Smart User Interfaces. Hidden Potential?

In the current era of technology, personalisation has become a key consideration for developers. Users of modern day computing range from infants to the elderly, from varied cultures and backgrounds, so how can a one size fits all system be appropriate for such a diverse audience?

Photograph: Murdo Macleod
Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Smart user interfaces (smart UIs) are defined to be interfaces which adapt their layout or elements according to the needs of the context or user. The concept of smart UIs has been around for several years, and has gradually been pushed into the mainstream realm. Such systems which incorporate this include the Windows XP Start Menu, which automatically updates to highlight applications that are frequently used, or even Facebook, which personalises advertising based on content you upload.

Windows XP Start Menu
Windows XP Start Menu

However, despite its well established nature, there is still lack in widespread usage of smart UIs across various sectors.

Take for example in medicine, most systems that have been introduced are targeted to adapt to the needs of doctors or nurses. There is scope to bring in similar technologies for patients, by providing them with information on their well being based on education level and background. This has potential to enable patients to take charge of their own health, reduce the need to learn and understand complex terminology, and can save valuable time for doctors.

Not only can such systems be used in hospitals, but also in homes. Remote monitoring systems could automatically detect when users haven’t taken their medication or performed certain exercises, and consequently, provide gentle reminders. Most current medical monitoring systems lack this ‘smartness’, often having to rely on user intervention, whilst more novel technologies can be directly connected to the doctor’s system.

Education is another area that can benefit from greater use of smart UIs. Emotionally responsive computing has been widely explored in this field, however, there is the possibility to take this beyond the student’s immediate feelings, and adapt interfaces and content to depend on other factors that influence learning, such as upbringing and quality of schooling. This can help to reduce dropout rates and incite curiosity to facilitate learning.

Introducing computer technology in the home environment such as the kitchen, has thus far been limited. There is huge scope to bring products to the commercial market that can dynamically aid users during food preparation. This can be done in several manners such as voiceover instructions, or immersive experiences which can provide the user with 3D renderings of how to cook a particular meal. In these cases, systems can identify when users are experiencing difficulty and adapt content accordingly.

Whilst it has been commonly used to increase productivity, smart UIs have a lot of hidden potential that is yet to be unveiled. Regardless of the field it is applied in, effective personalisation is mandatory, to cope with the growing demands and rapid advancements in technology.

Smart UIs may be an area that’s old, but it’s definitely not dead.

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