Negotiating Ontologies: bridging the gaps

Austin Henderson and Jed Harris, Pliant Research

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 16, 1997


The last fundamental advance in human-computer interaction -- the graphical user interface -- was made well over two decades ago; it's been commercially available for at least 15 years. Should we content ourselves with incremental improvements, or should we aim to do better than that?

In this talk we claim that we should do much better: that current design practices lead to a serious mismatch between human activity -- very rich and flexible -- and computational activity -- very simplistic and rigid. People constantly negotiate and evolve their practices, while digital technology typically demands a fixed view of the world. This inevitably leads to "ontological gaps" between people and their machines. However, we claim that improved design practices can help to both bridge these gaps, and to make digital systems pliant enough so that people can mold them to fit their practices.


Jed Harris has worked in software architecture and object oriented technology since 1977. He contributed to distributed object architectures at Data General and Intel, and was one of the founders of the OOPSLA conference. At Apple he developed foundations for software components, and was co-architect of OpenDoc. During the past two years he focused on research leading to formation of Apple's Discourse Architecture Laboratory. Currently he is Chief Technology Officer of Ricoh Silicon Valley, and a co-founder of Pliant Research.

Austin Henderson has been in the field of Human-Computer Interaction since 1964. He has a B.Sc. in Mathematics from Queen's University, Canada, an MS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, and a Ph.D in Computer Science for MIT. He has built applications in areas including manufacturing, air traffic control, electronic mail (Hermes), user interface design tools (Trillium), workspace management (Rooms, Buttons). He has done research and user interface architecture for Xerox at both PARC and EuroPARC, and for Apple Computer, and industrial design with Fitch. During the past two years at Apple, he managed the Discourse Architecture Laboratory and its precursors. Currently, he is a principal in Rivendel Consulting, and a co-founder of Pliant Research. Professionally, Austin has been active in ACM/SIGCHI since 1983, including as conference chair (1985), and organization chair (1989-1993).


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