This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I interview Chris Harrison: Editor-in-Chief of the tech-savvy magazine ACM XRDS and Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellow. Chris talks about ongoing research to find creative interaction techniques and input technologies.
Chris Harrison is a Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of ACM XRDS and a Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellow. His research focuses on novel interaction techniques and input technologies - especially those that enable (small) mobile devices to appropriate (large) everyday surfaces for input in unconventional ways. Over the past four years, Chris has worked on several projects in the area of social computing and input methods at IBM Research, AT&T Labs, Microsoft Research, and most recently, Disney Imagineering.
Social Television Project: CollaboraTV
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Chris, how did you first get interested in computing?
"....Having always been fond of tinkering, in many ways this was one of the ultimate tinkering tools...."
Can you share your research on novel interaction techniques and input technologies?
"....We can't just shrink devices down to the size of rice grains without them being unusable so there's a really strong impetus right now to find ways to keep interactions big (like we have on laptops and desktops), but let them become increasingly mobile. That's actually really tough to do because we're up against physical constraints...."
Can you describe your work at IBM Research?
"....I worked on a tablet-based project which at the time was called Enki. We wanted to build something that a professional could carry around to their meetings with a stylus and jot down things about people, meetings and events. All this information would be assembled behind the scenes into something like a semantic web....It would be a way of collecting the massive amounts of information we deal with as information workers and professionals and to put it into a super tablet...."
What work did you do at AT&T Labs?
"....I worked on a number of projects but the central project was this collaborative television system. What we realized as an organization was that people were going to be watching TV content asynchronously....I encourage people to check out the video online. The project name is CollaboraTV...."
What is the focus of your work at Microsoft Research?
"....Rather than having a device be large we wanted the surface to be equal to that of a laptop or tablet or certainly a phone, but not have the bulk of a laptop or phone....It was quite a successful project for Microsoft and I think it opened up people's minds to realizing that there are a lot of opportunities for devices to be small - assuming they can take advantage of surface area and volume in the environment...."
Please profile your work at Disney Imagineering.
"....Disney operates a lab in Pittsburgh right near Carnegie Mellon for R & D purposes. I've teamed up with some researchers there on some really interesting haptics research...."
The ACM is introducing a redesigned, tech savvy magazine for graduate and undergrad students in late May, called XRDS (renamed from Crossroads). Can you tell us more about this publication, your goals, and why readers will want to engage?
"....We want to help students in particular to connect with each other, to learn, to enjoy computer science as a field. That's ACM's clear goal and the XRDS magazine is there to really provide all three of those things....Even though it is a student magazine, not all the articles are written by students; in fact, we have a very nice mix at present. If people are interested in shaping the future of computing and doing that by basically influencing the students who are the next generation of computer scientists and IT professionals this is a great venue to do that...."
What are you doing to make XRDS really exciting and cool?
"....It's really a multi-tiered effort....The content is really diverse, very much information driven but with a particular emphasis on information that is actionable by students. It isn't just 'this is the latest and greatest technology', but also 'here are the people working on it, here are the opportunities that exist as a student and here are ways that you can get involved, here are the people to contact'...."
Do you have a social media component and also a mobile component to the XRDS experience?
"....We try to branch out into multiple venues so that we can engage people and give them up-do-date information....We have a lot of different conduits that people can get back to us and to help shape the magazine...."
Chris talks about the disruptive experience which most shaped his life and work.
"....Although traveling (from a very early age) was certainly disruptive to my early education, it actually turned out to be immensely beneficial to opening my eyes to the realization that people are different, and technology is a fantastic tool that can aid people's lives, but you can't just throw technology at a problem. It has to be a technological solution to something that is really facing people...."
Chris comments on Brewer's Wireless Hypothesis.
Past, present and future - name someone who inspires you and why is this so?
"....It's really hard to pick a single person. There are so many people who have given me tremendous amounts of their time, effort and love and mentorship....One person I think I should mention is a family friend called Gene Brewer...."
If you look over your career what were challenges were you were not able to overcome?
"....A problem that I face continually being in academia is technology transfer...."
What lesson can you share with the broad audience?
"....Something that I subscribe to: Work hard, play hard attitude. Creativity is very much important to me and to nurture that I think you need experiences. I've traveled a lot and I think that gives me a lot of perspective and stories and experiences and people who I've met that I draw upon when I'm thinking about creative ways to solve problems...."
What factors make for effective communications and writing?
"....There needs to be something new or novel....You need to be able to back up your novel idea....Then you need to paint the vision what it could be used for...."
How would you describe your top innovative achievements in terms of what specifically inspired these innovations, what were the factors that made the innovations possible, the problems you were trying to solve, your solutions, and the impact it has today and into the longer term future?
"....I will pick a specific project that had a simple premise that opened up a lot of different research projects subsequently.... Scratch Input (tiny microphone on the back of a mobile phone and it could listen to the acoustics inside of the table)....Skinput (small devices appropriating surface area from the environment)...."
Mentoring is a much used word so I'm coining another phrase: life-experience guide or LEG. Based upon your deep insights, how can you provide a LEG up for those transitioning in their careers? What would be some career tips for the ICT professional and the reasons behind them?
"....I can comment on my experiences.... Listen to your peers and your elders...."
What specific qualities make you excel at innovating?
"....I think what you need to be an innovator is creativity. That may seem obvious but creativity is a very elusive thing. Creativity is to look at a problem with a unique perspective and to find an equally unique way to solve it is a really daunting challenge...."
Which resources would you recommend?
"....The five that I rely on the most:....friends....tech websites....blogs....conferences.....publications like XRDS...."
What are 3 top conferences that you would recommend?
"....It's very much specific to your field. In my field which is human computer interaction the top conference is ACM CHI (Computer Human Interaction)....SIGGRAPH conference....Beyond that it gets a little more specific....UIST (User Interface Software and Technology) conference is the crème de la crème of the interaction and user interface community. If you want to see where interaction technologies are going to be in five or ten years, academia is often way ahead of the curve - that is the conference to go to...."
Provide your technology roadmap for the future?
"....Device miniaturized down to the size of a small box of matches with a space for one button and maybe no screen or other buttons at all, and instead taking advantage of the environment as their interactive canvas...."
Chris speculates on the timeline when this technology will available to the average consumer.
You choose the topic area. What do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"....On a smaller note....The challenge right now is that digital projectors are becoming really small so all of our devices could potentially one day have a digital projector in them which are going to become smaller and very cheap....What researchers are looking at is how can we have input larger than a device. (Right now input is very much about buttons and touch screens so that means input is the size of the device but not larger.) That's a very significant problem and I think it is holding back mobile devices...."
Please provide your views on the IFIP IP3 program on professionalizing the profession and how it could improve the IT industry? [http://www.IPThree.org].
"....IT is very much a skill-based discipline and in that respect I think having a standard or accreditation processes can be very valuable to provide a level playing field...."