Author: Yogi Schulz

Dramatic improvements have been achieved in information technology during the past 20 years. The fictional Dick Tracy watch of comic book fame can now be bought in gadget and in department stores. The control panel from the Starship Enterprise with its visual images and touch-sensitive surfaces is now in daily use at refineries and power plants.

Many of us have forgotten the luggable PC, the 5 1/2 inch ultra low-density diskette and the text-based command line interface with little regret. We now take truly portable laptops, high-density removable media and the graphical user interface (GUI) for granted.

Such huge progress in information technology blinds us into believing that we have reached the end of the road of technological innovation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s explore what’s on the horizon leading to the future of computing. The future will include more fun and engaging and not just when we’re playing games. It isn’t what IT used to be.

Search the Web for Me

We all experience the frustration of too many junk pages returned when we enter a query at our favorite search engine. This annoyance occurs because we can’t express the rich context that surrounds the question in our mind to the computer before us.

For immediate relief, try the enhanced search capability offered at or click the Search button on the Internet Explorer tool bar and then click Customize to improve the focus of your search.

Consider an ambiguous phrase like Book Toronto. Are we looking for a book about Toronto?  Do we want to book a trip to Toronto?  Hopefully we can easily dismiss the alternative of booking or arresting all the citizens of Toronto.

Recently Microsoft Research demonstrated smart search software that displayed a set of improved alternative queries rather than a long list of irrelevant pages. Through this approach, the searcher can select the suggested query that most closely fits their question.

The search sites Teoma, Vivisimo and WiseNut implement a similar concept on the their search results pages. Just add www. and .com to experiment at one of these sites. On a prominent part of the page, they show links to categories of information that are potentially related to the query. On another part of the page, they display the traditional list of web pages that meets the search criteria.

In the future, we’ll dispatch personal web agents to find the information we want to review. A web agent is software that will be aware of our personal profile of likes, dislikes, profession, hobbies and recent searches. When it has found something useful, it will cause an icon to blink on our desktop or it will send us notification e-mail.

Talk to Me

In many circumstances, it would be more convenient if our computers could read us the news or incoming e-mail when we’re multi-tasking preparing supper or shaving.

For a quick demo of how text can be presented as the spoken word, surf to the Bell Labs Text-to-Speech Synthesis web page at

The future will certainly bring us more talking appliances: “This is your refrigerator. It’s time to clean me out. Last week’s pizza leftovers are growing dangerous germs.”

More importantly, synthesised speech will provide warning of danger “Your Nortel stock is cratering” and valuable assistance during those Saturday afternoon some-assembly-required tasks.

Show it to Me

Humans are a visual species. If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then animation and video must be worth a million words. Microsoft knows this and is making multi-media easier to display and manage by strengthening support for visual data in Windows XP.

In an effort to make our web experience richer, more and more sites are adding animation using products such as Macromedia Flash to embed audio effects or display graphic animation. For a quick demo of the use of Flash to show off a software product, surf to and click on Test Drive RenoWorks.

Next, we’ll want easy-to-use, interactive ways to demonstrate a product. In this example, it’s a future Boeing jet but it could just as easily be your firm’s product. At, we can fly the aeroplane, run the engines and even open the door and lower the stairs in mid-flight.

In the future, we’ll also make more use of visual collaborative environments in which geographically dispersed teams can share work on the same documents and watch the same video concurrently using smart whiteboards at each location shown in Figure 1.

Listen to Me

We’re still looking for an easier-to-use GUI to enrich our computing experiences. Icons and mice can’t take us where we want to go and typing is too tedious a task for our high-speed, creative minds.

We can expect that the future will bring enormous improvements in voice recognition. What we really want is to talk to our computers like the astronauts did on 2000: A Space Odyssey. “Hal; please move the sun lamp to the right a bit so that my tan will be more even.”

Even today, with products like ViaVoice from IBM or NaturallySpeaking from Dragon, we can create and format text using just our voice.

Perhaps more practical; imagine saying to your computer: “Please update the month-end spreadsheet with the latest sales amounts and re-calculate the product margins.”  That day is closer than we may believe given recent advances in voice recognition and natural language processing.

Show Me Where I am

Do we pretend to know where we are even when we are hopelessly lost in the urban jungle?  The Global Positioning System (GPS) can bail us out of this embarrassing predicament by telling us precisely where we are using a simple handheld device.

