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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 15:38 GMT
Peering into the future
Robots have long inspired visions of the future
By BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield

By 2010, the first robot will have passed its GCSE exams.

This is just one of the predictions for the future decade from BTexact's futurologist Ian Pearson.

Artificial intelligence is always on the futurist's list of hopefuls but often seems to be the most unachievable.

Most AI research to date has got little farther than teaching robots very basic language skills.

Intelligent robots

AI research is coming on in leaps and bounds though, says Mr Pearson, meaning a school swot robot is a very real possibility.

It is hard for many people to believe or accept some of the changes listed above when half of the world's people have yet to make their first phone call

Ian Pearson
BT futurologist
"By 2006, it will be quite possible to ask a robot general questions which it hasn't been told beforehand and get a response," Mr Pearson told BBC News Online.

"It could talk the answers but I think that would be against GCSE rules so it is more likely to print them out," he explains.

Such a robot would be ready to take its A Levels a few years later and a degree a few years after that he says.

For 2002, however, the predictions are a little more mundane. Mr Pearson believes that underused video-conferencing may get a boost with talking head technology.

Speed freaks will also need to be careful with the possible introduction of intelligent "cats' eyes" with integrated speed cameras.

A food tester that can identify the presence of bugs could prove useful in the kitchen and the desktop looks set for a make-over with air typing and an air mouse.

Smart clothes

2003 looks like being a little bit more sci-fi with the introduction of video jewellery and virtual retinal displays in glasses.

The long-talked about home intranet - connecting all the devices in your house - may also become a reality next year.

Smart clothes always get a look in when it comes to future tech predictions. Jumpers that alter their thermal properties and clothes that can collect and store solar power are just two of the possibilities, thinks Mr Pearson.

Other predictions
Notebook computer screen with contrast as good as paper by 2003
Mobile phone location used in traffic management systems by 2004
First organism brought back to life by 2006
Anti-noise technology built into homes by 2010
He admits that such items will be of limited use in everyday life and are more likely to be luxury or gimmick items on the high street. In the military, though, they will prove invaluable.

Many of the predictions seem to be geared towards leisure, with limited use in the developing world where technology can make the difference between life and death.

"It is hard for many people to believe or accept some of the changes listed above when half of the world's people have yet to make their first phone call," admits Mr Pearson, but he believes technology can still make a difference.

"Palm-pilot like devices which can be distributed free and allow people in the developed world to get educated will be one of the most important technologies in this part of the world."

Artificial companions

For the gadget-hungry West, things start to get really exciting by 2006, with emotionally sensitive toys.

While they are unlikely to be as sophisticated as the teddy bear in Stephen Spielberg's AI, such toys will prove invaluable companions believes Mr Pearson.

Girl with robot pets
Toys will be able to respond to emotions
"We already have technologies that can measure stress, using simple cues like skin condition and temperature and it will be easy to put these in Barbie dolls which will be able to talk to little girls when they are upset and ask what is wrong," he says.

Not all the robots of the future will be so cuddly though, with robots the size of bees playing a vital role in surveillance during wartime.

"These tiny flying robots will be able to fly into caves and hack into computer systems," says Mr Pearson.

Perhaps the most bizarre prediction on his list is the idea that the highest earning celebrity in 2010 will be synthetic. Some cruel observers might note that this one has already come true.

See also:

07 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Showcase for future gadgets
21 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
Predicting AI's future
10 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
Past is the future for Hollywood's robots
24 Mar 01 | Business
CeBIT shows higher tech future
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