April 1, 2016
Researchers Harness the Power of Quantum User Interfaces
April 1, 2016
Researchers announced an astonishing breakthrough by creating Quantum User Interfaces (QUIs) which promise to deliver remarkable increases in user capabilities. The startling idea is to replace millions of user actions with a single action that accomplishes a full month or year of work. A simple metaphor that conveys the power of quantum user interfaces is the well-established global search and replace command. Using a traditional Graphical User Interface (GUI), a large database could be updated by changing thousands of occurrences of “coffee” with “tea” manually while a single global search and replace command could make the change much more rapidly. However, even the best modern GUIs have no way to speed up more complex tasks such as making many versions of a document for different audiences. With a QUI, a user could specify several kinds of drinks and entrees simultaneously, and all versions of the document would exist at once and be available for any purpose. With a QUI, the user can do in one step what might take hours to otherwise accomplish. Researchers have come forward with many powerful examples.
QUIs are different than GUIs which are based on discrete operations. While some GUIs can be automated to speed them up or parallelized through collaborative computing approaches, QUIs work by user interfaces which can be in a superpositions of states. That is, some graphical elements can be in multiple states at the same time – so, for example, a button can be both pressed and not pressed simultaneously. This enables vast speedups by going beyond the Model Human Processor and software architectures such as Model-View Controller. However, they do not violate our basic understanding of Human-Computer Interaction and bedrock HCI principles such as Fitts’ law remains intact.
The power of QUIs is measured by counting the number of GUI commands that are replaced by a single “quantum user interface click”, commonly called QUICKS. Many of the projects yield 1,000 QUICKS but some show the possibility of 1,000,000 QUICKS (1 mega-QUICK). Longer-term hopes are to push toward giga-QUICK and peta-QUICK designs.
Certain problems can be solved much more quickly with QUIs than with traditional GUIs. Even those GUIs that use the best currently known approaches such as Direct Manipulation, Gestalt Theory for visual design, and Collaborative Computing approaches can be dramatically sped up. For example, Doctoral student Ambrose Light’s work at the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab conveys the exponential increases in user abilities that researchers expect QUIs will bring. Ambrose has documented 3 mega-QUICK speed ups in complex tasks such as replacing the work of teams of citizen scientists by executing a single command. By configuring the geographical database to include the possibility of a bird sighting or not of every known species at every location simultaneously, the mechanical data entry of each observation is replaced with simple confirmation. This command is called the “gather” operation since it can bring millions of bird sightings into a nearly error-free database within 1-2 hours.
Similarly, doctoral student Hadassah Agrawala at the University of Washington, has demonstrated a QUI with unheard of power to help job-seekers by listing themselves as both interested and not interested at every company that has open jobs listed which is expected to dramatically reduce national unemployment by a full percentage point. This QUI enables job-seekers to issue a single command that returns a precisely selected set of job descriptions from dozens of independent databases. Then the QUI filters them into a single file, organized geographically, and ranked by similarity to the users’ abilities. Hadassah reports performance in the 50-70 mega-QUICK range. She has launched a startup company, QUICKJOB that has already drawn $11.7M in funding, and will provide a public service, for a fee, within three months.
Even as QUIs become commercially available, other researchers are already racing off to the even more ambitious String User Interfaces (SUIs) that depend on the vibrational structure of queries as they spread through exo-scale databases. SUIs would replace hierarchical file structures with wave-like superposition files, in which even high-dimensional intersections are resolved in less than a millisecond. By using relativistic compensations, searches that used to take hours can be performed by novice users in seconds. While still expected to be 5 years away from commercialization, SUIs can combine action and reaction in a single operation. QUICKJOB has already filed a provisional patent application showing how employers can react by simultaneously offering and not offering jobs to all the applicants and having the vibrational equilibrium perform the proper matching so exactly the right applicants end up with job offers. Skeptics are not yet convinced that these results are guaranteed to perform the right matches, and are currently modeling whether a combination of money saved through speedups and legal protections through provisional employment contracts would provide benefit overall. Clearly this approach is promising enough as there has been a chain reaction of openly published papers (see arXiv.org) claiming ever greater abilities for SUIs.
Worldwide attention is gathering for the July 16-18 Symposium on Quantum User Interfaces: New Technologies (SQUINT) to be held in College Park, MD. Conference Chair Ben Neb hints at further breakthrough announcements that have enticed participation by large numbers of journalists, venture capitalists, and government agency funders.