Cool Homemade Keyboard + Interface Bandwidth Rant

A cool homemade keyboard (fragment)

The Keyboard

The device above may look like a strange mess of wires and buttons, but it’s actually an ingenious computer keyboard made by a crazy hacker (and I mean that in a good way). It features a large number of programmable keys, an unusual layout (looks like modified Dvorak), perpendicular keys, super-sensitive microswitch technology, and so on. You can get more information by clicking on the image to go to the project’s homepage.

The Accompanying Rant

The author states that he built the keyboard to increase the available bandwidth of the human-computer interface. Personally, I think the bandwidth isn’t the problem – it’s the encoding system that sucks. You can already do a lot with the standard keyboard, and do it fast, but many of the functions feel unnatural for humans. For example, when you want to switch to the next song in a playlist, you don’t think “emit a meaningless sequence of keycodes”, you just think “next song”. The actual keyboard shortcut is completely disconnected from the semantic meaning you have in mind (multimedia keyboards may be an exception). The situation is even worse for launching/manipulating applications and other more complex tasks – there are no keyboard buttons for “Firefox” and “bring-to-foreground”.

This cool keyboard solves the problem by having more keys that correspond to concepts, not codes. Of course, the standard keyboard also has a key -> concept mapping – “A” means “the letter A”, etc – but complex (meta)tasks often require an unnatural combination of these concepts. Programmable keys extend the number of available symbols and introduce new symbols that aren’t yet overloaded with meanings. So it does kind of increase the bandwidth… oops :)

Still, “more buttons!” probably isn’t the final answer. The human mind deals with a lot of things that wouldn’t fit even on a thousand-button panel. We may be able to achieve increased productivity by developing a carefully selected, context-sensitive set of new modifier keys, but there are obvious limits to how many buttons you can have on a computer (some would even prefer zero).

In the long term, we will obviously need to progress to using more direct means of interaction, like neural interfaces. However, it’d be interesting to investigate the near term possibilites. How about highly adaptive “magic” keys that use machine learning to discover what action is most likely in any particular context and let the user do it with a single keypress? What if we analyzed a couple thousand tech tutorials and made new meta-keys based on commonly used actions? Surely there has to be something interesting in the gap between “QWERTY” and “brain implant”.

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4 Responses to “Cool Homemade Keyboard + Interface Bandwidth Rant”

  1. W-Shadow says:

    Just testing a plugin, don’t mind me….

  2. underworld says:

    Can’t wait till someone bridges the gap away from the keyboard, every other part of the computer has pretty much evolved except the inputs!

  3. Eldreda Christner says:

    You rock. World needs more souls like you.

  4. Chulk says:

    Underworld : “very other part of the computer has pretty much evolved except the inputs!”

    True, but you forgot printers. Printers always feel like plugging something akin to a badly behaved motorbike or steam engine to the computer. They click and whir, scream and twitch. Something has to be done haha.

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