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Microsoft's Nadella reimagines how we use computers

CEO Satya Nadella says his company is all about finding new ways for tech to interact with people.

Microsoft shows a sample of what's visible to someone who dons its HoloLens headset.
CNET/Katie Collins

LONDON -- Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is working to extend everyday personal computing beyond today's limits.

Speaking at the company's Future Decoded event here Tuesday, Nadella said Microsoft aims to reinvent the interactions between you and your devices.

"Everything we are doing is changing the input and output to personal computers," he said.

That's not to say keyboards, mice and touchscreen displays will go away. They will, though, be joined by new types of gadgetry.

Electronic interactions overall will become much richer too. One example of that from Microsoft is the HoloLens , an augmented-reality headset that interprets real-world surroundings and superimposes text, images or video onto your view of them. The idea is to provide new ways for wearers to interact with digital information and their environment simultaneously.

Augmented reality and its more immersive cousin, virtual reality, have the potential to bring a major new type of computing into our lives. Indeed, VR pioneer Palmer Luckey, who founded Facebook's Oculus VR effort, believes that in the coming years virtual and augmented reality gear will displace smartphones.

HoloLens keeps alive some cutting-edge cachet for Microsoft, whose fame has been closely tied to the fading market for traditional PCs and whose mobile efforts have been trounced by Google and Apple.

Since Nadella took over the Redmond, Washington-based company in February 2014, Microsoft has been pushing into new product areas with other gear including its first wearable called the Microsoft Band and its first laptop, the Surface Book. Meanwhile, it has an ambitious goal for the latest version of its operating system, Windows 10, to tie together a wide range of devices.

"They speak to that vision we have of changing computers, but also inventing new personal computers," Nadella said.

Microsoft also is rethinking the inputs and outputs of personal computing through developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence. That shows up in tools and capabilities including image recognition features and the Cortana virtual assistant, Windows' equivalent to Apple's Siri.

Another example is a project Microsoft has been working on in partnership with charity Guide Dogs UK. Together, they invented a wearable system that creates a "3D soundscape" to provide visually impaired people with audio cues about their surroundings so they can better navigate, interact and even be impulsive.

Nadella said he hopes the same technology can be more widely used. It could, for example, open up new locations to foreign language speakers. "It gives you a flavor for how digital technology in your hands can transform the world you see," he said.