Microsoft's Chief Research & Strategy Officer today demonstrated an office cubicle of the future, utilising Microsoft's new Natural User Interface (NUI).
Craig Mundie showed how a combination of Project Natal (Xbox's whole-body interface), Surface computers and high definition displays could create an integrated workplace without so much as a mouse or keyboard.
"We've started to think differently about how we develop applications," said Mundie "We took concepts from Project Natal and extrapolated them into the business environment. The greatest opportunity for Microsoft is the successor the desktop – and it's the room."
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The future of work - no chairs
Standing in an office with two full-wall projection displays, Mundie showed how he could move images, documents and videos around using gestures, carry out high-definition video calls and interact with a digital assistant - an artificial avatar with a typically robotic-sounding voice.
Mundie 'pinched' images from a mobile to the wall, posted paper documents to the digital wall in moments and ran complex models controlled by interfaces on the Surface computer or by voice recognition.
Although the demonstration was clearly a mock-up rather than a demonstration of current technology, Mundie insisted that this future is not far off. "Advances happen in waves," he said. "Robotics and computers are ready to take dramatic steps forward."
"Computers will know what's going on around them as sensors become cheap and accurate. Gestures are an extension beyond touch. We will move from a reaction to what you do, to anticipating what you will do; from working at your command to working on your behalf."
Mundie believes that such technologies will ultimately benefit a much larger proportion of humanity that is the case today: "Right now, only 1.5 billion people get the benefit of computing – and that's even stretching the concept with smartphones."
"Avatars are a more human-like presence and way of interaction that can expand computing to rest of the world. We're convinced that's it only the consumeration of advanced IT that can provide solutions for the global economy and society."