Immersion and Blended Realities: Presence, Reciprocity, Agency & Accessibility

Bill Buxton, University of Toronto


Diversification is a core property of evolution – within all of the kingdoms, including machines, and for our purposes, especially computational machines. While this leads to evolutionary fitness in the local sense, overall, it leads to an evermore complex ecosystem. This is especially true when we consider the interactions amongst all the species of all of the kingdoms in the physical world in which we reside. In the early days of our field, the word “interaction” (in the HCI sense) focussed on the (initially 1-on-1) interactions of humans and computers.  As the computational arena diversified ever more, so did the discipline of interaction design.  To remain manageable, theory and practice tended towards strength and specificity.  Where that has led us is to an archipelago-like topology of both expertise and technologies. That is, there are few bridges, and little consideration, much less consideration of extensibility and interoperability among the diverse islands.

This talk is an attempt to step back and – taking an ecological perspective – attempt to take a holistic view of where we currently stand and argue why a change in perspective is needed.  I take as axiomatic that everything is best for something and worst for something else. On their own there is no panacea - AI, VR. AR, mobile, SOT, … notwithstanding.  Each is possibly essential, but none are sufficient.  And yet, together, with appropriate design, the collective has the potential to reduce complexity and significantly increase value.

These are easy words to say, yet on their own they may not carry much – if any – value.  It making the case for such value which will form the bulk of the case, using concrete examples deliberately taken from within the realm of “Immersive Computing.”   Marcel Proust wrote, “The only true voyage of discovery … is not to go to new places, but to see through different eyes.”

My goal is to propose alternative optics which may help in the forthcoming work in Immersive Computing by this center.



Bill has an over 40-year involvement in research, practice and commentary around design, innovation, and human aspects of technology. Following a 20-year career as a professional musician, he morphed into a researcher and interaction designer - at the University of Toronto, Xerox PARC, Alias|Wavefront, SGI Inc. (Chief Scientist at the last two), and Microsoft Research, from which he “rewired” in Dec. 2022. He has been awarded four honourary doctorates, is co-recipient of an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement, received an ACM/SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a Fellow of the Association of Computer Machinery (ACM). Bill has published, lectured, and consulted widely, and is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, and a Distinguished Professor of Industrial Design at the Technical University Eindhoven. He is currently focused on curating his collection of over 850 devices which document the history of human interaction with computers. Beyond work, his passions are his family, mountains, rivers bikes, and books.

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