Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer told students yesterday that computers will be able to adapt to users’ preferences and behaviors automatically in five years time.


Talking about the future of technology, Craig Mundie drew about 300 University students and staff to The Stamps Auditorium. His visit to the University was part of a five-day, five-university tour designed to provide insight into how technology will direct the nation’s path.

During his talk, Mundie demonstrated several technology prototypes that he expects will be in production in five years. He introduced the Microsoft Surface, a coffee table-sized device that allows a user to set laptops, cell phones or MP3 players on the approximately 30-inch touch screen and manipulate files from one device to another.

Mundie said the device would be “somewhat pricey,” — about $10,000 — but he expects that it will someday be a standard piece of furniture. He said he expects a major shift in the way computers are designed in coming years.

“The power that comes from that shift that will allow us to move the level of support that the computer can provide for people up to a much higher level,” Mundie said.

He said computers would be able to anticipate users’ needs based on their past activity.

“In the future, it might be the case that as you explore or study in a particular domain, the computer may go out and do some searches on your behalf, gather up the results, do a semantic analysis, correlate that with what you’re studying or what your study group is doing and then present them to you in a color-coded way that says these are most likely to be useful, these are less likely to be useful, but you’d still have choice,” he said.

Mundie was quick to clarify that his example wasn’t artificial intelligence, saying the computer would have to be programmed and wouldn’t learn anything on its own.

“I don’t want people to walk away thinking that we’re somehow at the doorstep of (artificial intelligence),” he said.

Mundie said a student could use this technology to create interactive learning tools from textbooks and professors’ studies that would allow students studying anatomy to view three-dimensional models of the body and its different systems and organs. The technology would prioritize information based on a student’s previous patterns of use, among other factors.

Mundie also showed other innovative pieces of technology, including a flexible, portable computer monitor less than a millimeter thick.

In an interview before his presentation, Mundie said the goal of the tour is to more broadly demonstrate what Microsoft does and show how technology will help people in certain disciplines like education and health care.

“These were all framed to show what it might be like to be a student sometime five to 10 years in the future, when you have a lot more support from your information technology than you get today,” Mundie said. “These won’t be the exact products, but the idea here was to show people a glimpse of the future using prototypes of things we think will happen.”

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