The GPS consists of a series of low-orbit satellites that provide continuous signals that small hand-held receivers can pick-up. By measuring the relative direction of the signals from three such satellites, the software in the hand-held receiver can accurately pinpoint the position of the person holding the receiver. Now we’ll know if we need to turn left or right at the next corner or if we need to make a U-turn at the No U-turn sign.

To try out this GPS technology, rent a car with a destination-finding display that some rental cars firms already offer. GPS, as portrayed in the OnStar television commercial, ensures Batman finds the gas station in time to capture the bad guys. In the near future, GPS will improve airline, truck and railway safety and equipment utilization.

For a quick demo that will show us what a GPS application can look like on our PDA, surf to and click on Mobile MapQuest or look at Figure 2.

GPS will also play an increasingly important role in land use.  Precision agriculture uses GPS to control the path of tilling and harvesting equipment as well as the application of fertilizer. These applications reduce costs, control erosion and improve crop yields.

Resource exploration will use GPS more to plan ore mines, upgrading facilities, wells and pipelines. These applications reduce costs, minimize environmental impact and improve product quality.

In the future, GPS will become an every day part of life to help motorists find their destination and to help hikers stay on the trail. Both examples improve the quality of the trip experience while avoiding the cost and danger of rescues and accidents.

Show Me What you Mean

We tend to be impatient bottom-line people who are easily bored. We don’t want to pour over large tables of numbers or page after page of boring text. We prefer to have analysis presented as a visual image; preferably one that moves. The result of this human preference is the science of visualization.

For a web-accessible demo of a 3-D model of the earth’s subsurface, look at the Rockware seismic visualization at For an example of a complex structure that can only be well understood through visualization software, look at Figure 3. Here we see geophysicists walking around inside their subterranean model in search of oil and gas reserves.

{Many visualization software vendors maintain a gallery of images at their respective web sites. Two good examples are Advanced Visual Systems at and Intergraph at}

Adding the dimension of time to visualization will enable researchers and engineers to model chemical reactions and to show the progress of construction projects. This will provide stakeholders a visual sense of the proposal that is much more effective than the text contained in volumes of a consultant’s boring report. Such movies of the future will become a more prevalent use of visualization.

The StarTrek Holodeck may not be that far into the future. Before then, we’ll see expanded use of visualization software for interactive games, product development and data analysis at a price point that won’t make our heads spin.

Show Me Where it is

Businesses have historically experienced great difficulty in integrating satellite, photographic and vector mapping data. This problem has spurred the development of more sophisticated Geographic Information System (GIS) software. The resulting software advances reduce the elapsed time to evaluate housing or highway development proposals.

For a quick exploration of GIS on the web, enter this URL to reach the Intergraph GeoMedia web site: Figure 4 shows a GIS image commonly used in the oil & gas industry. It shows the well symbols, pipeline, gas processing plants, the survey grid as well as lakes and rivers.

In environmental assessment, it’s useful to overlay vegetation information over water shed data over roads, power lines and buildings. Since this data is usually collected by different techniques at different points in time, integrating it all becomes a major software challenge. Showing a bridge or a river running through the middle of a building generally does not impress the audience. The new GIS advances avoid such embarrassments.

In the future, we’ll see the rich data resources of roads, boundaries, vegetation and satellite imagery that have been accumulated largely by government made easily available on GIS maps through the web.

Entertain Me

At times we just want to relax and be entertained. Today, we find the TV program listings on the TV itself limited and cumbersome. Although Blockbuster offers a vast array of videos, we have to drive there to rent one. On demand video access through our TV would be so much better. When we want to listen to a CD, finding it within the house can become a frustrating operation.

To address these issues, Microsoft created the demonstration home of the future. Its family room shown in Figure 5. For entertainment, our couch potato can select programming from the TV, VCR, DVD/CD-ROM and satellite dish. The TV displays a consolidated listing of all audio and video programming available; regardless of source or media.

{With the enhanced TV remote, any couch potato can launch a web application to remotely control house temperature, lighting and blinds for every room. The same application can display the images of any of the video cameras located throughout the house. All the devices in the house are linked to a wireless network. If the front door bell rings, the visitor’s image can be displayed on the TV and the door can be unlocked without leaving the couch.}

A good starting point to learn more about home entertainment and automation is the web site of the Home Automation & Networking Association (HANA) –

In the future we’ll see many more homes wired for high-speed Internet, a Local Area Network and multiple telephone lines as part of initial construction. We’ll expect smooth integration between the web and our entertainment devices.


We’ve explored the image-rich future of computing. Many applications that offer little more than text today will become more appealing visually through the use of movement and colour, more valuable through the integration of more data sources and more capable through superior software. The future isn’t what it used to be.

