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Human-Machine Collaboration is Nothing New. NOT!


In my role at VANTIQ I frequently speak to industry analysts and experts across many domains. Recently, I got into a bit of a heated discussion when I was talking about one of my favorite topics, the future of Human-Machine Collaboration, and the analyst said “this is nothing but HMI.” [See my recent blog post: Human-Machine Collaboration Ready to Hit the Mainstream.]

I had to quickly decide whether to push back or just roll with it. As a former Gartner analyst myself, I know that contradicting gurus can be a tricky business!

For those not up on the acronyms, HMI stands for Human-Machine Interface (sometimes also known as Man-Machine Interface). As defined by Techopedia:

Human-machine interface (HMI) is a component of certain devices that are capable of handling human-machine interactions. The interface consists of hardware and software that allow user inputs to be translated as signals for machines that, in turn, provide the required result to the user. Human-machine interface technology has been used in different industries like electronics, entertainment, military, medical, etc. Human-machine interfaces help in integrating humans into complex technological systems.

For a quick history of HMI, check out the short History of the HMI section on this site.

So why is Human-Machine Collaboration not just HMI with more syllables?

Obviously, the word “collaboration” is the key distinction. Machines (system, software, robots, etc.) are rapidly becoming both more complex and more intelligent. The techniques and algorithms of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning are not only becoming connected to machines via the cloud, but are increasingly being embedded directly into them at the edge(s) of distributed architectures.

At the same time this is happening, the systems that enable people to powerfully interact with these intelligent machines are also rapidly improving. These human-machine interfaces (hah!) not only include PCs and the now ubiquitous handheld mobile devices, but increasingly we are seeing real-world applications of natural language processing (NLP – think Alexa) and augmented reality systems. (See here for a cool video of augmented reality in action in an industrial setting that is not too far away – I have personally experienced both the hardware and similar applications including those that we are now building at VANTIQ.)

The last necessary elements are the applications that tie all this together in real time. So-called ‘event-driven’ applications are necessary to enable all the flows of asynchronous data between people and systems so that actions can be taken collaboratively in real time. As Gartner said in a recent report:

“By 2020, 50% of new user-facing applications developed will be event-driven applications.”

Gartner, “Event Driven Programming Models Will Disrupt End-User Applications” by Van L. Baker, May 2017

So HMI is critical – we do need powerful ways for people to ‘interface’ with technology. But it is only when increasingly intelligent machines can literally collaborate with people – and leverage each other’s particular capabilities, knowledge, experience, and even wisdom – that organizations will be able to drive truly powerful digital business transformation.

And, no, I didn’t argue with the analyst at the time – but the chat did inspire me to write this blog!

Have a thought for an interesting posting on the topics of real-time business, digital transformation, event-driven applications, human-machine collaboration, edge computing, Internet of Things (IoT), or high-productivity/low-code development? If so, shoot me a note: [email protected]

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