04 January 2013

New year tech

I’ve just read an article on five technology developments that could rewire our world. It’s quite informative, but three of the predicted developments have massive implications for technical authors:

Self-driving cars
I believe that smarter devices often make the world accessible to people without the skills they would otherwise need. Once upon a time (yes, it really does seem that long ago!) computers were only really accessible to those with the ability to code and manipulate command prompts; in the modern world even keyboard skills aren’t that essential thanks to the nature of modern tablets. The same change happening in motor vehicles means that there is going to be a sea-change in the way that we categorise drivers and mechanics. Expect drivers to have far less knowledge of vehicles in future, whilst mechanics will need to further develop into gurus of GPS and guidance systems. The documentation provided to both groups will need to change accordingly, and somewhere an entirely new vocabulary will have to be developed to describe how self-drive cars operate (possibly by tagging the word ‘manual’ onto everything we currently do: “I manual-steer my car round corners and manual-brake for traffic lights”).
Flexible screens
As technical communicators, we still haven’t quite shifted away from the flat nature of paper in books and manuals, as screens are also flat. The issues for our field in terms of accessibility and re-skilling are massive when we consider that our output may be curved around the surface of a cylinder, or even a sphere... This doesn’t make our job impossible, but it may mean fundamentally reconsidering some of the givens in the field (e.g. “in European languages, the eye tracks from top left to bottom right” because on a round surface, there suddenly isn’t a top left and bottom right).
Augmented reality
This has been around for a while in science-fiction (one of the most interesting mentions was in Michael Chrighton’s Airframe) and video games (Batman: Arkham City amongst others) but is yet to make it mainstream. This is about to change and I think that augmented reality is going to be one of the biggest changes to hit technical communications in the next decade. Instead of writing so that an individual user is constantly looking from product to manual and back, we’ll be writing so that the user is seeing and hearing the information overlaid on the product they’re currently looking at.

So there we have it, not necessarily the big five, but the big three. Personally I’m quite looking forward to what the future holds.

Andrew

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