Microsofts Vision of Tomorrow Sparks Wonder, Fear

Opinion: A visit to Microsoft's Center for Information Work shows David Coursey that the company's vision of the future forgets one key element: people.

I have seen Microsofts vision of tomorrow, and it both frightens and amazes me.

Not long ago, I was in Redmond and had occasion to visit Microsofts Center for Information Work, a demonstration facility thats part of the companys executive briefing center. CIW is not open to the public—its for invited guests only—though Ive encouraged Microsoft to turn it into a traveling exhibit, or a video, or to find some other way to share its vision with the masses.

The results are exciting, though a bit frightening in their implications. Microsoft acts as though the privacy and security issues surrounding parts of its vision will somehow just disappear before impeding technological progress. Hot news: It isnt going to happen, and Microsoft would be wise to amend its vision accordingly.

CIW demonstrates a collection of forward-looking technology—mostly from Microsoft Research, but also from a number of (mostly hardware) partners. Most of what I saw there was just for show—nothing at CIW was a "real" product, though some certainly have the potential to be.

For example, a conference room "RingCam" video camera that automatically selects the speaker from a room full of people, is interesting—and its reasonable to expect to see it on the market someday.

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The same is true of another conference-room camera system, which focuses on the white board. The camera stitches together images of the white board to create an unobstructed picture of what is on the board—as if no one is standing in front of it. This works so long as the speaker moves at least occasionally, making all parts of the board visible, if not at the same time. The software also can sync the view of the white board to the meetings audio for playback later.

Next Page: More displays equal more productivity.