With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

The future ain't what it used to be. In the pre-PC era, futurists predicted huge changes in transportation. By 2008, they prophesied, we would be flitting about with personal jetpacks and taking holidays on the moon. But the communications revolution spurred by personal computers and the internet wasn't on anyone's radar.

Now the technology landscape is once again on the verge of change – change that will transport us to places few people have imagined. We know that computers will be vastly more powerful, mobile and connected. But soon we'll struggle to tell where the technology ends and the rest of our life begins.

Digital technology will become firmly embedded in advanced devices that deliver information and entertainment to our homes and to our pockets, in sensors that monitor our environment from within the walls and floors of our homes and in chips that deliver medicine and augment reality inside our bodies.

This shiny, happy future may come at a cost, with experts warning of security and privacy issues. So let's hope our jetpacks come with seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride.

NEXT PAGE: the incredible disappearing PC

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

The incredible disappearing PC

Whether you've got a PC on your desk in 2018 will be a matter of choice. If so, it'll be vastly more powerful than your current PC, thanks to advances in nanotechnology, says Doug Tougaw, an engineering professor at Valparaiso University.

"We're getting closer to our goal of creating computers that are a thousand times faster and smaller and use one-thousandth of the energy of today's computers," Tougaw reports.

"As processors get smaller, they'll be embedded into more things. We'll also use standard-size machines packed with hundreds of chips. So we'll have very intelligent consumer products and unbelievably powerful PCs."

Computers using nanotechnology will debut in about five years. Five to 10 years after that, silicon will reach a point at which quantum mechanics won't allow chip pathways to get any smaller, so electric-current-based PCs will give way to optical PCs that transmit streams of light instead of electrons, or to quantum computers that rely on the strange physics of atomic particles to deliver processing brawn, Tougaw says.

William Halal, professor emeritus at George Washington University, says: "Starting around the year 2018, we'll have optical computers that operate at the speed of light, sending thousands of message streams down a single channel."

Most of tomorrow's CPU muscle will go towards making the user interface seamless and intuitive. Keyboards and mice may persist, but they'll become secondary to voice and gesture.

NEXT PAGE: body language > >

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

Body language

Gesture-based interfaces are catching on fast. The Nintendo Wii's gesture-based controller is one example. And the iPhone's touchscreen responds differently to finger taps and swipes – Apple uses similar technology in its MacBook Air's touchpad. GestureTek uses the input from cameraphones to deliver gesture control.

Freed from the keyboard, you'll be able to talk or gesture to your PC from virtually any display in your home. Or you may carry your pocket-sized PC with you and beam the image to a nanocomputer embedded in the nearest wall-sized screen.

Paper-thin displays are inching closer to reality too. Late last year, Sony released its 11in XEL-1 organic LED high-definition TVs (Oled HDTVs) and, at January's Consumer Electronics Show, the company presented a prototype 27in model.

Meanwhile, what you see onscreen will look a lot more like real life than in present-day 3D virtual worlds, Halal predicts. "When you want to buy a book, instead of going to Amazon's home page, you'll be greeted by a virtual salesperson," Halal says. "The avatar will find the book you're looking for and conduct the transaction, just as you would experience with a real person."

Michael Liebhold, senior researcher at California's Institute for the Future, says your PC may project a holograph so you can manipulate files and objects with your hands.

For many people, the PC of the future will be a dumb terminal, with storage, software and processing power distributed across an internet ‘cloud'. Amazon, Dell and IBM have introduced cloud services for businesses, and Google and Zoho now serve up web applications to consumers.

In years to come you'll enjoy ubiquitous internet access, perhaps using part of today's TV spectrum. Such access will deliver your ‘desktop' from a portable device or internet terminal. Instead of a password, you'll provide a fingerprint, voice or retinal scan.

"Your identity becomes your access point to your files and apps," says Patrick Tucker of the World Future Society. “Your digital life will follow you around like a shadow.”

NEXT PAGE: intelligent surroundings > >

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

Intelligent surroundings

We're entering the era of ‘ambient intelligence', in which everyday objects broadcast data about themselves and their environment.

As you approach a traffic blackspot, sensors in your car will detect it and reduce the speed. And GPS co-ordinates of places regarded as unsafe to walk at night will be broadcast to mobile devices.

In Japan, location-based services from GeoVector let the Mapions Pointing Application deliver information on businesses inside a building to a GPS-enabled cameraphone. In the UK, handsets with the technology should hit the market by the end of 2008.

In homes, floor sensors will detect empty rooms and automatically lower the thermostat and turn off lights. Agilewaves, a firm founded by ex-Nasa scientists, is working with builders to install sensors on switches, pipes and gas valves. Eventually they hope to offer neighbourhoods, subdivisions or municipalities a big-picture view of their carbon footprint.

Future homes will have "a dashboard that gives real-time performance feedback", says Peter Sharer, CEO of Agilewaves. "Homes that have this instrumentation are likely to hook into their neighbours' homes. In 10 or 15 years, entire communities will be networked."

The most significant use of sensors in homes, however, will be to monitor inhabitants' health. In the US, the government has approved an under-the-mattress monitor that activates when patients with heart problems lie down. And Japan's Matsushita has built a toilet seat that sends tiny electric charges through a user's buttocks to measure body fat.

