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Dasher: where do you want to write today?

October 19, 2006

Hannah Wallash put their slides about Dasher on the web (quite the same as these ones from her mentor). Dasher is an “information-efficient text-entry interface”.

What made me interested in Dasher is her introduction about the way we communicate with computers and how they help us to communicate with them. There are keyboards (even reduced ones), gesture alphabets, text entry prediction, etc. I am interested in the ways people can enter text on a touch-screen, without physical keyboard. Usually, people use a virtual keyboard (like in kiosks for tourists or in handheld devices). But they are apparently not the best solutions.

They come with an interesting way of entering text, where pulling and pushing elements on screen are used to form words (with the help of the computer that is “guessing” the words from the previous letters). It requires a lot of visual attention but this can be turned into a feature for people unable to communicate with hands (for physical keyboard and mouse ; one man even wrote his entire B.Sc. thesis with Dasher and his eyes!).

You can download Dasher for a wide range of operating systems and even try it in your web browser (Java required) (btw, it’s the first software I see that adopted the GNU GPL 3). After reading the short explanation, you’ll be able to easily write your own words, phrases and texts.

They are interested in the way people are interacting with the computer. They are using a language model to show the next letters. On the human side, I am wondering if this kind of tool has an influence on how the human brain works. Visual memory should be involved in physical keyboard (“where are the letters?”) but also here (same question but the location of letters is changing all the time). Here, letters are moving but one can learn that boxes are bigger if the next letter probability is bigger. How is the brain involved in such system? What is it learning exactly? Are there fast and slow learners in this task? It could be interesting to look at this …

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