What will the future look like? Often, that question is left to writers and artists, who practice their craft to make the best guess possible. It’s less common for a company involved in the day-to-day of building technology to make the same effort — but it does happen, and the result are enlightening.
Microsoft’s latest “Productivity Future Vision” video proves that point. A follow-up on a 2011 video by the same name, the six-minute short follows the life of a young academic struggling to find a job. Eventually she finds work through innovations that don’t yet exist.
The most subtle yet potentially most complex is the use of highly intelligent digital assistants. In one scene, an executive seeks an expert on the study of kelp. Rather than browse Craigslist, she simply asks her computer which candidates are most qualified. A digital assistant quickly responds with not just a list but a detailed assessment of each potential employee’s strengths and weaknesses.
While the scene is brief, it shows where Microsoft hopes Cortana is headed, and it implies a staggering level of complexity and connectivity. For this to be possible a computer would need to search through huge amounts of data and catalog it on the basis of very specific criteria. Presumably, this would require a cloud service, as a local device probably couldn’t contain the necessary processing power and storage. No current digital assistant has capabilities anywhere near those shown in the short.
Wearables receive attention in the form of curved touchscreen bracelets controlled through an odd wrist-rotation mechanism. It looks a bit clunky, and probably isn’t an indication of any product Microsoft intends to sell, but it does show the company considers wearable technology an important part of its future. That’s not a given, as it has a legacy of being late to pick up on trends in consumer hardware.
Holograms make an appearance, too, though mostly in a brief segment towards the end of the video. Unlike Microsoft’s current HoloLens project, which requires the use of a headset, the holograms shown appear to a user who isn’t wearing special equipment. Again, this is probably an optimistic vision of an ideal rather than a hint at unreleased product.
The usual suspects make an appearance, as well: flexible devices, wall-sized displays, translucent media. None of this is new, and in fact Microsoft’s last “Future Vision,” which appeared in 2011, focused heavily on the same technologies. Unlike the 2011 vision, though, the new video places greater emphasis on interface interaction that goes beyond touch, such as voice and gesture commands.
Everything shown is a concept, and will probably change dramatically by the time the next Future Vision appears several years from now. Still, it’s an interesting six minutes, not only because of what it says about the future, but also how it highlights recent trends like wearables, gesture commands, and digital assistants — none of which were considered important just four years ago.