“Virtual Environment” is a term which has been referred to by many academicians differently. They use terms like “Virtual Reality”, “Virtual World”, and “Artificial Reality”. Virtual environment means a computer simulated environment which helps users to interact with one another. Virtual environments are increasingly being applied in every field of human life. Education and learning, consultancy, crime investigation, gaming, entertainment, research, health care, social interaction, or workplaces use virtual environments. Every field of human life is getting influenced with this technological innovation (Stanney, Mourant and Kennedy, 1998). There has been a tremendous change in the lifestyles of people all over the world. Technology has played an important role in this (Behl, 2009). Virtual environments save lot of time by removing place and distance barriers.
The emergence of need for Human-Computer Interaction
The highly advanced Human-Computer Interaction systems available today are the outcome of long and continuous technological invention. History shows that few decades back, computers were just simple devices used for maintaining data and making mathematical calculations. The input and output devices attached to the computer for exchanging data were also simple and easy to operate. But with time, human life became complex. There was need for better technologically advanced machines which can perform large complex operations speedily. The increasing complexity of human life evoked the need for better means of communication. Globalization has made the world a small place and today the transactions have taken a global form. Products and services are exchanged not only nationally but also across the national boundaries.
The computer age
Seeing the need for highly sophisticated devices, various hardware and software devices were introduced. They were capable of performing the most tedious tasks provided by the users. This was the time when computers were not a part and parcel of daily life. Computers were considered to be the tools of software and hardware engineers or programmers. These professionals utilized computer technology for their professional requirements. But as time progressed, computers became the need of common man. Students, children, doctors, engineers, professors, scientists and researchers etc. everybody required computer for various purposes. This requirement of computer technology by layman posed a major challenge for manufacturers and designers because computers were built for professionals. They were not very user-friendly.
The computers that time were designed by the programmers and designers according to their knowledge. Users’ needs were not given priority. But with time, users occupied the most important position in it. Today every effort is made by the manufacturers to design technology which is capable of performing complex tasks and also user-friendly for the common man. This gave birth to the concept of Human-Computer Interface (HCI). Human-computer interface is one of the most crucial developments in the field of computer technology. It has brought a complete revolution in communication.
Definition and concept of Human-Computer Interaction
Paul Booth defined the term ‘human-computer interaction’ as, “the study of the interaction between humans and computers.” The term ‘human-computer interaction’ is also interchanged by various authors and researchers with ‘man-machine interaction’ (MMI), ‘computer and human interaction’ (CHI) and ‘human-machine interaction’ (HMI). There is conflict among various researchers on the point which among these terms is most appropriate. However, all these terms are used to denote interactions between human beings and computers (Booth, 1989).
The definition given by Paul Booth is however not comprehensive. A better definition of the term ‘human-computer interaction’ has been made by Dix as, “It is the study of people, computer technology and the ways these influence each other. We study HCI to determine how we can make this computer technology more usable by people” (Dix et al., 1993). This definition gives a better view about HCI. It not only explains the meaning of the term but also presents its purpose. It clearly reveals that HCI is the field which aims at making computers more usable for the users.
Human-Computer Interactions today
The human-computer interaction systems have passed through many challenges to reach at the stage these systems today appear. There was a time when nobody could imagine an interaction between human beings and a machine. Today, this is the reality. Over last few decades, this field has grown tremendously. New and more sophisticated systems have been introduced. They have further facilitated an easy flow of communication between man and machine. In the beginning, the focus of all HCI allocations was on improving hardware-user interface. This gradually gave place to improving software-user interface. Then the priority was given to the user. All HCI activities were made user-friendly so that users can make best utilization of technology. Today, human-computer interaction systems are so advanced that it is very simple to:
- create and share graphics and visuals,
- to open and share e-mail attachments and images with a single click,
- to make use of synthetic speech,
- digital libraries,
- virtual environments, and
- artificial intelligence.
However, this is just a beginning and this field of human-computer interaction has a long way to go. The future of this technology seems to be even more exciting and promising than its past.
- Behl R. (2009) Information Technology for Management. Tata Mc-Graw Hill Education Private Limited.
- Booth, P. (1989). An Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction. Lawrence Erlbaum Ltd. U.K.
- Dix, A., Finlay, G., and Beale, R. (1993). Human-Computer Interaction. Prentice Hall.
- Stanney, Mourant, and Kennedy (1998). Human Factors Issues in Virtual Environments: A Review of the Literature. Volume 7, No.4, August 1998. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.