As a start for the study, the steering committee notes that good interface design can help the spread of technologies. For example, one can point to the movement of personal computers from offices to homes and the growth of electronic game systems (e.g., Nintendo and Sega) that run on special or general-purpose computers. In the last several years, we have also witnessed the explosive growth of the World Wide Web and its use by individuals, schools and universities, companies, governmental units, and nonprofit organizations. Another area of growth involves the 800- and 900-number telephone services and experiments in electronic banking, meter reading, and other specialized data services to the home, as well as the rise of ''freenets" and other local public network services.
Yet problems with many interfaces have also been observed. Interfaces often frustrate or are of limited use to many users, restricting access and use.2 Problems begin with those who do use these technologies despite some apparent difficulties. They suffer from repetitive stress syndrome and from the effects of low input/output bandwidths, overly restrictive computational formats, information overload, and many other problems. Market research also shows that today's costs of owning a personal computer, in the home or office, are very high once the various support costs are factored in.3 Other problems relate to those who do not or cannot use the information infrastructure. Current interfaces are among a variety of factors that limit use today by those who have physical, sensory, cognitive, language, and learning difficulties and by those whose activities or environments impose constraints on what they can do and how. Despite an enormous number of smart people working to improve interfaces, this is an area characterized by tough problems, many of which are getting tougher as the user population and its demands grow. As Bruce Tognazzini observed at the August 1996 workshop, "While critical roadwork needs to be done in building the nation's information superhighway, we cannot afford any longer to ignore the cars. Our 1960s rattletrap hardware and 1970s rattletrap interfaces and software are not up to the task of every-citizen access to this nation's information infrastructure."
Based on its study of such problems, the steering committee recommends an aggressive research program, funded by government and private sources, that examines both the human performance side of interfaces and the interface technologies, current and potential. Certainly such funding has played a major role historically in breaking new ground in interface design, and even greater reasons exist now for its continuance. One need only look at the roots of current graphical interfaces, notably the Apple Computer Macintosh operating system, which built on the earlier Xerox PARC SmallTalk and Alto systems and yet earlier work at SRI and RAND.4 Another example is the Internet, which can be traced to