IBM, Intel, And Microsoft Tout Technology Future

Though each company is working on something different, together they paint a picture of life with faster and more ubiquitous computing technology.
Horvitz presented a prototype application called LifeBrowser, which monitors user activity over time on multiple computers and devices. "The idea is to build a really rich timeline ... and be able to navigate that memory backbone and be able to search against it," he said. It's designed to serve a similar function to Google's Web History (not to mention Apple's Time Machine), which tracks Web site usage to generate personalized content recommendations. LifeBrowser appears to be more ambitious in scope, however, combining backup, organization, and recommendation.

Horvitz acknowledged the problems that might arise were he to say, "Hi, I'm from Microsoft, and we have technology that tracks everything you're doing." Microsoft is working on privacy for sensing and personalization technology, he said, and he expected that one solution would be to have all data mining happen locally. (That's an approach that, coincidentally, would prove problematic to a company like Google that benefits from mining data gleaned from the network.)

"Solving the privacy challenge is going to be critical for these technologies," Horvitz said.

Horvitz also showed off surface computing, which is a way to turn any surface into a computer display and input device. A video presentation depicted a lunch box-sized motion tracking and projection unit that created a useable, projected keyboard and projected photos that can be manipulated.

"It really feels nice to put your fingers on the data," Horvitz said as the video presentation showed someone scaling and rotating a Microsoft Virtual Earth map by hand.

The presentation also showed a single projected image being altered by two artists in different places at once as an example of next-generation collaboration.

"We'll be seeing this kind of technology in the offices of the future," Horvitz said.

IBM's Bloom talked about how IBM had shifted its research focus away from pure technology toward a service-orientation to match its business.

"Our business is half in services," Bloom said.

Rather than seeing himself as a researcher, Bloom said he viewed himself "more as a matchmaker" who was trying to understand the pain points in enterprises and provide technology to help. That means more involvement with IBM customers in the research process and as a technology gets commercialized.

Citing a Gartner prediction that 80% of IT systems will take presence information into account by 2009, Bloom described how presence -- knowing where people and things are and how to best interact with them at any given time -- could help businesses.

"Presence information will be a key driver in virtually every enterprise in the future," Bloom said, and detailed how it might, for example, help a hospital manage costs and improve care.

IBM is working on presence infrastructure called Pasta -- Presence Advanced Services for Telecommunications Applications -- to provide presence information to IT systems. It's also developing a service called BusinessFinder, which Bloom described as a "presence-based electronic yellow pages." And IBM is working on Presence Zones, which will allow users to designate modes of contact as they move to different locations and to ensure that messages get routed based on those preferences.

Said Bloom, "Everyone in the future -- and the future is not that far off -- will be sensorized."

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Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing