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11. Neuronal Resonance and User Interface Technology

Dr. Andreas Goppold
Postf. 2060, 89010 Ulm, Germany
Tel. ++49 +731 921-6931
Fax: (Goppold:) +731 501-999 (URL)

11.1. Abstract

Before the advent of power driven machinery, all human work was governed by rhythm. The high art of tool and weapons design in the pre-industrial age consisted of close-fitting the weight-hardness-elasticity-impact characteristics of any tool to the corresponding biorhythmics of the moving human body. In the terminology of current neurological research, this art of tool design was aimed at perfecting the Neuronal Resonance (abbrev. NR) feedback loops between the tool and the human body. With the advent of power machines, the principles of NR design were largely forgotten, with notable remnants in the field of sports gear, like skiing, tennis, or golf equipment. In the field of computer technology, NR design represents a veritable ergonomic "black hole", due to a compounding of social, economic, and technological factors, and the presently dominating GUI (WIMP) UIT can be justly considered as ultimate achievement approaching the theoretical maximum of anti-NR design by single-channelling the human-computer interaction bottleneck through a one-hand / one-finger pointing device: the mouse. Only now are these insidious limitations and drawbacks of the GUI coming to wider attention, as is evidenced by the great interest in the works of Hiroshi Ishii, MIT.

The paper explores the philosophical, social, economic, and technological backgrounds of the present NR deadlock, tracing it back to a general oblivion of dynamic factors in ancient Greek philosophy (Parmenidean and Platonic views dominating over Heraklitean), a general pre-dominance of visual factors in Western European thinking, and the Platonic, time-neglecting attitude of the foundational mathematical base of computer science, and its paradigm, the Turing Machine as the ultimate serial device. Further, the "Lemming" effects of a von Neumann player coalition between a monopolizing SW industry and the "lowest common denominator" largest-possible user base, are explored. The effects of cognitive enhancement through NR optimized design are a seriously under-researched field, with the "flow effect" by Csikszentmihalyi being a rare exception from the general pattern.

11.3. Table of Contents

11.2. Abbreviations

aka also known as
EUPL End User Programming Language
GUI Graphical User Interface
NR Neuronal Resonance
NRT Neuronal Resonance Technology
RSI Repeated Stress / Strain Injury
SW Software
UIL User Interface Language
UIT User Interface Technology
WIMP Windows - Icon - Mouse - Pointing UIT - GUI

11.4. Neuronal Resonance Technology: History and Development

11.4.1. The Pre-History of Neuronal Resonance Technology

Human intelligence is the evolutionary product of selective advantages arising from the combination of factors embedded in the facilities of the human body: high mobility as provided by the walking apparatus, the respiratory and cooling system, manipulation of environmental conditions through action of the hands, superior communication through language, orientation through the sensory system, and coordination of all facilities by the brain, and in the last 50,000 years, the evolution of the symbolic instrumentarium. (Anthro, (Bednarik 1994), (Calvin 1991), (Goppold 1999d), (Kingdon 1997), (Leroi-Gourhan 1984), (Semiotica 1994), Skoyles). According to Calvin (1991), key factors in the evolution of intelligence were the superior anthropoid facilities of spatio-temporal orientation, coordination, and action. In the millions of years of struggle for hominid survival, a decisive influence in shaping the neuronal infrastructure that made us human, was the ability to throw objects with precision at moving targets. On the neuro-computational level, this translates into an immense neuronal infrastructure for processing the necessary information for orientation, self-stabilization, target-tracking, and trajectory projection. Here, all the specific human body facilities come into play: the upright posture, with freely mobile upper body portion useable for supporting and enhancing the lever action of the arms (one only needs to watch a modern diskus thrower for this), and the spatial orientation system of the eyes, coordinated by the command system of the brain. In those millions of years of hominid pre-history and R&D, the arsenal of paleolithic weapons and tools was shaped: traps, snares, boomerangs, propulsors, atl-atls, bolas, slingshots, axes, and (fire-) drills. (Bellier 1990). A problem with the archeological accounting of these effects is that the durable remains of ancient technology, the stones, tell less than half the story. Stone in itself is extremely inflexible, and cumbersome to use, and only by mounting stones in handles and shafts, can suitable tools be fashioned. Therefore, it is only through practical experimentation and re-engineering that one can gain an insight into paleolithic ingenuity (Anthro). By the intensive use of seemingly primitive, but very effective, technology humans had transformed large regions of the planet Earth already 10,000 years ago: by using fire, their tools and weapons, and the most devastating device of them all: the human population bomb (aka the baby boom). According to one hypothesis, the extinction of the large mammalian pleistocene fauna on all continents except Africa is the work of paleolithic hunters. (Kingdon 1997).

In this long pre-history, the requirements of force-coupling ballistical and mechanical devices to a still evolving human body provided the co-evolutionary stimuli for shaping the neuronal infrastructures that supported the later facilities of symbolization. The subtle connection can be found if we consider the etymology of symbolon, stemming from sym-ballein: "to throw together", whose aspect of throwing reappears in the word ballistics.

11.4.2. The era of high perfection of Neuronal Resonance Technology

and its decline
The high art of tool and weapons design in the pre-industrial age consisted of close-fitting the weight-hardness-elasticity-impact characteristics of any tool to the corresponding biorhythmics of the moving human body. In the terminology of current neurological research, this art of tool design was aimed at perfecting the Neuronal Resonance (abbrev. NR) feedback loops between the tool and the human body. Its key ingredient is rhythm, applied as productive factor in the coupling of extrasomatic implements (tools, weapons) to the human body. In the following context, the keyword for this will be: Neuronal Resonance Technology (NRT). Rhythm is the temporal patterning of events, thus NRT is temporal technology. The "secret" of the Egyptian Pyramid building technology was the applied science of human mass mobilization and precision coordination through rhythm. Equally cogent examples of routine application of this skill can be found in all the megalithic monuments world wide.

The perfection of neuronal resonance effects was the essence of all the master craft traditions of humanity, and following the industrialization, the principles of NR design were largely forgotten in modern civilizations (Bernard 1985, Bücher 1924, Giesecke 1991, Goppold 1999d, Morris 1986). There are only some notable remnants left in the field of sports gear, like skiing, tennis, or golf equipment. Also, Japan represents the lone exception of a highly industrialized civilization that preserves its heritage of master craftsmen as "national treasures". The wholesale loss of the "secrets" of NR design can be attributed to a compounding of several social, economic, and technological factors. With the advent of power machinery, the essential necessity for designing the tools to fit with the human body-rhythmics, to make them operable efficiently at all, fell away. The social factors of NR design are that the highest evolution of artisanship depended on the close client-patron relations of a mature and sophisticated feudalistic society, which supplied the expert user community, and the necessary financial backing to evolve skills that needed years, and even decades of apprenticeship on the side of the artisans. A notable case of such a co-evolution of skills and expert users is again provided by Japan, which had possibly the most evolved feudalistic system of all human societies, and managed to preserve its structures intact until the mid-1800's. Here, the examples of superior and unmatched skills abound, like the legendary swordsmiths, and the equally legendary users of these products, the Samurai. As the Samurai case shows, the essential ingredient of pushing the limits of NRT is the co-evolution of the human-technology dyadic system, with the tools exquisitly matched by the craftsman to the specifics of that particular human body. Apart from the extremely high cost of such development, which prohibited its use on a larger scale, the Samurai example also shows the ingredient of secrecy that was part and parcel of this societal arrangement. Even if it were possible (and this is doubtful) that such skills could efficiently be taught to mass audiences, this was not the aim: such swordsmanship was "too good for the masses", and the military superiority of the Samurai depended on their finely-honed reflexes (aka neuronal resonances), an edge which they liked to maintain over the much less-well trained common soldiers. (A vivid demonstration of this is found in the movie "The Seven Samurai"). In Europe, the mechanization of warfare set in with guns and mass-drilled, mass-operating armies, and displaced the high-skilled aristocratic individual warrior. But the connection with the aristocracy is still evident in the sports scene, where the highly skilled use of exquisite weapons was supplanted by an equally skilled use of sportsgear whose technical perfection was honed to the sole aim of superior NR for its user.

Another factor contributing to the loss of NR awareness in current technology is to be found in a philosophical orientation of the Western intellectual elites that dates back at least 2500 years. In the so-called philosopher wars between pre-Socratic and pre-Platonic Greek schools, the proponents of the Eleatic school of Parmenides and Zeno, held the view that motion and change were impossible and non-existent, as evidenced by the famous Zeno paradoxes. Against them, the proponents of Heraklitean views argued that everything was change and motion: "panta rhei". In the further course of events, the views of the Eleatic school became dominant, as expressed by the idea system of Platon, and furthermore, in the domination of eternal essences in the Christian religion. (Gadamer 1989, Goppold 1999d, Heidegger, Heraklit 1976, Heuser 1992, Lippe 1997, Parmenides 1974, Platon 1988, Pleger 1991). In the further development of Western sciences, especially under the lead of equilibrium physics, time is "geometrized", it is "exorcised from the system of natural laws", as Gotthard Günther (1976, x) describes it, similarly Straub (1990), and Whitehead (1969). According to Halang (1992), computer science also suffers from an underdeveloped awareness of temporality.

The Renaissance saw the breakup of the medieval craft guilds and unions and the release of their closely-guarded trade secrets, and the printing revolution brought a transfer of this knowledge into book form. This put a selective filter on those forms of knowledge which were amenable to the print medium, and it hindered the transmission of all those kinds of processual knowledge which could not (easily) be written down. (Bernard 1985, Bücher 1924, Eisenstein 1979, Giesecke 1991, Goppold 1999d, Morris 1986). NRT is in many respects antithetical to bookish learning, and when this form become the dominant civilatory knowledge transmission system in Western societies, it caused a decline of the awareness and usage of NRT. Ludwig Klages (1981), in: "Der Geist als Widersacher der Seele" has drawn up a life's work in the grand scenario of a historical struggle of social coalition groups and human intelligence types, which could in contemporary terminology be called a silent war, and a vonNeuman type coalition game, of "Formal Symbolic Intelligence" against "Neuronal Intelligence". Similar statements are made by Mumford (1934, 1977), and other workers in cultural anthropology, kinesics and related fields: (Birdwhistell (1970), Chernoff (1994), DerraDeMoroda (1982), Diamond (1976), Franko (1993), Hanna (1979), Jeschke (1983), Lamb (1979), Levi-Strauss (1978), Lippe (1997), Moore (1988), Spencer (1985)).

