6 March 2012 by James Hayes
In the enterprise space eye tracking interfaces will change the nature of how we work, but may also change the ways in which we contrive to avoid it - for short 'allowable' periods, that is. A consideration of the history of our relationship with typewriting is instructive here. In the old days professional typists rarely hammered away at their keyboards for recreational purposes, or because they were drafting a message to their social network confreres. Back then, productivity was pretty easy to gauge: it started and stopped when typing was heard and not heard.
PCs changed all that: now who can actually tell why you're tapping away at that computer: is it really work, or is it 'non-work-related'? Are you applying yourself diligently to the 'agreed' employment tasks you've been set - or catching-up on advances in latest personal social media tools? Even when an inquisitive manager looms Blakey*-like behind you you just toggle the work spreadsheet to full-screen to effect a decoying manouver.
Such subterfuge at least gives the impression of busyness, and most bosses are happy to overlook cyber-skivers so long as the work of the day gets done (it's not fair: if an employee decided to simply sit gazing into space in lieu of cyber-skiving they'd be down to HR on a fizzer pronto).
Enter eye tracking: using image sensors and image processing to convey commands and instructions to the computer using movements of the operator's eyes. Technology being showcased at CeBIT this week by one of the market leaders, Swedish firm Tobii aims to take eye tracking beyond niche use, and put it to broader use, and that includes finding ways to converge it with conventional applications such as process control and even surgery.
It is in the area of standard office applications that eye tracking perhaps faces its biggest challenges, especially when it comes to monitoring individuals' productivity. When gaze interfaces come in manager will know even less about when their staff are really engaged in: responding to a sales inquiry or watching YouTube?
And what will be the implications for the hard-won human skill of multi-tasking? I'm drafting this blog entry in the CeBIT press centre while concurrently engaged in glancing at emails, search engine results, and my netbook's remaining power, while also acknowledging a passing hack who I haven't seen in donkeys, and glaring at the fatuous blogger who is loudly recording his podcast at the desk next to me instead of doing it in an empty room (one that's about 10km away, ideally). Will, come the era of eye tracking, such visual flittery be recalled with the same nostalgia as the typewriter generation now look back on the mixed aroma of new ribbons, carbon copies, and Tipp-Ex paper?
*That's Blakey the lurking Inspector of TV's On the Buses, BTW, not the Jazz drummer.
Edited: 07 March 2012 at 08:49 AM by James Hayes
Posted By: James Hayes @ 06 March 2012 04:15 PM General
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