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Commentary: Sighs, whispers in PC's future

Two methods of introducing and retrieving information on a PC hold promise--voice recognition and gesture recognition.

By Mark Margevicius, Gartner Analyst

The 20th birthday of the PC is cause for celebration of the past and a springboard to look ahead at its future.

The status of the PC as an essential business tool is a victory over its limitations, not a mark for its virtues. Perhaps the chief limitation is its off-putting means of introducing and retrieving information, via a keyboard. Devising an easier way to use PCs is the goal of ergonomically minded technologists.

See news story:
Execs reminisce on 20 years of the PC
Two methods hold promise--voice recognition and gesture recognition. The model remains Hal 9000, the all-seeing, all-knowing computer in Stanley Kubrick's classic film, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

The itch to interact with computers via sight and sound is obvious. Speech is a natural means of communication. And, since most people sit in front of their PC, its ability to recognize their emotions and gestures would enhance computing. The popularity and growth of instant messaging underscore people's hunger for more intuitive PC user interfaces.

Getting to such a future is no sure thing, however. Inhibitors include the sheer hard work in building enough capability into PCs and throughout an enterprise's distributed-computing chain. While PC hardware capability constantly increases, thanks to the continued validity of Moore's Law, the software applications to enable voice and gesture recognition by PCs lags behind.

(Moore's Law, first postulated in 1965, states that the transistor density of semiconductor chips will double approximately every 18 months. It has proven quite accurate over the years, with new generations of PCs being almost twice as powerful as the preceding generation, and with each coming to market at roughly 18-month intervals.)

Nontechnology barriers--such as concerns about threats to privacy and security--also may delay the change.

Ongoing advances in graphical user interfaces will continue to enable innovations in voice and nonverbal recognition. Other key enablers--especially in the United States--include public policy that seeks to bridge the gap between technological "haves" and "have-nots."

Gartner believes that by 2006, processing capability of 10 GHz will likely be available on leading PCs. Exploiting that more powerful hardware will pave the way for voice and gesture recognition. By 2010, high-end PCs will likely offer usable recognition of speech and nonverbal communication.

Making the PC user interface more intuitive and easier to use will surely be an accomplishment worth celebrating as the PC grows comfortable in its adulthood.

(For a related commentary on how PCs and other client devices are changing the workplace, see Gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.