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Frontiers of Science

The key lies in the interface between humans and computers

Why can’t we all be producers?

IGARASHI Takeo

Professor, Department of Creative Informatics Science, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology

April 1, 2021

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Smartphones and computers are now ubiquitous and indispensable.
Innovations in interfaces will open up new possibilities for humans.

“Just using computer for “consuming” is not much fun,” Professor Igarashi says quietly.

“In today’s world of mass production and consumption, contents and products made by a tiny number of companies and people are used by consumers across the four corners of the globe. How can these uniform contents and products possibly meet their diverse needs? That is the underlying question. Computers can be tools for creating things. I hope that more people will use computers as tools for creation, and that more people will become producers.”

However, it’s not so easy to use a computer to create something. That’s why Professor Igarashi has devoted his research efforts to technologies that support computer-aided creativity.

For example, he developed a software tool that makes it simple to animate a sketch. Drop a pin at the desired location on the sketch, and when you move the pin, the sketch moves with it. Pins can even be dropped in more than one location. The software divides the sketch internally into a mesh of triangles, and an optimization method is used to minimize the sum of distortions of the triangles when the pins are moved. Professor Igarashi developed this tool in the early 2000s, more than a decade ago. We asked him about the inspiration behind this development.

“The multi-touch interface, which allows users to control the screen of a smartphone with multiple fingers, is commonplace today but was still experimental at the time. My initial motivation was to create a new user experience of moving sketches by pinching with multiple fingers. At the same time, I wanted to incorporate technical innovations into the algorithms and mechanisms that make this possible. The critical issue was how to make the sketch move with the technology available at the time. How to express the distortion of the triangles in a mathematical formula was an unsolved question, and I came up with a way to make it easy to calculate.”

The novelty of the user’s experience lies in the novelty of the interactions between humans and computers. Interactions are created at the interface between the two. Professor Igarashi's research, which supports computer-aided creativity, is an attempt to create new interfaces and give rise to new interactions.

“Nowadays, computers and smartphones are rarely out of our reach. Interfaces and interactions are therefore key issues. We need to identify the underlying problems and solve them with technology. That’s what I’m really interested in. As new technologies come along, the interactions change.”

More recently, he has been working on human-computer interfaces suitable for machine learning technology. He is also interested in how computers can support society in practical ways and is involved in research on processing three-dimensional images in the medical field. In 2016, he developed a technique that allows doctors to segment CT and MRI images efficiently.

“It’s about the novelty of the user experience, the algorithms that make it happen, and the practicality of getting people to use it. It’s difficult to satisfy all these requirements at the same time, but we are working on it.”

Interview and text: Masatsugu Kayahara
​Photography: Junichi Kaizuka

Originally published in The School of Science Brochure 2020

IGARASHI Takeo
Professor, Department of Creative Informatics Science, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology
Graduated from the Department of Mathematical Engineering and Information Physics, Faculty of Engineering, University of Tokyo in 1995, where he also earned a Ph.D. in engineering in 2000 and has lectured since 2002. He became an assistant professor in 2005 before assuming his current position in 2011. His research interests are in user interfaces and computer graphics.
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