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Jun 05, 2011

Human Computer Confluence

Human Computer Confluence (HC-CO) is an ambitious initiative recently launched by the European Commission under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) program, which fosters projects that investigate and demonstrate new possibilities “emerging at the confluence between the human and technological realms” (source: HC-CO website, EU Commission).

Such projects will examine new modalities for individual and group perception, actions and experience in augmented, virtual spaces. In particular, such virtual spaces would span the virtual reality continuum, also extending to purely synthetic but believable representation of massive, complex and dynamic data. HC-CO also fosters inter-disciplinary research (such as Presence, neuroscience, psychophysics, prosthetics, machine learning, computer science and engineering) towards delivering unified experiences and inventing radically new forms of perception/action.

HC-CO brings together ideas stemming from two series of Presence projects (the complete list is available here) with a vision of new forms of interaction and of new types of information spaces to interact with. It will develop the science and technologies necessary to ensure an effective, even transparent, bidirectional communication between humans and computers, which will in turn deliver a huge set of applications: from today's Presence concepts to new senses, to new perceptive capabilities dealing with more abstract information spaces to the social impact of such communication enabling technologies. Inevitably, these technologies question the notion of interface between the human and the technological realm, and thus, also in a fundamental way, put into question the nature of both.

The long-term implications can be profound and need to be considered from an ethical/societal point of view. HC-CO is, however, not a programme on human augmentation. It does not aim to create a super-human. The idea of confluence is to study what can be done by bringing new types of technologically enabled interaction modalities in between the human and a range of virtual (not necessarily naturalistic) realms. Its ambition is to bring our best understanding from human sciences into future and emerging technologies for a new and purposeful human computer symbiosis.

HC-CO is conceptually broken down into the following themes:

  • HC-CO Data. On-line perception and interaction with massive volumes of data: new methods to stimulate and use human sensory perception and cognition to interpret massive volumes of data in real time to enable assimilation, understanding and interaction with informational spaces. Research should find new ways to exploit human factors (sensory, perceptual and cognitive aspects), including the selection of the most effective sensory modalities, for data exploration. Although not explicitly mentioned, non-sensorial pathways, i.e., direct brain to computer and computer to brain communication could be explored.
  • HC-CO Transit. Unified experience, emerging from the unnoticeable transition from physical to augmented or virtual reality: new methods and concepts towards unobtrusive mixed or virtual reality environment (multi-modal displays, tracking systems, virtual representations...), and scenarios to support entirely unobtrusive interaction. Unobtrusiveness also applies to virtual representations, their dynamics, and the feedback received. Here the challenge is both technological and scientific, spanning human cognition, human machine interaction and machine intelligence disciplines.
  • HC-CO Sense. New forms of perception and action: invent and demonstrate new forms of interaction with the real world, virtual models or abstract information by provoking a mapping from an artificial medium to appropriate sensory modalities or brain regions. This research should reinforce data perception and unified experience by augmenting the human interaction capabilities and awareness in virtual spaces.

In sum, HC-CO is an emerging r&d field that holds the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with computers. Standing at the crossroad between cognitive science, computer science and artificial intelligence, HC-CO can provide the cyberpsychology and cybertherapy community with fresh concepts and interesting new tools to apply in both research and clinical domains.

More to explore:

  • HC-CO initiative: The official EU website the HC-CO initiative, which describes the broad objectives of this emerging research field. 
  • HC2 Project: The horizontal character of HC-CO makes it a fascinating and fertile interdisciplinary field, but it can also compromise its growth, with researchers scattered across disciplines and groups worldwide. For this reason a coordination activity promoting discipline connect, identity building and integration while defining future research, education and policy directions at the regional, national, European and international level has been created. This project is HC2, a three-year Coordination Action funded by the FP7 FET Proactive scheme. The consortium will draw on a wide network of researchers and stakeholders to achieve four key objectives: a) stimulate, structure and support the research community, promoting identity building; b) to consolidate research agendas with special attention to the interdisciplinary aspects of HC-CO; c) enhance the Public Understanding of HC-CO and foster the early contact of researchers with high-tech SMEs and other industry players; d) establish guidelines for the definition of new educational curricula to prepare the next generation of HC-CO researchers.
  • CEED Project: Funded by the HC-CO initiative, the Collective Experience of Empathic Data Systems (CEEDs) project aims to develop “novel, integrated technologies to support human experience, analysis and understanding of very large datasets”. CEEDS will develop innovative tools to exploit theories showing that discovery is the identification of patterns in complex data sets by the implicit information processing capabilities of the human brain. Implicit human responses will be identified by the CEEDs system’s analysis of its sensing systems, tuned to users’ bio-signals and non-verbal behaviours. By associating these implicit responses with different features of massive datasets, the CEEDs system will guide users’ discovery of patterns and meaning within the datasets.
  • VERE Project: VERE - Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment – is another large project funded by the HC-CO initiative, which aims at “dissolving the boundary between the human body and surrogate representations in immersive virtual reality and physical reality”. Dissolving the boundary means that people have the illusion that their surrogate representation is their own body, and act and have thoughts that correspond to this. The work in VERE may be thought of as applied presence research and applied cognitive neuroscience.

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