Monday, February 20, 2012

Concerned About a Regenerating Doctor? Take Heart: Think Innovation

A friend, colleague and fellow Doctor Who fan announced on Facebook recently that this Spring the current Doctor would be changing. A chorus of "oh no!!!!" popped into Reply boxes from around the world.

Reading nostalgic discussions about The Doctor, it dawned on me there was a connection between accepting technological innovation and global dismay at the prospect of a new Doctor. We earthly humans don't always like change, even when we know it is inevitable and good for us. Since 1963 there have been 11 Doctors. We (his fans) all know that every few seasons he regenerates. New face, new body, new personality, new cohorts. Change is how the show stays fresh and innovative. Yet, each time we mourn and wish to hold onto our favorite for a few more episodes.

We don't always welcome change in technology even when we know the potential for innovation and positive outcomes is grand. An article last year in the CACM about natural user interfaces quoted someone who said "it is not appropriate to start talking about NUIs until you have a complete solution"*. There was more to the statement, but still I wanted to ask: why not? When has technological innovation ever waited for complete solutions? Innovation comes when people keep working, thinking, trying, changing, implementing, deploying, testing, investigating. There are no guarantees, but we forge ahead anyway.

For a period of time I had a pre-adolescent crush of serious proportions on the 4th Doctor. Many years later I had a post-adolescent crush (less serious but still notable) on the 10th Doctor. In each case, when he changed I thought no, it isn't possible to move forward - no! We (I) aren't ready! However, in spite of my personal angst, the interface changed. Tom Baker gave way for Peter Davison (a pretty cool dude too). David Tennant gave way for Matt Smith. Matt Smith will give way for...

There is a reason they call it regeneration. Doctor Who has been around almost 50 years because he upgrades - not always perfect, sometimes not so effective. If we waited around for everything to be complete, standardized, worked out, there would be no adventure. No more planets and people to save - and no opportunity for all the fun along the way.

One of the biggest challenges to technological innovation is moving out of a comfort zone based on familiarity.  A reader of my last post on NUIs commented elsewhere that it is difficult to define "norms". I agreed, and suggested that it is also difficult to define "natural". These are challenges to developing NUIs. But neither one of us suggested that technology should not move forward and strive for positive change. 

Dr. Who Timeline
* Communications of the ACM, December 2011, Vol. 54, No. 12, p. 15

1 comment:

  1. That wonderful Twinkee came from SweetGrass in Bloomington IN., we had tremendous fun poking, prodding and even eating it. I don't think they still offer it but maybe if we all ask nice they will start again.