NEXT PAGE: in-body computing > >

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

In-body computing

Ambient computing will extend from house walls to body cells. Verichip makes a pea-size radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip that can be injected under diabetes patients' skin to monitor glucose levels.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are exploring how to spray sensors into patients' chests during heart surgery, so the sensors can relay information to the hospital computer. The process could be commercially viable within 10 years.

Body computers will progress from monitoring health to delivering medical care and ultimately to augmenting reality by piping the internet directly into the brain – provided people can overcome their squeamishness about brain implants.

“There's a very short leap from implanting a [cochlear] device to implanting one that lets you receive data directly from the internet,” Tucker says.

For three months in 2002, Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics professor at the University of Reading, lived with electrodes implanted in his arm. In one test, he wired them to an internet-connected PC and temporarily attached electrodes to his wife's arm as well.

Warwick described this experiment in a 2006 interview with ITWales.com. “When she moved her hand three times, I felt three pulses in my brain – my brain recognised that my wife was communicating with me. It was the world's first purely electronic communication from brain to brain, and therefore the basis for thought communication,” Warwick said.

NEXT PAGE: bumps in the road and big brother > >

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

Bumps in the road

But before we wire our bodies, we need a far more secure network than today's internet and better privacy safeguards for the petabytes (1,024 terabytes) of consumer data that an always-connected world will generate, says Pradeep Khosla, co-director of Carnegie-Mellon University's CyLab.

RSA chief scientist Ari Juels believes biometrics and encryption will help with security, but trouble may still arise when data reaches users' screens. Context-smart back-end systems will help. “They'll know that, if you're in San Francisco, someone in Thailand shouldn't be using your credit-card number,” Juels explains.

Khosla says that a combination of technology, education and tough legislation against “the abuse and misuse of information” is the best way to surmount the privacy hurdles that remain.

Liebhold adds: “I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that our privacy will be lost or that it will be protected. We have control over the future.”

Big brother

Tiny cameras and wireless connections may herald an era of ‘sous-veillance', as cameras and mics in your glasses or shirt buttons record every moment, upload it and let you replay the action.

Steve Mann, a Toronto University professor, has used wearable devices to record nearly all of his waking life since 1980.

“Imagine recording every conversation you've ever had with your spouse,” says Jamais Cascio of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. “That kind of easily searchable memory will change what it means to be a person.”

NEXT PAGE: sci-Fi scenarios > >

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

Sci-Fi scenarios

It may look great in the movies, but what about in your living room? Virtual think tank TechCast calculates when emerging technologies are likely to be found in at least 30 percent of US households or businesses. Here are its predictions:

2010: Biometric security


In a few years, we'll be using fingerprint, voice, iris or retinal scans to log on to websites and make purchases. Sounds a lot better than storing passwords under your keyboard, doesn't it? But remember: your body is your password, so don't lose it.

2013: Space tourism


Space isn't merely the final frontier; it's also the hot new holiday spot for the mega-rich. Virgin Galactic plans to launch its first sub-orbital space flight in 2009 (at £100,000 per ticket). And Nasa predicts that the first space hotels will appear within 20 years.

2016: The holodeck


The virtual-reality revolution is imminent, thanks to the popularity of 3D movies and Second Life. A future 'holodeck' could be enhanced by scents shot at your nose by a 'smell cannon'. Japanese researchers are working on the device now.

2019: Self-aware computers

Though unlikely to turn murderous, machines driven by artificial intelligence will, within 15 years or so, be handling many routine tasks.

2020: Domestic robots


One technology expert predicts that by 2025, robots will outsell cars worldwide. So how will the ones without cars get to work?

NEXT PAGE: desktop factory & the Philips HomeLab > >

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

Desktop factory

One day you might order a new coffee pot, or even a new laptop, and not have to wait for delivery. Instead, you'll use a printer-size factory to download and build it.

Already, 3D inkjet printers build prototypes for industry. And BASF is developing inks that enable ordinary printers to spit out circuit boards.
For $2,400 (about £1,200), you can buy a Fab@home desktop fabricator that lets you build objects out of acrylic; the company hopes to produce units that can build with multiple materials in the future.

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology predicts these devices will be in operation by 2020, and could have a huge effect on the economy.

Philips HomeLab

Perhaps one of the more realistic visions of the future is that offered by Philips' HomeLab at its research and development headquarters in Eindhoven, Holland.

Here, a dedicated apartment block has been set up specifically to look at how consumers interact with their environment and the technology around them. The emphasis is on the ‘home' part of the setup rather than the ‘lab', although Big Brother-style cameras monitor volunteer inmates and their day-to-day habits for up to a month.

Volunteers find themselves in an ambient environment that reacts to them. When the day dawns, residents awaken naturally as lighting gradually increases in intensity.

Similarly, there's soft illumination in the bathroom, while sensors pick up on which person has entered the room and adjusts the temperature for their personal comfort.

The bathroom mirror brings up health-related information, such as updates on the resident's weight, core temperature and current heart rate, along with details of where they are in their cycle if there's a hope of impending pregnancy.

The PC isn't at the centre of this vision, but much of the innovation on display here wouldn't be possible without it.

  1. A peak into 2020
  2. The incredible disappearing PC
  3. Body language
  4. Intelligent surroundings
  5. In-body computing
  6. Bumps in the road and Big Brother
  7. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=7
  8. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=13232&pn=8