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Microsoft has set up a new research group in Cambridge to look into ways of improving human-computer interaction.

It says that an approach combining hardware engineering with psychology and sociology will lead to better ways for people to interact with technology. The aim, a worthy one, is to make the process more intuitive and straightforward.

The research programme will focus on five areas within what it calls the "human-centred dimensions of computing and communication": ubiquitous computing; modes of interaction; device design and evaluation; mobile communication and media futures; and comparative research methods in Human Computer Interfaces.

Researchers will look into all the strands of an interaction with a computer: from the social and psychological to the technological aspects. They are also going to look into correlation between digital and physical entities: i.e. how a web browser works, and whether it has a counterpart in the physical world.

Could this put an end to the desire to throw misbehaving technology out of tall buildings? Maybe they could work on making those automated phone systems even slightly less annoying...the possibilities are almost endless when you look at all the ways in which humans and computers interact badly.

Ken Wood, the senior researcher heading up the new Interactive Systems Group, cites SMS as a rare example of good human-computer interaction, and says the goal of the research is to find something that hits the so-called interaction sweet-spot in a similar way. ®

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