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Learning From our All-Tablet, All-Information Microsoft Future

Imagining the next five years of consumer electronics.


Microsoft released this concept video yesterday to tout the kind of digital future the company would like to create—preferably making billions of dollars in the process. Kurt Delbene, the head of Microsoft's Office division, writes on the company's blogthat the technology in this video already exists, or represents "active research and development happening at Microsoft and other companies."

Of course, Microsoft's future doesn't include corporate frenemy Google's awesome self-driving car: The first scene shows a woman being picked up at the airport by an actual driver, which is definitely a future utopia no-no (there's not much searching or emphasis on 'the cloud' here, either, although data seems readily available). What else can we learn about the years to come from this video?

  • Materials science is about to get crazy. All these wafer-thin, all-screen transparent mini-tablets without visible switches or much room for batteries—not to mention the see-through fridge—suggest we're going to have access to some pretty advanced substances that display images, conduct electricity and respond to human touch. Sounds great.

  • The aesthetics of the future don't belong to Microsoft, they belong to Apple. Does anything in that video look like it was created in Redmond, Washington? It's a testament to what Steve Jobs' achieved that you can't think of the future without Thinking Different. All the minimalism, the slick brushed aluminum and modern metro silver-and-white color palettes in this video seem like they came straight from the mind of Apple designer Jony Ive. That's nice and all, but I'm dinging Microsoft points for originality.

  • Artificial intelligence is about to become way more integrated in our lives. Look at how the various computers react when users highlight items or respond to prompts—without soliciting much information or offering users a choice, the tablets and screens seem to offer exactly the right tool at the right time. There will probably be a little Siri in all our future devices, trying to keep us focused by staying one step ahead of our feeble human minds.

  • Important business will take place in other countries. The main action in this video occurs in Johannesburg, South Africa and Hong Kong. It's realistic—as emerging markets gain more economic clout, we can expect a lot more business to be done abroad. The hope, of course, is that U.S. companies like Microsoft are successful enough in our increasingly globalized future that Americans are needed abroad to solve problems. The next five to 10 years probably do belong to America's tech institutions, but in 25, we might be talking about the latest handheld devices made by a Chinese consumer electronics giant.

  • Reality will be augmented—heavily. As you move through your world, tiny tablet at your side, you'll have access to more instantaneous information about what's happening around you than ever before. It might be overwhelming, but you have your built in AI to help keep it all straight.
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Maybe the biggest shift implied by the video, though, is a massive upgrade to our telecommunications infrastructure. All these devices sharing information wirelessly, all over the world, suggest we need some serious investment in the kind of broadband infrastructure that provides access to the internet at speed, wherever we are. That sounds nice, doesn't it?

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