The Future of Keyboards: A New Type or the End of the Keyboard?

With technological advancements happening at incredible rates, one question many people seem to be asking is: what is the future of keyboards? Some technologists and experts in the industry believe the keyboard will change form, while others think it will be phased out completely.

Before looking at the future of keyboards, we need to look at their limitations.

Computer processing power has increased exponentially in the last decades, but the peripherals we use with our computers have essentially remained the same (i.e. mouses, trackpads or keyboards). Today’s interfaces are built to do as much as possible within the limitations of a human’s motor sensory systems. The problem lies here. In order for computers to progress, the way in which we communicate with them will have to change.

However, it’s both expensive and difficult to try and change the norm of how the general public interacts with their gadgets. It’s also not only about the function, but about the products’ aesthetic appeal, which is why Apple products have been so successful.

Is the future of keyboards simply a techier keyboard?

New technologies are giving way to different types of keyboards. For example, laser projector keyboards remove the physical aspect by projecting an image of the keyboard onto a table or flat surface. When you ‘touch’ the keys, a sensor logs your keystrokes and conveys them to the computer.

But who needs a laser to project a keyboard when you could just wear it on your fingers? Tap was the first wearable keyboard and allowed the user to slip it onto their fingers and tap away on any surface. Similarly, Myo is a wrist-worn gadget that allows you to control your phone, computer and more touch-free.

Still, experts question if a physical keyboard will survive.

Is there a future for keyboards or will they be phased out?

Many experts in the industry, including Android co-founder Rich Miner, believe the keyboard will be phased out over the next 20 years or so. But then the question arises of what will replace them as the dominant mode of communication with computers?

Voice Control

Many experts believe the keyboard will be phased out and replaced with voice control. The technology is already ever-present in society with the increase of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana.

Introducing information into a computer through voice is faster than typing, but is it more efficient?

Many experts believe that voice-recognition technology is still not good enough; though this does not mean it never will be. However, voice recognition systems will need to understand context as context is the root of conversation.

There are also other barriers to voice control technologies, such as confidentiality. In some situations, such as in a train, at a bar, or in a library, we need to be quiet or simply don’t want people to hear what we are doing on our devices.

As technologies like speech recognition and facial recognition improve, it makes sense that our interactions with machines would go beyond screens to more subtle forms of communication.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Many technologists believe the next big thing will be virtual and augmented reality. A good example is the Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed reality device with apps and solutions that are meant to enhance collaboration. Although, some find the touch-typing on the HoloLens with the virtual keyboard in midair does not function very efficiently.

Several engineers also warn that such a leap would require large technological advancements that are simply not there yet.

But why stop at virtual and augmented reality when you can let your mind do all the work? While it is still a long way off, there have been discoveries into mind-control technology.

Brain-to-computer communication

Technologists and scientists in the past few years have been researching and developing ‘brain-to-computer' technology, supported by advocates such as Elon Musk and Rich Miner. At Gerwin Schalk’s laboratory, scientists are trying to develop interfaces for direct brain-to-computer processing. Similarly, a Microsoft patent was filed that outlines “changing the state of an application by detecting neurological user intent data”.

Scientists at Standford have also demonstrated that a ‘brain-to-computer' technology would allow patients will paralysis or other severe disabilities to type with speed and efficiency.

However, one of the biggest challenges is developing a way to measure the brain’s real-time activity. Scientists have already demonstrated that images produced in the mind can be transferred to an interface; for example, if you were imagining a word or an object. However, more advances are needed to capture precise measurements of brain activity and transfer them to interfaces to be deciphered without invasive procedures, such as brain implants.

With ‘brain-to-computer' technology you could make a computer do anything with a single thought. The potential implications are far beyond what we could even imagine and would exceed what any humans have done with technology to date.

However, a concern among some is that technology will become completely de-personalised. Among them, Miner believes we should take a ‘humanistic’ view of human-machine learning, where computers communicate on a more personal level. Technology would be advanced enough to understand speech, but also facial expressions and gestures; for example, holding your hand up to pause a video.

Many advances have been made in technology, but it seems the answer to the question ‘what is the future of keyboards?’ relies on the potential of technology advancements. But at least for the time being, it does not seem as though keyboards will altogether be phased out.
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