The demise of aristocratic rule, the once-stronghold of NRT expertise, also brought the end of its societal application, with the exception of fringe fields, like sports and of course, the military. The new ruler class of the bourgeois Western societies, the law-makers, law-enforcers, and law-interpreters, the bureaucratic civil servants, and the merchants, derived their education mostly from the letter oriented public school system, and made it through its upper echelons, the equally letter oriented universities. (Creveld 1999).

11.4.3. Neuronal Resonance Technology and the Military

The secrecy argument and the "too good for the masses" cause of NRT holds especially true for military applications. The same NRT skills that enabled the ancient Egyptians to coordinate thousands of workers for their pyramid constructions were also employed concurrently with the first mass armies of history. From then on, the military remains strongly conscious of time factors and a strong user of NRT. Military drill, mass formations and operations, are an essence of military operation. For the temporal coordination of the huge human masses, music and rhythm was the prime tool. (DeLanda 1991, Ferrill 1985, Foucault 1969, O'Connell 1989). History abounds with examples of successful application of music as weapon, from the sounds of the trumpets that shattered the walls of Jericho, to the Janissary music, accompanying the Osman conquests that almost trampled European civilization underfoot. With the mechanization of warfare, the driving beat of military operations was hammered by the sound of machinery, and in WWI, the Scottish bagpipes only led the soldiers into the stakkato of the machine-gun bloodbath. The Roman Legionaries had probably reached the ultimate achievement in mass NRT applications. Arab and Mongol cavalry represents perhaps the outstanding peak for the NRT application of coupling human and animal bodies into a whole, and uniting thousands of them into a steel-fanged blizzard. A horrible fascination perfuses the masterpieces of NRT application throughout history, for their appalling effectiveness, and utter defiance of anything resembling human values and emotions. Nomen est omen: the Fasces, the old Roman Symbol of unification of many people under one order and will, became the hallmark of Faschism. Their resourgence and renaissance was in Hitler's Blitzkrieg formations of motorized and mechanized warriors mounted on tanks and airplanes. Essentially, the present-day cyber-age war scenarios have driven NRT to unprecedented extremes, with human nervous systems burrowed further and further down into ever-evolving electronic sensory-effectory-stimulus-response feedback loops. We are therefore not surprised to find the most advanced NRT cybernetics in present high-grade weapons systems: aimed to perform essentially the same purposes as a million years ago, but with "a bigger bang for the buck". Time remains the essential factor: the winner is the one who shoots first, and most accurately. The importance of time factors in military application can be diagrammed with two "magic" triangles: The triangle of: Mobility-Security-Firepower, and the triangle of the OODA-Loop.

The "magic" triangle of: Mobility-Security-Firepower

Ferrill (1985: 44) describes "the three indispensable ingredients of warfare": mobility - security - firepower. The diagram positions mobility in the apex of the triangle - above security and firepower. This serves to indicate its vital importance and the necessity for emphasis. Probably more battles were lost due to neglect of the mobility factor than for any other cause. Its paramount influence is evidenced by the two greatest defeats that almost stopped European civilization in its tracks: The Arab and the Mongol conquests, both of which were due to neglect of the mobility factor. The heavily armored, cumbersome, and immobile European knight cavalry proved ineffective against their swift-moving enemies. If mobility is retained intact, then evasive action even after a lost battle can ensure survival and ordered retreat of the main body of forces. The three factors stand in a tri-polar tradeoff relation, and finding the optimal balance between them is the acme of weapons systems design, today as well as 5000 years ago.

While the "Mobility - Security - Firepower" triangle represents the basics, or the "trivium" of warfare, the essential element of the high "Art of War" (Sun Tsu) is the information and intelligence factor. This is introduced with the OODA Loop: Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action (Stein 1998). It is the guiding rule of today's "Information War" scenarios.

The "magic" triangle of the OODA-Loop: "Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action"

11.4.4. Neuronal Resonance Technology, Spatio-Temporal Perspective, and Symbolization

Turned the other way, NRT is "too good to leave it to the military", and it is far too dangerous to have them alone control it. Let us re-trace the connection between symbolon, syn-ballization and ballistics. The archaic Greek roots preserve the traces of an otherwise long-lost connection. We re-consider the spatio-temporal feats involved in the neuronal infrastructure processing of throwing: Throwing a stone at a moving target (which chimpanzees can manage, badly), and the technologically advanced feat of throwing an atl-atl, or still further down the evolutionary line, the shooting of an arrow (which re-appears as mouse cursor on all computer screens). These actions involve Spatio-Temporal Perspective, another word for the orientation and ordering systems embedded in our neuronal control programs. The arrow, this ubiquitous pointing symbol, is for us, an unconscious carrier of the million-year old control programs of our neuronal systems, which embeds the primordial operation of symballization: the throwing together of a diverse set of stimuli into one object, which can be pointed at, shot at (ob-jectum), and thus brought into our possession, physical or mental. Here lies the connection of the symbolizing done with words and graphs, to the archaic roots. "Perspective" as used here, is a visual and spatial, as well as temporal, principle, that evolved through a million-years honing process of hunting and being hunted. The drawings at Altamira, Chauvet, and Lascaux prove the perspective ability of paleolithic hunters, not by the modern Renaissance usage of the word, but by even deeper, more fundamental abilities: to literally "ban" the forms and features of the creatures they depicted, onto the rocky, uneven surfaces, using the features of the rock to enhance the visual effect of their paintings. The kind of Perspective that was achieved in the Renaissance, is only a formal hierarchical method of depiction that is based on those millennia-old roots. In the present context, the word Spatio-Temporal Perspective will extend this further, to mean a method for the hierarchical ordering schemata in conceptual organization. The following diagram shows how the scientific ordering schemata, which derive from the ancient Arbor Porphyricus method, are descendants of the primordial Spatio-Temporal Perspective.

