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CHI 97, Looking to the Future

Peter Stevens

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A Conference Preview

The Human-Computer Interaction community will look to the future in the upcoming CHI 97 conference. Taking a number of tacks, the conference will present views of the future from the recent past; provide a technology track for children, CHIkids; and provide a forum for the best current work in both academia and industry on the future of how we will interact with computers and other machines. "The ACM, our sponsoring organization, has just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. For CHI 97, we will look at where we have been and where we are going," comments Alan Edwards, General co-chair of the conference. "We wanted people to submit visionary contributions," adds Steven Pemberton, General co-chair with Alan Edwards. Finally, notes CHIkids chair Allison Druin, "Children are our future. They will be our technology users of tomorrow, and can tell us what they like, and point us in new directions."

Rick Prelinger, President of Prelinger Archives, will open the conference with a talk on the historical roots of current ideas and expectations regarding how we interact with machines. Titled "Utopia Appropriated: The Future as it Was" Prelinger's presentation will show how the technological future was envisioned earlier this century, using clips from industrial and advertising films to illustrate his points. "This is intended to be a thought provoking piece. I'm not one for nostalgia, but I do believe in using historical materials to illuminate current social and cultural issues," notes Prelinger. Out of his nearly 37,000 films, a dozen from between 1936 and 1964 will be used to illustrate how visions of the future were established and appropriated by large corporations. "We will take a critical look at mid-twentieth-century utopian promises that have shaped how we continue to think about our interactions with machines."

Looking to the future in another way altogether, CHI 97 will continue last year's success with CHIkids, a combined technical track and childcare program for the children of conference participants. Allison Druin, the originator of the program at CHI 96, notes that "CHIkids was more successful than we could have ever imagined." Children participating in CHIkids wrote articles for a conference newsletter, tested experimental software, and many other activities. For '97, "the CHIkids program will continue to serve the CHI conference, parents and kids with a CHIkids Newsroom, Multimedia Storytelling, Technology Workouts, CD-ROM Field Trips, as well as some new programs this year." The number of children participating will double to 100 this year, due to the tremendous popularity of the program last year.

The theme of CHI 97, the next annual conference of the Human-Computer Interaction research and development community, is "Looking to the Future". The conference, which will be held March 22 to 27 in Atlanta Georgia, USA, will be an opportunity for both researchers and practitioners, from both academia and in industry, to come together to discuss the latest developments in human computer interaction. Participants will have a chance to meet with a wide variety of individuals, and sample a broad range of work in the HCI field. CHI 97 is sponsored by the ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI).

CHI conferences provide a rare opportunity for such diverse interaction. Artists, researchers, managers, educators, students, writers and designers all have a part in making these gatherings unique in the computer industry. Originally a small meeting for psychologists interested in making computer systems easier to use, the CHI conference has expanded to include:

  • Tutorials
  • Papers
  • Technical Notes
  • Design Briefings
  • Panels
  • Demonstrations
  • Videos
  • Organization Overviews
  • Workshops
  • CHIkids
  • Doctoral Consortium
  • Development Consortium
  • Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
  • Late-Breaking Results and Informal Presentations
  • Vendor Exhibits
Technical Notes, two page papers succinctly describing new developments in HCI work, are new for '97. Free running demonstrations, that will be available for more time during the conference, are being encouraged by the conference chairs. Also new are Late Breaking Results, with very late submission dates.

Tutorials this year will include user interface design for the World Wide Web, as well as many other topics. "We plan to present a tutorial by Jakob Nielsen, as well as several others on the `what' and `how-to' of user interface design for the web," comments Jim Larson, Tutorials co-chair. "We will also have tutorials on Java and on designing virtual worlds for the web." A hot topic for the conference, the World Wide Web will share the stage with many other topics, ranging from Activity Theory in a tutorial by Bonnie Nardi, author of Context and Consciousness, and Victor Kaptelinin; to a tutorial on drawing by last years closing plenary speaker Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The planned 33 tutorials will include diverse topics, such as talking with computers, the management of HCI projects, understanding customers, and usability engineering. According to Larson, "there will be something for every CHI attendee." A Tutorial Planner is available on the World Wide Web for help in planning which tutorials to take at the conference.

For the closing plenary Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X and microserfs, will offer his insights into the effects of computers, cyberspace and other high technologies on our lives. He feels that computers have been over-sold in the recent past: "I think it's kind-o-sleazy the way they are somehow fobbed off in advertising as being magical, or holding a secret capacity to renew your existence or personality or career." Initially trained as a sculptor, Coupland popularized the term "X Generation" with his first book, and has recently begun commenting on the cult of the computer in modern life. "I just look for things that are so invisible that they explode into visibility, because that's what art school trains people to do," notes Coupland, an experienced user of computers and the internet, as well as having a background in fine art. As for the internet and the World Wide Web, Coupland feels we may not understand all the implications, commenting that "maybe there's this other vastly smarter race of beings out there who look at us and our sad little inventions and say, `That is one heckuva stupid species. Amazing how they invent things but never understand the full importance of their creations. Nevermind.'"

New for CHI 97 is a program to promote participation by individuals from "soft-currency" countries who would not otherwise be able to attend the conference. "The Development Consortium is an outreach program to parts of the HCI community who normally can't come to CHI conferences," explains Pemberton. The program will be sponsoring up to fifteen individuals, with funding from SIGCHI. Both general co-chairs, Steven Pemberton and Alan Edwards, have worked toward their goal of having an inclusive and a balanced, global conference. "We have both tried to achieve a balance in terms of the material presented, as well as a balance of the international participation in the conference," notes Edwards. Added to these goals is the successful inclusion of children into the CHI community, truly looking to the future.

For further information

Visit the World Wide Web site at: http://www.acm.org/sigchi/chi97

Or contact the CHI 97 Conference Office at:
703 Giddings Avenue, Suite U-3
Annapolis, MD 21401 USA
Tel: +1 410 263 5382
Fax: +1 410 267 0332
E-mail: CHI97-help@acm.org

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SIGCHI Bulletin
Vol.29 No.1, January 1997
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