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Posted February 3, 2001
A Vision for Designing More Useful Information Technology
Although this book was written for both people who use computers and for the technologists who use them, the latter are the primary audience. General computer users will find their normal complaints about bulky, balky technology recognized here, but will get little but emotional support for near-term improvements. The primary benefit of the book comes in the many scenarios of interactions with information technology to simplify, speed, ease, and improve the processing to better serve the user's needs. Dr. Dertouzos is always on the cutting edge of the information revolution in his role as the head of MIT's Computer Laboratory. The core of this book is captured in chapter 8, where MIT's new Oxygen project is described. This is a prototype of 'human-centered' information technology. The system combines a portable device for wireless communication, a stationary system built into a room (with transportable software from the portable device to the stationary system), and a network to support the interactions of users to the technology in new ways. The strongest part of the book is in complaints about the limitations of current information devices and networks. These will be familiar to any computer user, but it is refreshing to hear them from someone involved in drawing the outlines of the future. These include bulky software that does too much (like the word processing program most of us use that keeps automatically reformating what you have typed into something you don't want), weak interfaces between multiple programs and products so they crash when combined, the need to type so much information in, lousy search engines that waste your time, horrible telephone robots for getting to the right number, difficulties in sharing information, and the burdens of unwanted and unneeded e-mail. His solutions focus on five areas: Letting people converse with information devices in ways similar to how you would speak with a service person in a business; using e-forms to capture your information once and to then automate the sharing of that information with organizations who legitimately need it; finding answers by building on information that others have learned whom you trust; changing the method of distance working and learning so that the interactions are made more realistic and better summarized; and allowing you to tap into personalized, custom software preferences wherever you are and with whatever device you are using. Each area contains several examples of how these changes might work, many drawn from actual Oxygen applications that are now operating. So you should think of this book as focusing on what will be technically feasible in the next five years or so. I hope that Dr. Dertouzos will write a sequel to this book that looks further ahead than that in order to begin to spell out an even more improved version of information processing. As much as I was attracted to his vision here, I found that it mainly focused on enhancing the ways that I do things now. I thought that more could be done to help individuals operate in new ways that would vastly enhance human progress. Problem-solving software designed to help structure issues, gather information, analyze it, get feedback from others on the process, and compare to the potential for perfection could be one such example. Seeing this book also made me realize that much more work of this sort is needed. Without detailed scenarios of how to create solutions that people really want, technologists will continue to provide user unfriendly technology. I suspect that we need a vast experimental activity where people attempt to find new ways to get benefits from technology while removing its hindrances. Those who read about 'human-centered' technology will, of course, want to know what the catch is. You will find towards the end of the book that Dr. Dertouzos points out that making the humans a little more standard in their interactions would allow the information teWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.