Interactive computing is a broad name given to any form of data or commands that are fed into a computer by a person; this differs from non-interactive computing, in which computer processes and functions are controlled by inputs from software, applications or other computers. In an overall sense, interactive computing consists of any software — whether a game, word processor or database — in which the information or data is entered manually by a person, but some argue that all computing is technically interactive. A computer mouse and keyboard are most often used to interact with a computer, but there also are biometric systems and touch screens that remove this hardware from the picture. Cameras also can be used to control a computer without the need for a mouse or computer.
Inputs for interactive computing can come from many sources, but they must be performed by a person. The most common form of interactive computing involves inputs provided to the computer through a keyboard and mouse. As a person types with a keyboard or clicks with a mouse, he or she is sending an interactive signal to the computer to tell it to do something. This can be as basic as pressing a key on the keyboard. It also can be more complex, such as a person clicking a hyperlink that tells the computer to begin a string of non-interactive commands.
It can be argued that all commands and inputs are ultimately a form of interactive computing. This is partially true because all commands, no matter how complex or seemingly non-interactive, stem from a person typing a command or string of commands at some point. When a command is completed, the computer may begin following its own non-interactive commands, but the root command was in the form of interactive computing. Others argue that interactive commands are only those that involve the user, without the computer having to use extensive non-interactive functioning.
Electronic security commonly uses biometrics, a method of combining interactive computers with security. Smart cards, fingerprint readers and retinal scans are interactive computer methods that are used for security purposes. The person inputs his or her biometric information to gain access to phones, computers and even facilities.
Along the same lines, other areas of interactive computing have allowed the mouse and keyboard to be removed from the picture entirely. Some computers and gaming platforms have done away with keyboards, mice and other controllers and use motion-activated cameras and programs that can follow a person’s eyes or movements. These mediums give users the ability to interact with their computers without having to use a control device.