Symbolization and Perspective as hierarchical ordering schema in conceptual organization

11.4.5. The Pyramid of Spatio-Temporal Perspective

This figure can be merged with the two "magic" triangles of the military application that where presented above: Mobility-Security-Firepower, and the OODA-Loop: Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action. This can be visualized with a Pyramid. Viewed from one aspect, we see the counterbalancing "mobility - security - firepower" tradeoffs, and viewed from the other aspect, we have the mutually reinforcing poles of the OODA loop.

On the reigning apex of the Pyramid, we now find the factors of time, and of Observation and Orientation which we can also call Information. Thus the picture reveals another vista of the Perspective, because we can turn this picture by 90 degrees, so that the eye is now on the top. In German, the focal moment of the Now is aptly called "der Augen-Blick".

11.4.6. The Eye on the Pyramid as Symbol of Temporality and Orientation

With this series of morphings, we have now arrived at that famous symbolon which appears on every US One-Dollar bill: The Eye on the Pyramid. It is interpreted here in a different meaning than what the Freemason influenced US founding fathers had in mind. The letters mark the essential elements of human temporal orientation:

A: The Present - The "Now" - The Cogent Moment

The Present is the focus of all existence. We cannot act and think but in the Now, and also Memory, the mental projections of a Past, and Expectation, the projections of a Future, can only happen in the present moment. In German, the Now is called "der Augen-Blick", which again leads us back to the old symbolism. In neurological terms, the Now is governed by a temporal coherence function spanning about three seconds: "the three second consciousness" (Pöppel).

C: The Future: The Expectation

B: The Past
B1: Personal Memory
B2: Collective / Cultural Memory
B3: Phylogenetic Memory, Genetic Heritage, Instincts

D: The Forgetting, Death, Dissolution of Memory

11.4.7. The tradeoff balance and the potential of NRT optimized design

These temporal factors mark the tradeoff balance and the potential of NRT optimized design in present-day multimedia information systems. The design criteria are based on the close-coupling of the interplay between the human cognitive and manipulative factors, the human memory, and the access and display speed and data volume of the information devices. All these factors must be brought into an optimal, and precarious balance, which is easily lost. The military examples show that the optimal balance of "Mobility-Security-Firepower", and the OODA-Loop: "Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action" depends crucially on the technology available, and on the aims to be fulfilled. The following discussion will amplify on some of the relevant aspects in past, present, and future UIT.

11.5. Factors of Space and Time in User Interface Technology

The current generation of user interfaces (GUI, aka WIMP) is predominantly oriented towards the visual and spatial sections of the human cognitive spectrum. It is the sensible course of action to use the available technology to support the eye as the primary human sensory organ, and because of a general visual and spatial preference of Western cultures. The diagrams above have showed the role of the perspective metaphor that is available to integrate the different, and diverse views offered by the information systems into a perceptual whole. The work of Kim Veltman (1997, 1998) outlines a related approach to achieve this aim. To further trace the deeper connections, effects, and consequences of this predominantly visual orientation, one might apply the media theoretical analyses of Innis and McLuhan to HCI paradigms in Kuhnian sense, as well as the culture theoretical studies outlined in the above paragraphs. (Cassirer 1954-1994, Chandler, Innis 1952-1991, Kuhn 1962, Marvin 1986).

11.5.1. Spatio-temporal integration as "magic" factor in UIT

While visual and spatial factors command most of current HCI R&D work, an overview of a sample of representative articles, like the CHI conferences over the last years (ACM-CHI), shows that there is very little work dealing with time factors explicitly, and even less work on the integration of the spatial and temporal aspects. A notable exception is Tognazzini (1993), which explicitly links the factor of time to "magic", and describes the working methods of stage magicians as "manipulations of time" (p. 359). It has been noted in the section above ("The era of high perfection of Neuronal Resonance Technology and its decline"), that there are deeply rooted cultural and philosophical factors why time considerations tend to vanish from view of technological and economic agendas.

11.5.2. The Human / Computer Bottleneck

The most serious bottleneck separating the diverse worlds of human and computer information processing is the peephole display capacity available with present technology and the narrow bandwith of user inputs available. This is especially serious when compared to the vastly increased power of other computing technology over the last 50 years. This shows the immense disparity of an approximate 1000-fold increase in RAM and HD capacity and similar increase in CPU processor power with the almost standstill in display and input technology.

The present GUI / Mouse technology may make things easier for users, but it causes a bottleneck of ist own: the WIMP bottleneck. The older technology of keyboard access is (at least for touch typists) about 10 times faster than mouse clicking. This is compounded by more adverse speed factors of the WIMP paradigm and the loss of what little haptic and kinesthetic somatic interaction potential the keyboard had offered in the older generation of UIT. See the section further down: "Time and Ergonomic Penalties of Present GUI UIT".

