Redmond (WA) - Bill Gates, a constant forward-thinker and innovator, spoke at a summit for corporate CEOs this week and talked about what he sees as possible 5 - 10 years in the future. He also demoed a new vertical "wall" version of Microsoft Surface, a touch-powered operating system.
Gates, who is six weeks away from leaving Microsoft per a previously announced resignation, is always talking about what the future of technology will bring. In his recent presentation, he talked at length about communication, saying that e-mail and mobile phone technology is not meeting the needs of individuals.
Electronic mail is "the most basic thing," Gates said. While it is a "wonderful tool" and can be "super reliabe ... that form of communication is ineffective when you get to decisions that involve groups. Simply using e-mail and having attachments and long copy lists is a very poor way to get things done."
Gates said the solution is to use online "Web portals," where users can collaborate in real-time without limitations. Of course he did not mention that Google is an innovator here, with its online software suite Google Apps.
Additionally, Gates said that in order to further seamless communication between people, the next step is "getting rid of phone numbers, the boundary between the mobile space and that desktop space." He remarked that the next breakthrough in communications will come with people turning their computers into phone-calling machines, musing on future technologies that will bring up a person's schedule on-screen whenever someone calls, have personalized away messages for different people, and beef up call screening.
As it was a conference for top-level business executives, Gates also touched on a lot on things like HR practices, motivating employees and what Microsoft has been doing for business customers.
The presentation's high point, though, was Gates's demo of the vertical Microsoft Surface. Gates referred to Surface as a "natural user interface," where users control everything seamlessly with their fingers. When it was originally unveiled, Surface was marketed as a tool for very specific business purposes, but Gates said this week that the possibilities reach beyond that.
Gates demoing a new version of Surface
"Our view is that all the surfaces, horizontal surfaces, vertical surfaces, will eventually have an inexpensive screen display capability, and software that sees what you're doing there, so it's completely interactive. When I say everywhere, I mean the individual's office, I mean the home, the living room, all of those things."
In other words, Gates thinks that your coffee table, your to-do board at the office, your entertainment center at home and even your windows will one day come with computerized display technology.
Coming back down to Earth, Gates noted that the most likely changes in the next 10 years will be increased TV/Internet integration, continued innovation with office software and the digitization of virtually everything.
Gates finished by saying, "So, year by year it doesn't look like these things change much, but when you take that accumulation, you get to a point where the scenario is utterly different."