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Will earthlings follow Star Trek Scotty's lead?

As computer scientists gather this week to compare the progress being made on computer-human interfaces, there's a lot of excitement. But how much longer will this take before it's ready for prime time?

You remember the scene from Star Trek IV where Scotty tries to communicate with a Macintosh computer by speaking purposefully into the mouse? What do you want from a guy from the 23rd century?

Hopefully, we won't have to wait another couple of hundred years until the technology world invents a better interface between computers and human beings than the standard mouse and keyboard. We'll get a good idea of the progress this week in Monterey, Calif., where a conclave of computer scientists will be comparing notes at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.

The big question is whether the research is anywhere near breaking out of the theoretical stage to the realm of real-world implementation. The company registering the most progress--to date--is Microsoft. Bill Gates has hinted broadly about speech and handwriting recognition and touch-based gestures getting built into Windows 7. Also, check out this very cool video of a multi-touch interactive spherical display. Microsoft still considers this to be an ongoing research project, but it's connected to the company's tabletop product (Microsoft Surface). The larger idea here is that some day in the future, many (most, all?) surfaces will become computer displays.

To get a better sense of where this may be heading, I spoke with CNET News' Ina Fried, who covers Microsoft, about the latest thinking among computer scientists and commercial computer makers. Check out the video we shot together on the CNET News Daily Debrief.

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