The impact of technology will increase ten-fold as it is imbedded in the fabric of everyday life. As technology becomes more imbedded and invisible, it calms our lives by removing annoyances while keeping us connected with what is truly important.

— Mark Weiser, 1988 Xerox PARC, on “ubiquitous computing.”

User interface design is an essential element of any successful technology startup: it is the competitive differentiator in software these days. Apple, Google and Facebook has proven that when you build products that not only work well but are also intuitive and beautiful, you have a huge advantage in the marketplace.

But something is more powerful than any interfaces: an application that is so automatic and so intuitive that it doesn’t require a UI. Imagine a system that automatically and intelligently performs tasks that you would typically perform manually through a standard UI so perfectly that you never need to look at it. For example, “Clara” a virtual assistant that could read and understand your emails to the point where a meeting is set up automatically in your calendar as soon as all attenders agreed on a time.

Today there are two kind of systems that can be abstracted from the UI: software for integrations and for intelligence-driven assumptions.

Systems that provide intelligent integrations are common, they allow user to automatically process tasks, but they require an initial setup and UI. I look at If This Then That, Yahoo Pipes and Tarpipe.

Intelligence-driven assumption based systems offer a better experience. They intelligently determine reasonable defaults so that they only require that the user access the UI if the system makes an error. When this happens, the system learns from its mistake so that it doesn’t make it again. One example is Mint which automatically classifies expenses and budgets for the user based on their past spending habits using their bank records. 

While UI design is important in the development of an application, the portions of the UI that you don’t see or use are the ones that will end up being the most valuable: invisible interfaces have a lot of applicability but remember to pre-populate the system with as much contextual information as possible – location, role, user profile, prior actions so as to reduce initial data input to a minimum.