Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Future World Awash in Computers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Future World Awash in Computers

Article excerpt

PREDICTIONS for the future:

* Your desktop computer will belong in the closet.

* Intelligent agents - a current computer rage - won't be so smart.

* There will be magic decoder rings.

"I'm thinking of carrying a magic decoder ring," says Mark Weiser, reaching for a portable computer with a large screen on top. "I pick up this display and the machine says: `Oh, that's Mark. I had better fetch his data.' "

Mr. Weiser is hardly a wild-eyed dreamer. He heads the computer lab at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. That's the facility that pioneered much of today's computer technology, such as local-area networking, laser printers, the graphical user interface, and object-oriented programming. Weiser calls the lab's current focus "ubiquitous computing." In a decade or two, he predicts offices and homes will be littered with computers.

At the moment, for example, Weiser is pressing the blue buttons of a "tab." A tab is one of the lab's inventions, part portable video game, part three-button computer mouse. Using only one hand to control the tab, he logs onto the Internet and brings down the local weather forecast. He asks the computer to tell him his location. The tab reports he's in his office near the couch. In the wired office of the future, anyone can track the whereabouts of anyone else.

Tabs are the smallest instruments in Weiser's vision of ubiquitous computing. The next step up are "pads," the portable electronic tablets that allow a user to write or draw on them. The final gizmo is the board: a chalkboard-sized display unit. Researchers take electronic pens and write messages for each other. Others can tap into that picture by using a pad. When someone writes something on the board, it shows up on the pad and vice versa. A wireless network ties all these machines together.

This system challenges several of today's assumptions about computing. …

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