Saturday, January 24, 2015

The future of computing?

Based only on what’s already happened, it seems to me that the future of computing is clearly interactive, and will quite probably involve greater immersion of the user in the experience. But will it require goggles?

Microsoft has announced HoloLens (promo video above), a stand-alone (wear-alone?) set of goggles, which, they say, “seamlessly blends high-definition holograms with your real world.” The video shows the basics of how they envision it working and how it might be used.

I think there’s definitely a place for technology like this. It looks like it would be particularly useful for industrial and architectural design, medical research, and for being able to more fully look at other planets without actually going there.

That’s what NASA thinks. They plan on using the technology to virtually explore Mars (see photo below). That seems to me like a particularly good use of the technology.

I’m less convinced that ordinary people will use it in their ordinary lives in the ways depicted in the promo—because people have to wear those goggles. Microsoft says, “Holograms will improve the way you do things every day, and enable you to do things you've never done before.” But, strictly speaking, they’re not actually holograms, but merely projections on the goggles’ screen that’s combined with movement-sensing technology to help users interact with those projections. That’s fine for playing games that combine real world and imaginary worlds, but for everyday use? I dunno, those goggles are kind of clunky…

Still, touchscreen computing has already become ubiquitous on pads, smart phones and even some desktop computers. It’s changed the way people interact with and use computers from keyboard and mouse-click to tap and swipe. It’s not hard to imagine that computing will evolve to include motion-sensing control of the computing device.

I’m sure that the goggles will improve over time, and one day there will probably be actual holograms and, if so, one day goggles won’t be needed. But all of that is a long way from now. HoloLens may be the first taste we’ll get of what future computing will be like. Or not. Technology doesn’t always work out when it’s first introduced (Apple Newton, for example).

Change is inevitable, and HoloLens seems to me to be a glimpse of where computing is headed. We’ll see—with or without goggles.

"New NASA software called OnSight will use holographic computing to overlay visual information and data from the agency's Mars Curiosity Rover into the user's field of view. Holographic computing blends a view of the physical world with computer-generated imagery to create a hybrid of real and virtual." Image and caption Credit: NASA.

Tip o’ the Hat to our nephew in the US who shared the C|Net article on Facebook.

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