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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
The Tech Lab: Gordon Frazer
Microsoft's UK managing director looks ahead to a time when computers do a better job of understanding what we want and when we want it.

Family out for a walk, BBC
Technology will be able to help maintain social ties
William Gibson, the godfather of cyberspace, said recently that the increasing rate of technologically driven change meant that even he found it difficult to predict what the future might look like.

Looking around me, I can sympathise with that view because I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the world's leading technologists every day and the pace of development is staggering.

Thirty years ago, the challenge was how to bring computing to the mass market. At the time the vision of a personal computer on every desk and in every house was one that seemed a long way away, especially after Ken Olsen's immortal 1977 comment "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home".

Of course times change, and both history and the technology industry are littered with quotes that seemed clever at the time.

So, when looking towards the future I'm naturally nervous about predicting that we will all be living in the world of the Jetsons. What I do see every day though are the challenges and frustrations faced by people who are using technology either at work, at school or in their personal lives.

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The world's leading thinkers give a personal view of future technologies
Today, my children have used computers from their earliest years but today they essentially use the same machine that was developed three decades ago and, in many ways, it remains a confusing experience because we can't communicate with the machine in the same way as we can with each other.

In five to 10 years, your average computer is going to make today's desktop look like a pocket calculator. It won't be 50% more powerful or 100% more powerful it will be 5-10,000% more powerful.

But what to do with that power? I am reasonably proficient at using a keyboard, but in reality I can only type my instructions and that's nowhere near the speed of speech or thought.

Is it of any great advantage to the average user to be able to open Word or PowerPoint a hundred times faster then they can today? I don't think so, but what I do believe is that in order to utilise the coming change in computing power we need to fundamentally change the way we interact with technology.

What we are working on now is how to improve that complex computing experience for the next generation of users. To do that, we need powerful computers and intuitive software that works with us to learn our habits and predict our needs.

Gordon Frazer, Microsoft
Learning to live with technology that is constantly trying to anticipate your needs will no doubt lead to some interesting times and not inconsiderable challenges.
Gordon Frazer, Microsoft
Microsoft employs anthropologists to do precisely that, but we want that process of continual learning to be happening in real time every day.

The idea of personalised technology is one that is not new, but it is one that I think is finally becoming a reality.

For it to do so, three things that have needed to happen are beginning to emerge.

There needs to be a natural interface between humans and computers, there needs to be a unified communications platform and computing needs to be pervasive. The leap in computing power that we will see in the coming years can enable all three.

Humans, ever since the days of cave and campfire, tend to be focused around communities. The rise of social media platforms are predicated on the building and upkeep of complex personal and business networks without which we would struggle to live, work or play.

Indeed, the desire for this type of interaction is driving development of hardware, software and web services. Maintaining our connections to the people in our immediate and extended networks, wherever and whenever they are, is critical to the development of personalised and pervasive computing.

Some may argue that mobile technology already allows us to do this but until communication is removed from the device and focused on the person then I don't believe it will be true.

I want to be able to choose the manner in which I receive communications from any of my friends, colleagues or business contacts, whether that is on the phone, on the wall of the house or perhaps on smart panels as I walk down the street.

The ability to choose how people interact with technology is a key driver for dramatic change.

As a species we have spent several million years developing a system of social interaction that goes far beyond the things which we say or choose to write down and allows us to communicate in richly complex and infinitely nuanced ways.

Processor socket, Eyewire
Computers promise to get progressively more powerful
Unfortunately, the keyboard and mouse weren't part of this evolution from day one and that is a challenge.

The development of a natural interface is something the industry is working very hard on and the processing power that is emerging will allow speech, gesture and surface based computing to be an everyday reality.

There is some great work being done in the area of natural language interfaces, and I'm looking forward to the day when my computing experience becomes truly supportive.

When I can wake up in the morning and ask my computer to display all my meetings for the day, the likely weather, any urgent contacts I need respond to and also to look for the cheapest flights to France for the weekend whilst I'm eating my breakfast then the computer will no longer be just a tool, but a truly supportive and a very personal assistant.

Learning to live with technology that is constantly trying to anticipate your needs will no doubt lead to some interesting times and not inconsiderable challenges.

Thinking about it though, coming home to find that my house has ordered me a fridge full of ice cream and there's a brand new Ferrari in the drive might not be all that terrible.

We've come a long way in such a short space of time and I do believe that the next few years in computing will also be some of the most disruptive we have witnessed since the mass adoption of the PC.

But, that's an exciting prospect and my vision of the future is a place where we learn how to harness this new kind of power to build a profoundly beneficial relationship between people and machines.



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