Diagram of the Human / Computer Bottleneck

11.5.3. The SW industry: an inversion of Moore's law

A cursory inspection of the dynamics of SW systems development in the PC industry gives the picture of an inversion of Moore's law: It is easy to get the impression that negative time factors are a prime marketing strategy of the industry. Even while hardware performance is continually rising, the practical effect is that the newest software seems to be purposefully designed to use up computing resources to such an extent that systems are so slow to be practically useless when they are not run on the latest and most powerful hardware on the market.

11.5.4. GUI: von Neumann coalitions, the Lemming effect, mass markets, and "no experiments, please"

A closer examination of industry system design policy shows the enormous attraction of GUI design and comparative neglect of time factors: The mass market of naive, unsophisticated computer users that was opened with the Macintosh has turned out to set a standard that was rigidly adhered to, even where the design limitations of this 1984 machine were since long broken by present hardware power (Common 1993). This translates again into a Kuhnian paradigm, whose stability is not determined by what is technically possible, or rationally advisable, but by social standards of the "least common denominator" and "no experiments, please" flavor. The situation is that of a vonNeumann player coalition between a monopolizing SW industry and the "lowest common denominator" standard of the largest-possible user base. As there is a huge mass market, there is also a tremendous inertia, and no industrial player wants to play the guinea pig trying out any new ideas and approaches, especially not the largest one, who seems to have opted for the technically most inferior possibility (Businessweek). Thus, there has been little progress beyond the basic design decisions of the Macintosh. But, as everyone notices, these "tried and trusted" paradigms seem to be wearing out (Landauer, Norman), the market saturation has peaked, as present systems seem to be headed towards a continuous asymptotic approximation of Dinosaur efficiency. The salient point behind this is the necessity to keep the upgrade cycles of hardware and software continually turning, while the quality of the systems seems to be on the decline. Compounded, this development leads into a Lemming effect, where "more and more of the same" is produced, and very little thought is given to the interplay factors between the technology and the human organism - the theme of NRT outlined above.

11.5.5. Result of the VonNeuman Game for UIT:

The current Von Neuman Game of player coalitions results in this situation:

The major interest centers of the coalitions are:
1) The SW Industry with centralizing, monopolizing players: The Big Brothers
maximally protecting their trade secrets, keeping user-relevant system information and modification potential locked up in proprietary and encrypted formats.

in coalition with:
2) A vast, unsophisticated User Community who is served by WIMP UIT
Least common denominator translates into largest customer base.

Locked out are: Power users.
Features lost: User Configuration, Local Modification, Local Adaptation, Transparency of SW.

Exceptions / Resistors of the general trend are:
Linux, Free SW Foundation, GNU, Open Source, BeOS

11.5.6. The Inverted Triangle of: Firepower - Security - Mobility

The current VonNeuman Game has the following consequence for UIT. An inverted "magic" triangle of: Firepower - Security - Mobility. The Mobility (speed) factor is sacrificed to unilaterally increase of Firepower and Security, both of which serve best the interests of the present coalition members.

Diagram of the Inverted Triangle of: Firepower - Security - Mobility

11.5.7. If transportation technology had kept the same pace as computers...

A well-known sales-hype on the state of affairs in computerdom is based on a comparison between computers and cars, and it goes about like this:

"If transportation technology had kept the same pace as computers, a Rolls Royce would cost about one Dollar and would go about thousand miles per gallon of fuel."
But this is an euphemism or simply a make-believe. A more correct statement would be:

"If transportation technology had run the same course as computers, we would all be using battle cruisers or armored transports and tanks, for driving to work, to the supermarket, or to the disco."
Closer scrutiny of the design principles of current computer systems yields a classic case of obliteration of the mobility factor in the basic "mobility-security-firepower" triangle of the military that was presented above. The classic design aim of current systems is Firepower: "to get a bigger bang for the buck", indicating the featuritis that is the current rage of the industry. The issue of Security is mainly centered around protecting the interests of the SW vendor's copyrights. The dominant Industry-Political Security Factor is: "Don't Sell Winchesters to Indians". It doesn't increase the profits of the SW if the Users become too powerful or too productive.

With present system failure levels of the Win-XX standard, Security for the User seems to be as low as any time.

11.5.8. Time Optimization in Earlier Generation Mini Computers

Time factors were of prime importance in the earlier mini computer generation. Again in Kuhnian sense, there was a complete reversal of paradigms between mini computers, early microcomputers, and the present generation of Macintosh-Style PCs. In the older paradigm of minis, design constraints were imposed by the coupling of a fast hard disk with relatively small computer power (PDP type), which forced the systems designers to painstakingly optimize systems performance around that combination, resulting in such unrepeated feats of temporal efficiency as APL, and MUMPS. These were undoubtedly the most powerful programming languages ever invented by man, and just in terms of pure efficiency, present systems are a big step backwards. But these systems were also cryptic and unforgiving, hard to train, and hard to maintain, and so there were good reasons for the paradigm switch. And, of course, it generates more business volume, when millions of users are catered, than a few thousand.

