Since the dawn of humanity, man has looked to the future for answers. Predictions have been made. Dreams have been exposed. What could be over the horizon? In the world of personal computing, we’re starting to see what that future looks like. If you’re a traditionalist, you won’t like what’s coming. Computers that adapt to and learn from their users, hands-free navigation, telepresence, holograms and shadow hands are just a few future applications. Check out the new technologies that will change the way we use computers. And get ready for a completely new and immersive experience. (Check out some other cool, cutting-edge technologies in 6 Star Trek Technologies That Became Reality.)
Navigation: From the Mouse to Mind Control
The way we were raised to navigate through a computer was by using a little gadget called the mouse. The world’s first mouse was made of wood (yes, wood!) and had one button and two wheels. This antique was invented in the late 1960s by Douglas Engelbart. In the not-too-distant future, the mouse may become extinct.
There are several viable candidates to dethrone the mouse (although none will have a name that’s nearly as cool). Just as today, you can customize your PC with different processors, hard drives and RAM, future PCs will allow you to choose a preferred method of navigation. For those who don’t want to give up using their hands, touch-screen technology will increase to the point where you have a seamless and instantaneous connection with your device. Screens of the future also will enable multitasking and have the ability to sense multiple inputs from multiple users on a single screen. It will take time to acclimate to these changes, but hey, people used to say it was hard to walk and chew gum.
If you’ve played the Wii, Playstation Move or Xbox Kinect, then you already have a feel for gesture control technology. This type of interface is still in its infancy, but it’s growing up fast and will soon be featured in your PC. This means you’ll either be able to wave a physical in-hand controller or just move your body. Cameras and lasers that can read your body are being implemented into computer monitors. Gaming and laid back navigation will never be the same.
But why move when you can, well … not move. That’s where voice recognition technology comes in, and it’s already making its way to mainstream. Siri and the Android model of voice commands are only the beginning. Expect your future PC to have voice technology that can recognize accents or slurred speech and take complex orders. Writing perfect emails and blog posts while laying comfortably on your couch is on the horizon. Expect games and websites to be able to handle your barked orders as well.
But wait! You may not even have to move a muscle. Computers that can read your eyes are on the horizon, and aim to provide peanut buttery smooth Web surfing experience. You may need to stock up heavily on eye drops and eyelash trimmers for optimum speed and performance, but it doesn’t get much better than this.
OK. Now here’s where things get really interesting. It’s actually not too crazy to think that eventually, you will be able to communicate with your PC simply by thinking about it. Scientists are working on reading (arguably) your most important organ, your brain, to identify brain wave patterns and enact corresponding actions. If you can think it, you can do it. Scary thought!
Communication: From Forums to Fake Hands
While there are certainly some cool methods of interacting with the PC on the horizon, there are some pretty amazing methods of communicating with other people as well. Most of us remember the first time we entered a chat room. ASL (age, sex, location) was the question on everyone’s mind, no one was who they seemed and spammers were common. Chat rooms have mostly fallen by the wayside, and the way we interact virtually has taken some major steps.
Skype has torn down barriers once thought to be impossible. Now you can see a loved one 10,000 miles away in real time. The next natural step, telepresence, is making this communication as real as ever. Remember when Princess Leia sent a holographic cry for help to Tatooine? (Of course you do.) This type of 3-D hologram technology may be available on your PC sooner than you think. Telepresence could soon enable a projection of a friend in your home, making it seem like you’re sitting across from each other and chatting in real time. As amazing as that possibility would be, it still won’t replace human touch – but then, sometimes a digital buffer zone is exactly what we need.
Or is it? Scientists and engineers working in a field called haptics (virtual touch)have developed and are perfecting a dexterous hand that can be operated by one user, where the ensuing controls can be felt by a user on the other end. The hand can emulate 24 different human movements, and is the closest available alternative to the real thing. Holding hands, scratching backs and dishing out high fives (among other things) from across globe will soon be possible. It may be creepy, but we’re growing exceedingly close to a world where physical location is meaningless. (The upside is super-cool though: We’ll each have holographic and physical avatar representations of ourselves.)
The future is near and it promises to hold much less computer rage.We’ve all experienced some sort frustration about a computer’s speed or repeated inability to perform tasks up to our standards. With our mastery of the current PC interface, computers have had trouble keeping up, and constantly need to be upgraded and reprogrammed. Researchers at IBM predict that computers that adapt to their users on the fly could soon be on the horizon. They will learn our needs, change the way they operate, and make our lives easier – at least in theory.
Your Future PC
As technology continues to push the envelop, it’s hardly crazy to think that these seemingly foreign developments of the 21st century are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of PC development – that is, if it even exists in its current form. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll reinvent it altogether.