What does the future hold for the PC?

New connections

Today's computers have massive advantages over their counterparts from just a few years ago. Connectivity will continue to define how computers are designed, how they interact with their environment and of course how we use their capabilities. Mobile broadband is a vital component of computing on the move, but this needs to vastly improve if tomorrow's mobile devices will be able to deliver future digital services.

WiGig or IEEE 802.11ah will operate at 60GHz and could deliver what has been dubbed the 'Wi-Fi Internet of Everything.'

Gavin Wheeldon is CEO of Purple WiFi

Gavin Wheeldon is CEO of Purple WiFi

TechRadar Pro spoke with Purple Wi-Fi's CEO, Gavin Wheeldon, who explained: "By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 26.5 billion physical objects embedded with technology in an industry worth $1.9 trillion (around £1.2 trillion, or AU$2.5 trillion). The Internet of Things is something that Wi-Fi is going to play a major part in.

"As more and more devices and sensors have the ability to connect, they need a way of doing so. Wearable tech such as glasses and watches may use Bluetooth tethered to your mobile device, but it will ultimately connect to Wi-Fi."

Future computers whether they continue to be objects we sit at to use, carry in our pockets, or that disappear into our built environment will rely on fast connections to exchange data. Today we struggle to get a decent mobile signal or even find a good Wi-Fi hotspot. Computers of the future will be defined by their connectivity.

Eye, voice and gesture

At the moment how we interact with our computers hasn't really changed. The QWERTY keyboard (first found on a typewriter in 1868) and the mouse (shown by Douglas C. Enelbart in 1968) have changed little. Touch technology has been a clear evolution in how we interact with mobile devices, but what's next?

According to Gartner: "Eye tracking is one of several technologies destined to redefine the human-machine interface. Complement conventional UI metaphors (point, click, and swipe) by implementing eye tracking with natural speech, touch/haptics and motion, makes the user experience more intuitive, natural and efficient."

Already technologies such as Senty based on Tobii's EyeX system, SMI Vision, Eye Tribe, Seeing Machines, Myo and Deus Ex Aria are showing the way to more interactive user interfaces that tomorrow's computers will certainly use.

Toshiba in its future tech report concluded: "2035 will have all the sci-fi interfaces you've ever seen and a lot you haven't. Thought recognition will be commonplace, along with gesture and expression recognition, all working with highly advanced AI that knows you better than you do.

"Your computer will very likely use robot bodies to move around and do things too. It doesn't have to be physically present in the robot, and can control their actions from afar, while using their sensors as if it were on board."

Awareness of its environment and the ability to react to it often strikes fear into the heart of many with visions of a robot apocalypse. The so-called rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence) has been actively researched for decades. Currently, DARPA is considering what it calls 'Communicating with Computers (CwC)'.

"Human communication feels so natural that we don't notice how much mental work it requires," said Paul Cohen, DARPA program manager. "But try to communicate while you're doing something else – the high accident rate among people who text while driving says it all – and you'll quickly realise how demanding it is." Think the Movie 'Her' and you get the idea.

Of course the most powerful way to control any device isn't with primitive technologies such as keyboards, or even with touch and gesture, it's with your mind. Thinking your next text, visiting a website by just thinking about its content, or using office tools with nothing more than your mind seems like science fiction, but tomorrow's computers may use at least some elements of thought control.

Already we have several first-generation devices that show this concept in action: The Muse headband, NeuroSky MindWave, and EPOC from Emotiv are already here, and if you fancy a bit of DIY neural interface designing, then check out the OpenBCI project.

Controlling our computers mind

Controlling our computers with our minds might not be that far away, as several companies have working technologies to enable you to do just that

Luigi Mantellassi, co-founder and CMO at dizmo, commented: "Most of today's computer interfaces were designed during the age of personal computing – for people sitting in front of a desktop, with single applications, or fixed sized screens and a mouse or trackpad to interact with it at best.

"This original design is inadequate to adapt to the requirements of IoT and future interfaces will need to deal with a completely different situation. No longer one app per screen but concurrent applications gathering multiple types of data, from multiple sources on multiple types of displays and digital surfaces."