We come back to the magic: The "olden days" of computing were an age of wizards, and the connection with Tognazzini's article, the "magic factor" gives an indication of a time efficiency that cannot be re-gained by predominantly a visual / spatial oriented framework, once it has given up control of the time factor. One typical effect of the GUI mouse access is, that it slows the user down by about a factor of ten, compared to the very rapid keyboard input of hotkeys (or command line sequences). Of course to be that fast, the user has to have memorized all the command key sequences, and must be a touch-typist. With the complexity of today's menu interfaces, it is impossible to learn them all (especially when every vendor uses different hotkeys for equivalent functions, or, as Microsoft does, creates a new assignment with every new release). As the APL solution shows us, there is a different strategy possible, to contain menu depth and complexity by combinatorial strategies, but this is not easy to learn.

11.5.9. Time Factors, Flow, and the "Augmentation of Human Intellect"

For the "Augmentation of Human Intellect" (Engelbart), the time factor seems to be crucial. Unfortunately, the "magic effect" also causes problems with verification and rationalization by academic standards. This may be a reason why Engelbart has spent a lifetime churning out ideas of which the largest portion still remains to be recognized, let alone be put into wide usage. As was already pointed out, time is a blind spot of computer science (as additional material, one may read Feyerabend for underlying reasons why this may be so). In the literature, there is a body of work around "Flow" (Csikszentmihalyi, Karn 1997: 64). This is a somewhat loose term for hard-to-define intellect-augmentation effects that can occur, when expert work is able to proceed in uninterrupted sequences of cumulative efficiency. In this, the time factor is critical, since it is interrelated with the human attention span and capacity of the short term memory, the best known of which in the 'flicker fusion effect' utilized in movie projection (Pöppel 1978-1995). Maximum time lag of about 1/10 sec seems imperative. Noticeable augmentation effects are attained mainly when a high level of user training and expertise is started with at the beginning. Unfortunately, since the "expert" or "power user" population, that would benefit most from this research, is much smaller than the "general user" population that is catered for by the common GUI interface, the financial rewards for such R&D are too small for large-scale industry efforts. Progress will likely depend on individual efforts, like Engelbart's. A "royal road" to travel would be a combination of efforts: presenting an easy-to-use GUI interface that is accessible to the widest possible user population, coupled with an industry standardized end-user programming facility (EUPL), and a configurable user interface language (UIL). In the accompanying paper (Goppold 1999h), a time oriented HCI design is presented, that seeks to regain the efficiency factors of the former computing generations, but is based on a widely available platform, the Java VM, and extensively uses the hypertext principle to make it accessible for large user populations.

11.5.10. The Need for the Integration of Hand and Mind

As was pointed out above (Bernard 1985, Goppold 1999d, Leroi-Gourhan 1984), human intelligence is not a factor of pure visual (Platonic, and derived therefrom, Christian) cognition and mental operation (the Logocentrism), but is based on the vital modes of a human body operating in the flesh, and depends most vitally on the combination of hand and mind. The almost exclusive concentration on visual stimuli, which is a heritage from this Platonic-Christian abhorrence of all things fleshly, and a total dedication to the pure spirit (of the visual mind), brings a disruption of the coordination and coherence of the body-mind whole, which is the essence of embodied intelligence.

The former generation keyboard interface allowed wider utilization of the potential of the hand. The mouse turns this expressive potential into a single-channel serial device, thereby seriously crippling it. In this aspect, the mouse transforms the HCI into a model closely resembling the Turing Machine, the ultimate serial device. The incongruency is, that the human brain is a massively parallel device, and the human body is able to perform a multitude of actions in parallel. Even touch-typing, though not really a parallel operation, gives a greatly enhanced spectrum of manual operation, by the mutual synchronous temporal interplay of both hands. The long term effect of exclusive WIMP use possibly leads to a degeneration of human potential because there are no provisions any more for improving one's effectiveness, like touch-typing was. The subtle interconnections of hand and mind have been lost with WIMP UIT.

11.5.11. Need for UIT supporting the somatic potential of the body: Haptic and Kinesthetic Sensory Modalities

The Graphical UIT appeals mainly to the eye, and supports people whose main abilities lie in this domain of mental facilities, while the keyboard is more suitable for touch oriented people (applies especially to touch typists). Those people were systematically disadvantaged by the switch to WIMP UIT. There is a lot of talk about more modern multi-sensory UIT about to be developed, like the much-touted work of Hiroshi Ishii, at MIT (Ishii 1999a, 1999b), but the inherent potential of the keyboard has been completely neglected. We are forgetting that this machinery is quite well adapted to the most versatile human expressive device, a technology that is also cheaper than almost anything else and that could still be improved quite a lot.

11.6. Time and Ergonomic Penalties of Present GUI UIT

The next sections will give a short overview of some of the most problematic ergonomic dead-end roads into which the present GUI SW paradigm has led. The popular graphical UIT (WIMP) is certainly an advance in terms of broad market acceptance and -pentration over the old command line oriented interfaces accessible only by keyboard. But this mass market appeal of current GUI applications like the WWW browsers also sets the UIT standard to the lowest common denominator of the naive user whose preferred working attitude is serendipity browsing. What is almost completely lost in these solutions are the upgrade options to switch to more powerful modes of HCI, even if these are somewhat more demanding in training, thinking, and memorization on the side of the user. The exclusive, and alternative-less unconditional universal adaptation of the GUI paradigm in present computing systems reminds us much of the proverbial fairy tale involving the granting of a wish that has a hidden insidious drawback that comes to the attention only much too late when nothing can be done any more to offset the damage. Underlying is a neglect of information ecology, a factor which can only partly be covered under the heading of ergonomics.

There are tradeoffs which turn the ease of use for naive users into a dead end road when it comes to blocking the speed potential for the expert user, especially through rapid hotkey entry, and shell and macro programming. This fault is not necessarily inherent in the GUI technology itself but is a result of throwing out backwards compatibility. Current software systems are in many cases not completely operable by keyboard any more. A good case in point are WWW browsers, which don't allow the cursor control via keyboard, so that it is impossible to access the html screen clicking areas this way.

11.6.1. The WIMP UIT time penalty

GUI WIMP interfaces are useable by the most unsophisticated user, but they impose a heavy time and nervous stress penalty on the expert user. The daily routine of using WIMP software involves delving through hundreds of menus always pointing and clicking mostly to the same spots on the screen in the same programs. Each point and click may use up maybe a second, and it is about ten times slower than a keyboard hit. Accumulated over grand use time in one year, this adds up to hundreds of wasted hours which could be saved by using hotkeys, shortcuts, and macros, at the small expense of some training and memorization. Making a ballbark estimate of about 100 working hours cumulatively spent pointing and clicking per year, multiply this by about one million power experts world wide, by about $ 250,-/hr compound cost for highly professional work, and one can easily sum it all up to a figure of about $ 25 billion worth of expert user time and capacity lost each year to inefficient UIT. And these are the most knowledgeable experts who would have ten times as much business, if they had the lifetime to do it. It is of course in the best interest of the computer industry (and the rest of us) to cater for those hundreds of millions of users who will never want to become power users, and provide an easy-for-all UIT, but is the social price to be paid also accounted for correctly? It is not only the power users, the highest paid professionals, but a path for increasing effectiveness, that is barred by the WIMP UIT. This cannot be shrugged off so lightly.

11.6.2. The WIMP RSI syndrome

What is harder to account is the nervous stress factor involved in the point-and-click orgies of current WIMP mazes, here called the WIMP RSI. The featuritis that is the current rage of the update-driven profit making machinery of the SW industry forces them to increase the depth and complexity of menus with every new release, and often relocating menu positions to completely different places in the tree. And one will never find provisions for users of the old software versions to get back the old menu layout schemes, to which they were used and trained. This stress factor imposes on the expert users a totally different type of RSI, than that which affects typical clerical keyboard users.

Every professional expert WIMP user can attest to the syndrom of WIMP RSI him/herself: There is a constantly recurring (depending on task, about every ten seconds) need to take the eyes and the attention off the parts of the screen where the work information resides (we may call this the work focus area), and then search for and focus on the control areas, fiddling and fingering around on the table until one has finally found the mouse, and then engaging in a pinball-wizard like game trying to fine-position the cursor on those tiny control areas on the screen euphemistically labeled scroll bars, activation buttons, and what-not. This necessity to constantly shift visual as well as mental attention and focus is the most problematic aspect of the WIMP UIT. In the long run, this permanent attention interrupt turns WIMP buttons into a nerve-consuming hurdle race. The nervous damage shows very indirectly through such symptoms as cumulative exhaustion (computerese: burn out), and by its psycho-social after-effects.

Repeatedly shifting eye and attention focus selectively disadvantages older people. Nervous RSI hits the harder the higher up we go in age, and on the expert level of the user. And it is probably easy to see, what is a boon for the one (naive users, young people), is a bane for the other (experts, older people). And the most critical resource in today's information age is the time and nervous energy of the professional information worker. And one of the essentials of the human condition that don't change so much, even over the millennia, is that older people are more experienced than younger ones, accustomed to deal with a much deeper memory structure, even while their exterior sensory facilities are not as acute or as fast as those of young people. The ergonomic advantage of WIMP as mass selling argument for the novice "computer kid" population has turned into an information ecology trap for the expert users and those whose main ability lies in their high experience potential.

11.7. Re-Evaluating the potential of synchronous, bi-manual HCI technology, aka the keyboard

The computer industry cherishes an unspoken, but rarely critically examined, myth that just because some gadgets are newer, they must necessarily be better than the old methods and tools. This is perfectly fine as far as the marketing of new gizmos by the industry is concerned, but it is not always up to the truth and the best interest of the users. The much maligned keyboard interface is a prime candidate for re-valuation of its ergonomic advantages. We only need to re-christen it for its potential as the most evolved synchronous, bi-manual HCI technology. Its history traces back to that famous musical instrument of western tradition: the piano. This was also an NRT application of much greater sophistication than the typewriter keyboard, since it allows simultaneous operation with both hands, even input with the feet, and the keys are analog-coded, and it gives immediate audible feedback.

11.7.1. Speed

Key access is about ten times faster than WIMP. If one has taken the small training expenditure to memorize the location of the keys, one will never have to search long for any key. One hundred years of experience by millions of touch typists all over the world provide a strong argument that only the WIMP driven computer industry seems to ignore completely. A contributing factor for this ignorance seems to be that the touch-typists were usually of the lower-paid clerical low-prestige echelon, and they were women, and so their experience belongs to a lesson society-at-large has never learned, especially those company CEOs and company stock holders who thought it to be beneath their dignity to learn this essential skill, and who always used their workers for this demeaning lowly task.

