goal is for it to be immersive, for that line between the computer and the user to become blurred."

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