Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bill Gates at the NVTC Breakfast Forum

I got the opportunity to attend the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) breakfast this morning, in DC at the Capitol Hilton. The speaker was Bill Gates. You know, that Microsoft guy? It was kind of cool to be a couple of hundred feet away from the richest man in the world (or maybe second now that Warren Buffet's star has been rising). Bill spoke at length on the direction computing is headed and mentioned everything from surface computing (your desk working for you?) to intention recognition through visualization. Very cool stuff, though I think I'll make sure I stay dressed in front of the PC-CAM.

And, I am fascinated by the concepts of surface interfaces -- as an active sailor, I'm envisioning a future sailboat that has a surface navigation computer that ties together mapping/charting, GPS, depth sounding (and underwater 3-D profiling), routing and guidance, with timely updates on chart data from the NOAA Notices to Mariners, coupled with a finger-driven interface similar to what Apple now uses on their iPods and iPhones (oh, wait, that's not from Microsoft).

But, I have to say, I was not "wow-ed" by Bill Gates' talk. I've heard him speak before and it's pretty much the same spiel I heard 20 years ago at a Microsoft CD-ROM Multimedia conference -- better human interaction with machines.

There were a couple of questions from the audience after the talk, and one questioner pounced on Microsoft for considering security as an afterthought (hear-hear). But my real disappointment is that Bill Gates' vision did not account for any of the real-world problems we seem to be facing: global warming, rising energy costs, environmental issues and so on. Where is computing really going to be in 20 years if, as Al Gore is suggesting, sea level has risen enough to flood some of our coastal cities? Or if we can no longer tolerate the environmental impact of hardware disposal?

So, I throw out a challenge: "What will computing look like in an age where we have higher sea levels, unaffordable energy, and intolerable environmental issues". Bill?