11.7.2. Positioning Fidelity and Less Mind Load

The keys are always in the same place relative to each other, and relative to the whole apparatus of the keyboard. This translates into faster access speed and less searching for the activation buttons. Since one can easily memorize the location of the keys, one will be able to activate them completely mechanically, without thinking or taking your attention off the more important work. We will never have to bother about the program control, once we have mastered the essential hotkeys. This is the essential ergonomic asset that was wiped out by WIMP SW, which mostly dosn't offer hotkeys any more these days.

11.7.3. Unrealized Ergonomic Potentials, Like Touch Feedback (Braille Coding)

There are as yet unrealized ergonomic potentials in the keyboard that would increase its usability immensely: One is the possibility of braille-coding all keys. Not only would every computer user in the world be able to read braille by this, giving an additional societal advantage for blind people, which they really need. But the immensely more consequential advantage is that the training of the keys would be about ten times faster. Why? Because we would instantly have the tactile feedback from the fingers themselves, on which key they had just landed. The main problem with training touch-typists is that the ordinary typewriter-keyboard offers only visual feedback and guidance. This again necessitates the untrained user to constantly look at the keys, to see where the fingers have landed. The hard part in training touch-typists is to get them off the habit of looking at the keyboard. But if keys were braille coded, the keyboard would be practically self-teaching, and everyone could learn it within a day or so. One may speculate about the reason why no-one has thought of this: western societies are overdominantly visually oriented and have relegated the tactile domain to fringe areas, like blind people. One could also say: western societies are touch-blind. And the WIMP UIT is a symptom of that societal neglect. It has focused entirely on the visual domain throwing out almost any tactile element. Implementing this idea would mean multi-billions of dollars of saved user time all over the world, at practically no additional cost, but it would also obviate the need for a lot of today's WIMP technology. And the industrial economic marketing argument of WIMP is that it hogs computer resources, and thus keeps the business of the ever-increasing upgrade loop turning.

11.7.4. Combinatorial Richness

Combined with ALT CTRL SHIFT, it offers about 400 different codes one can enter, each within a mean access time of about 1/10 sec.

11.7.5. Visibility

The keyboard is big enough that it doesn't get easily lost in a maze of papers on a table top. You never have to search for it, and if you do, it is probably better that you get yourself a check-up with your friendly local shrink.

11.7.6. The compound potential of keyboard and shell interface in the UNIX system

In the present view, the script-programming factor of the keyboard interface is the most important feature that has become lost in WIMP interfaces to the disadvantage of expert information workers. The programmability was a commonplace feature of the the earlier Pre-Xwindows UNIX system. It derived its power from the philosophy that all i/o was essentially a file, no matter where it came from. So it didn't matter if the input came from the keyboard or from a disk file. That made UNIX shell programming an expert's dreamland of cryptic command code adventures. Before windows programming, any application program could be shell-scripted as well as commanded from the keyboard. That facility seems to have been largely lost in the industry.

11.7.7. The battle between the mouse and the turtle: Systematic disadvantagement of keyboard users

One can even speak of a systematic disadvantagement of keyboard users. It is possible to move the mouse pointer everywhere on the screen with the mouse, but the industry seems to have obliterated the keyboard activated cursor instead. Everyone can try this with the standard WWW browsers which don't even supply a cursor any more. Why is it not possible to move the mouse pointer with the keyboard also? The industry has invented scores of devices to move the mouse pointer around, like trackballs, touch pads, and what not, but it has "forgotten" to make it moveable by the keyboard. Behind this seems to loom an unexamined "battle of paradigms" (in the Kuhnian sense). The main advantage of the keyboard to position the mouse pointer is that one doesn't have to move the attention as well as the fingers off the keyboard too much. The problem seems to have been one of sloppily designing distinctions into i/o modes that are purely historical. The mouse input can move the cursor everywhere on the screen, whereas the keyboard cursor control keys are either inoperatives or they can only move in limited areas. The underlying issue is a question of program control philosophy which we could call "the battle between the mouse and the turtle". WIMP UIT is dominated by a design philosophy of central command and control in the cartesian manner, and as indicated, it is essentially visual. On the other hand, the keyboard controlled system means (user- / position- / program state-) relative command and control, mainly a tactile metaphor. The tactile element involves also that one goes from here to there by n steps in the direction +-:angle. This has been made the central systems philosophy of the LOGO programming system. It was immensely popular and successful for teaching programming to small children, but the deeper issues seem to have been lost to the computer industry. This has to do with local and ad-hoc authority, local autonomy, and local decision. In some way, this local autonomy spirit was part of the "hacker ethics" which by now seems to have been carefully purged from the industry, and would there not be such a strong support for systems like LINUX and the GNU group, it would have disappeared altogether. Characterized by the visible images of a Turtle and a Mouse battling each other, these are two entirely opposite programming and control and command metaphors which don't easily mix, and are hard to bring together in SW program control. But it is not impossible. And this should be an aim for UI engineering.

11.8. References are in the next paper

The References are located in the accompanying paper:

"The LPL TLSI Principle: Neuronal Resonance Technology, User Interface Language, and End User Programming Language"

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