This month in ACM Queue, John Canny, a distinguished Professor of Engineering at UC Berkeley, poses the question “Is an HCI revolution just around the corner?” Although I generally find breathless prognostications of amazing possibilities Right Around the Corner to be a little overbearing, Professor Canny does a good job of providing a balanced perspective on the future of HCI.

One of the most interesting (and lucrative) ideas discussed is the notion of vastly-improved context-sensitivity. The context-sensitive systems that we interact with today are incredibly bare-bones, and I think we’d stand to benefit greatly if this sort of advancement was done carefully and respectfully (essentially, being mindful of privacy concerns).

Google does a fantastic job of presenting context-sensitive advertisements today, and Amazon is taking steps in that direction with their Omakase system. The ACM article discusses this sort of system integrated into our day-to-day lives through three types of contextual knowledge:

immediate context; activity context, which is about the history of the particular user and a few others (because many activities are cooperative); and situational context, which is about how other actors typically behave in that situation.

Although a system like this would have great potential for abuse, it would also have the ability to make life significantly easier. For example, I flew back to Seattle from San Francisco last night. After getting back to my apartment around 7pm, I was beat, it was raining outside, and I was in no mood to cook. If my phone or PC could have offered me a great deal on food via delivery, I would have snapped it up in a heartbeat.