The Microsoft Future… pretty cool actually…

My friend (and Microsoft employee) Steve shared a video with me that is kind of a concept video for what Microsoft sees interfacing with computers will be like in 2019. The original post for the videos is located here and is really cool. Cool enough that I felt the need to comment on it, at least a little. In general, I think the concepts are pretty achievable, if not by Microsoft than at least by someone by 2019. The general concessions throughout the video are that the future of interaction is:

  1. Very thin, multitouch screens and surfaces, that will be prevalent in every aspect of your life.
  2. Lots of portable devices, with screens and without, that will automatically detect each other and react accordingly
  3. Lots of systems that use digital paper or some form of digital paper.

I think most of this is achievable, but there are a few things that stand in their way, even for these assumptions. For the second point, you HAVE to have a better networking protocol than Windows Networking, and a better discovery system than Bluetooth. mDNS / DNS-SD may be a start, but I don't know of any good protocols that exist to automatically detect new devices in close proximity to each other, and what services they provide. That's the first problem that has to be solved, sooner rather than later. For the third part, you first have to make digital paper affordable. That's an issue, as it's out of reach for most consumers right now. Maybe by 2019 I'll eat my words, but I don't see it being economically feasible any time soon.

In addition, there are a few things I have to say look cool, but I don't see being in the future.

Right at the start of the film (at about 10 seconds in) the system recognizes that a girl has drawn a dog, and what's there acts like a dog. I'd be surprised if that's actually achievable for everyone's version of a dog, especially for a 10 year old's drawing. The ball part is realistic, but having the system recognize "dog" and "ball" and have them interact… that seems a little pie in the sky to me, and this is coming from a game developer. Let's face it, even Spore had to seriously limit their drawing capabilities to enable their procedural animation system.

At about 3:46, we see somewhere where identity management becomes an issue. Would it be awesome for me to just carry around a device that had all my meeting notes on it, and have it automatically detect a co-worker's computer, network to it, and show communication history on a set of projects? Certainly. And it's certainly possible. But what if I store personal things on that same keychain? Or conversations with other clients? I don't want the business table showing that. I don't want it reading it, or attempting to read it. I don't want to have to specify to the table right there "This is what you have access to." In some cases, I just want it to know. Identity management is a huge issue there, and no one's solved it, let alone Microsoft.

Starting at about 4:10, we have that digital paper problem. Not only is it inexpensive digital paper (I assume) but it's touch screen, foldable, networkable digital paper. This seems a little far fetched. I look forward to hardware companies proving me wrong.

Aside from these problems, much of what's there gets me excited about the future of interactivity. I certainly think the future will look similar to this, but I think the larger issues of identity and task management are far from solved, and more important than the flashy ability to point at a piece of information and drag it to your tablet. This type of interactivity is going to require a new way of looking at how we want to share information, with whom, and when. It's going to require a new look at how we group pieces of information (Mozilla Labs is actually more interesting in this respect) and how we use applications together in tasks, projects, etc. That's solvable now (in some cases) but even Windows 7 (as cool as it is) only begins to scratch the surface. In addition, this goes beyond the Office team, and should be looked at by Microsoft as a new initiative, to break free of the start menu, task bar, quick launch, etc. and start thinking about how all of their applications work together to form a meaningful whole in this fashion.

I'd love to be a part of this, but I work on games right now… and I don't see that changing soon.

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One Response to The Microsoft Future… pretty cool actually…

  1. Even though I’m in games now, my Masters in CS research was in Ubicomp (Ubiquitous Computation). I saw a lot of things like this, some interesting, some absurdly infeasible. Your observations are some the Ubicomp community has raised as well and while I’d be pleasantly surprised if MS resolved some of these very difficult problems, I’m not holding my breath.

    If you’re interested, Adam Greenfield’s Everyware ( is a bit more grounded than what MS showed in that video but quite interesting. I highly recommend it.