Spectacles that serve as instant language
translators; fridges with interactive screens on their doors
that provide information on the food inside... no these are
not features of Ridley Scott’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel,
but a proposed insight into what the future of technology
could really hold, presented to us by those boffins at
Productivity Future Vision 2019 is
Microsoft's October 2011 video
release, and is bound to leave viewers incredulous, as it
brings to life some of their technological predictions they
claim are on track towards becoming reality within the next
A glimpse into the future
In this video we see sheaths of clear glass
transform into monitors. We see businessmen flailing their
arms around as their computers are controlled by gesture
recognition. We see holographic images splay out of and
extend beyond the dimensions of touchscreen devices. And
there is not a flying pig in sight.
Yes, you'd be forgiven for laughing off the seemingly madcap ideas
of technology geeks with overactive imaginations, and for
struggling to fathom how such concepts could ever come to
fruition. But save your scoffs - these ideas may be
closer to realisation than you might expect. These are not
the Orwellian ruminations of 1984 that have or have not
panned out in the several decades since their publication.
All these notions are based upon real technologies already
in the processes of development.
What's more, with Microsoft and Apple reportedly competing
for patents on touchless control technology, which allows users
control devices with gestures rather than any physical
contact, we can see how some of the video’s portrayals
of the future are far more than just a pipe dream.
"When most people
imagine the future of technology, they envision better
versions of what they’ve already got. But changing
technology will sweep away almost all the products and
services we use today."
"Although breathtaking to look at and
consider, everything in Microsoft’s videos are fairly
conservative predictions based on existing products or
technology actively being developed," says Computerworld’s
Mike Elgan. "When most people imagine the future of
technology, they envision better versions of what they’ve
already got. But changing technology will sweep away almost
all the products and services we use today."
True enough, if we reminisce back to almost 20 years ago,
telecoms giants AT&T were the ones with the crystal ball who
dared to record their ‘crazy’ ideas on film. Amongst their then
presumably fantastical hypotheses were images of people
reading books online and receiving directions for their
journey on screens in their cars. The “You will” series of
ads from 1993 may have curveballed spectacularly in some of
their prophecies, but others were eerily on the money. Today
we take their ‘pie in the sky’ ideas such as online learning
and video conferencing for granted.
"There seems to be
little connection between the companies that envision the
future clearly and those who build it."
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride??
But, says Elgan, in the same way AT&T were
not the ones to deliver their visions, Microsoft will stop
short of seeing their ideas through to completion. While
AT&T were pretty accurate in their insights, they were
completely off the mark in their claim that "AT&T will bring
it to you."
"There seems to be little connection
between the companies that envision the future clearly and those who
build it" says Elgan, adding that to lead us to the realisation of
this proposed future technology, Microsoft would have to become a
different company. "Microsoft has always had great R&D, but it has
long struggled to get real products to the market in time to make a
difference." The company, he says, usually ends up about three years
behind the forerunners.
of predicting science
Whilst technology companies
such as Microsoft offer their glimpses into the future,
there is a whole industry running alongside whose job it is
to make educated predictions as to what will come to pass:
Futurologists, or futurists as they often abbreviate
themselves, make their living out of discerning patterns,
trends and pointers to forecast what the future will hold,
using complex techniques and strategies. And major
corporations and governments are willing to pay them big
bucks for their efforts.
"I think there is a false dichotomy between the idea that we
can predict the future and the idea that we can’t," says
Professor Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity
Institute at Oxford University. "There is no sharp point at
which things suddenly become unpredictable. It is just a
Futurists will tell you just how important a role art and
literature can play in their work, particularly science
fiction, where the first glimpse of an idea can often be
seen decades before its time. In 1984 Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’
was an early depiction of modern day CCTV. Jules Verne wrote
about what we can now recognise as video communication
technology in his 1889 'In the Year 2889' (although
clearly he wouldn’t have predicted technology would move
quite so quickly, having allowed a whole millennium for
something that has been achieved in around a century!) And
wasn’t Star Trek’s Captain Kirk’s communicator a rather
accurate precursor for what we recognise today as a mobile phone?
"Science fiction and science fact have a really lovely
relationship where science fiction has fired generations of
scientists and generations of scientists have inspired
generations of science fiction authors," says Intel
futurist, Brian David Johnson. “It's not just wild
speculation. It is wild speculation based upon science with
the intention of something we could build."
Just what the future will deliver can never be guaranteed in
the present, but if Microsoft’s portrayal is to be believed,
it will be nothing short of exciting, that’s for sure.