Captions for Figures

Figure 1Smart whiteboards can display data from desktop applications and store the annotations produced concurrently at multiple locations.

Photo courtesy of Smart Technologies Inc.

File: Figure1_sbinthemeetingroom.tif

Figure 2PDA’s are using digital maps and GPS location information to show us where we are and the direction we need to move to reach our destination.

Photo courtesy of OziExplorer Inc.

File: Figure2_cescreen4_touring_Map.gif

Figure 3Geophysicists working in the SGI-powered visualization facility within the new BP Center for Visualization at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Center is dedicated to advancements in visualization for such industries as energy, medical and aerospace.

Photo courtesy of BP Center for Visualization

File: Figure3_SGI_bpVisCenter2.jpg

Figure 4This GIS image is used in the oil & gas industry. It integrates data about wells, pipelines, gas processing plants and the survey grid.

Photo courtesy of WebTech

File: Figure4_Web_Tech_Open_Crown.gif

Figure 5The Family Room of the Future. From an enhanced TV remote, the couch potato can select entertainment from the TV, VCR, DVD/CD-ROM and satellite dish. The TV displays a consolidated listing of all audio and video programming available. The TV remote can also remotely control house temperature, lighting and blinds for every room.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Inc.

File: Figure5_Microsoft_Digital Home Family Room 02 MS_01_2000.tif


Search the Web for Me


Copernic 2001 Pro and Copernic Summarizer


Search engine for news and current events junkies.

Dr. E-mail Will See You Now

Deborah Shapley, MIT Technology Review, January/February 2000

Is software that replies to customers automatically the key to success in e-commerce? Ask the doctor.

New Web Search Tools Offer Useful Shortcuts and Some Nice Twists

Wall Street Journal, 10 October 2001

Patterns of Search: Analyzing and Modeling Web Query Refinement


University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) AgentWeb

This page contains many links to resources for better understanding what Web agents are, how they can be used and the research thinking about how they will evolve.


Talk to Me

Real-Time Texture Synthesis By Patch-Based Sampling

Microsoft Research MSR-TR-2001-40, Liang, Lin ; Liu, Ce ; Xu, Yingqing ; Guo, Baining ; Shum, Heung-Yeung, March 2001

Show it to Me

Discreet Web Zone

This link leads to the Boeing airplane simulation.

Macromedia Flash and Shockwave

Smart Technologies

Smart Roomware

Source for: Figure1_sbinthemeetingroom.tif

Listen to Me

Dragon Systems Inc.

Genetic Algorithms for Scheduling written by Philip Husbands

This paper provides a survey of the application of genetic algorithms (GAs) to scheduling. Although it focuses on manufacturing scheduling, particularly job-shop problems, it does outline work in other areas such as transport scheduling and network routing. GA research in closely related problems, such as bin packing and the TSP, are also covered. Finally, it is shown how distributed parallel GAs may allow practically beneficial recharacterisations of highly complex general scheduling problems.

IBM ViaVoice

Microsoft Research Natural Language Processing (NLP) group

Nitric Oxide helps networks think like your Brain

Business Week, 8 October 2001, p. 99

Show Me Where I am

Des Newman’s OziExplorer – GPS Mapping Software

Source for: Figure2_cescreen4_touring_Map.gif


The Windows PC shareware program for Garmin and Magellan GPS receivers

By Heinrich Pfeifer

GPS Navigaror Magazine

GPS Resources

GPS Trackmaker

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin team has developed this website to collect information about additional GPS capabilities

Map Surfer



NAWCWPNS GPS/INS Section – Interactive GPS Satellite Prediction Utility

Determine which GPS satellites will be available to us at a given point.

Show Me What you Mean


Advanced Visual Systems

BP Center for Visualization

BP Center’s Mick Coady,, (303) 492-2609

John Watson, PR Programs Manager

SGI – Sciences, Manufacturing & Energy, (650) 933-1652

Source for: Figure3_SGI_bpVisCenter2.jpg

Improving oil and gas visualization: the role of storage and networking

Server World, June 2000


Intergraph visualization environment for interactively reviewing and analyzing large, complex 3D models of process and power plants; makes use of Windows media player.

Networked Visualization in the oil & gas industry

Research Associates


Seismic visualization

Ground Penetrating Radar

Show Me Where it is

The future of GIS


GIS address locator

Entertain Me

Industry Associations educational resources:

Continental Automated Buildings Association –

Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) – –

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center –

Home Automation & Networking Association (HANA) –